I have been doing a bit of hitching around lately so will share some of my observations and experiences with you. I know that many of you will not have hitched a lift with a total strange before and may never do so. So here is my take on it. (Children, you are not allowed to hitchhike until you are a grey haired old lady like me)
Hitchhiking is a great way to get around. I don’t do it to save money but to meet people and see who else is out there. I like to find out about their journeys and it benefits the environment. Whilst walking Te Araroa there are quite a few times where hitching is necessary. For example there are 2 large, dangerous rivers and a big lake that cannot be walked across. Us long distance walkers are very special people but we can’t walk on water.
Most Te Araroa walkers will not have hitched before doing TA and may not do it after they have finished. The big pack on our backs and the long walk gives us the right to ask for a little bit of help on a long, hot and dusty road. The drivers are usually honored to assist and enjoy our stories. They are in awe of our achievements.
You have to be a bit thick skinned not to take it as a personal rejection when a car whizzes past without stopping. Some drivers are embarrassed so actually look away; they are probably the people who generally find it hard to say no. Others show with hand gesture that they are full up already or not going far enough. A few look at me like “Get a job you lazy git”. But mostly they smile and sometimes one stops. I only need one.
One aspect that I like is that there is not much of a plan, only a hoped for ending place. I don’t know what time my ride will arrive, or whether it will be an expensive car or the back of a rickety old truck, sharing a horse float with a horse, on a motorbike with a farm dog or in the back seat with some kids. I like the idea that not having anything planned means nothing can go wrong.
But in saying that I had a day off last week so decided to hitch to Timaru, a town with a population of about 29,000 people, about 100km away. Just for a change of scenery and maybe visit a cousin who lives there .
So I filled my pack with my puffed up sleeping bag and puffer jacket so that I looked like a proper traveler. People won’t usually pick up someone without a backpack as they have less understanding of why the person is out there wanting a ride. I made a sign saying Timaru on one side and Tekapo on the other, for my return journey.
I walked along the main route out of town fir about 10 minutes before a campervan stopped. The South African family from the North Island, were taking their daughtervdown to university. They were on their first trip in the South Island and like me presumed they would pass through Timaru. About 40 minutes down the road I checked Google Maps and realized I was heading in completely the wrong direction. How embarrassing!! Then they decided to stop at a rest eared to take a photo of the beautiful Lake Pukaki. Seeing a Te Araroa walker sat at a picnic table I told my driver that I would get out here and chat with him which I did.
I confessed my complete lack of direction. I am not sure what he thought of me but he did say he admired my honesty and that he wouldn’t have told anyone about it. As this is not the first time I have done this I seem to be more accepting of my geographical errors.
So I eventually headed back out to the road and was called over by another man taking photos. He was heading towards Timaru but stopping on the way at Geraldine, another small town before Timaru. That would do me. This man was planning to walk Te Araroa so we chatted all the way about gear, food, planning etc.
On another day off I hitched out to the Mt Cook/ Aoraki National Park for a look around.
I felt like I was driving into a postcard. obviously I have known about area and have seen many photos of it in books and on the internet. But knowing about something not the same as being there, not the same as creating your own memory if it. I feel that only then do I own the knowledge of a place as I have earned it for myself. I think that is the essence of why I want to travel.
The North Island is mainly hills and rivers and winding roads through lush green farmland speckled with small towns. The roads in the south of the South Island are generally long and straight going through flat and barren landscape with mountains in the far distance. And colourful lakes, so many lakes.
- Parents taking their kid down to university in a very new BMW. The Dad asked me for some advice for his son so I told him to keep away from the girls and don’t drink too much
- Another family in campervan taking their daughter down to Otago University. They were originally from South Africa and this was their first time in the South Island. They loved the freedom and safety of our country.
- A couple of gay women having time away from their kids and covid stressed jobs
- Christchurch couple heading out to Mount Cook Aoraki National Park to pick up their 18 year old son who had just completed the week as warden at the Meuller Hut. It was like having my own personal tour guides as they had spent a lot of time in the park.
- A young french couple, driving a beat up old car that was also their home. They have been following the seasonal jobs while “stuck” here because of covid.
- Business man who picked me up hoping I would be a Te Araroa walker as he plans to do it sometime. We discussed gear and food and everything else Te Araroa
- A midle aged woman who had done some sections of Te Araroa who was heading to her holiday home in Twizel.
- A young accountant from UK doing a quick trip around before heading home.
So next time you see someone with a big pack on their backs and a thumb out, consider picking them up. You never know who you may have for some company, maybe just a Granny from Palmerston North.