I wanna go home

surprising experiences in hitching back to civilisation


“That’s a one way bridge coming up,” I said from the back seat, my pack perched on my knees. “We have to give way.”

Oh, there’s competition for space on the bridge coming the opposite direction. Eventually the driver noticed, for a while proceeded, perhaps thought we might squeeze through the 200 mm gap either side of the oncoming truck, then he decisively slammed on the brakes, hit reverse, plenty of revs all of a sudden, speed gained, colliding at pace with the bridge guard rails, causing the rental company some paperwork. I survived and we made it to Glenorchy.

The driver had only been in the country 12 hours, while I had been finishing the Mavora Greenstone Walkway. It was a hire car, no worries.

Often hitch hiking works, in that instance from the Greenstone Track roadend to Queenstown. Three rides, each time the first car. The drivers: German, Chinese and a Sikh complete with extensive turban. Just the one accident, although the last ride had its moments, the car initially zipped past, dangerously turned around to pick me up and took a nervous passenger rally car style to town, with me all the while thinking the pack on my knees must surely operate like an air bag.

Getting to the start of many tramps has become easier over the years. I remember the Nelson to Abel Tasman style sagas of my youth, three rides before lunch to Motueka, a walk to Riwaka, another ride to Kaiteri, walk the winding road almost to Marahau before getting the day’s fifth ride for the last 2 km, that driver having not spent much of the day in transit.

Now, you pay your $20 and the bus arrives at the start of the Coastal Track by 9 15 am, not yet morning tea time.

Getting home from your average tramp can be more difficult, it’s less predictable when you might eventually emerge. Sometimes hitchhiking is the only option. My recent hitching experience — generally a surprise.

Like my episode at, say, the Lewis Pass at the conclusion of a 22 day little adventure from Nelson. Having run out of food I raced down from the Cannibal Gorge Hut to make an early start on the road back north, stood almost opposite the huge St James Walkway sign at the Lewis Pass car park with my thumb out, a gloomy day weather-wise. After a few hundred four wheel drives scooted past, many with kayaks or mountain bikes attached, hunger drove me to walk the 8 km to the Maruia Springs hotel. Later, after a full six hours at the side of the road, a two door compact car stopped and squeezed me into the rear seat, pack again on my knees. At least I was moving.

Exactly a year later, hitching from Boyle Village to the same Lewis Pass car park, this time to the start of a Three Tarn Pass trip, the first car, a large four wheel drive, stopped and could have taken me all the way to Nelson. That’s the way it goes, it’s best not to have any expectations.

Finishing the Pyke — Hollyford circuit a Korean couple jammed me in amongst their luggage, just the 17 km to the end of the Hollyford Road where I waited three hours with plenty of near empty cars zooming past on the Milford Road before three more Koreans, two quickly donning surgical masks, fitted me in on their way back to Te Anau.

Emerging from a ten day section of Te Araroa at Bealey Spur cars once again zoomed on past, my hungry grew, where was that ride when you really need it? Eventually an old guy, ie, older than me, stopped and invited me into the front seat, which was strewn with various items which I had to seriously rearrange to make room for my posterior and feet. My attempts at conversation made little impression but eventually he opened up on random topics, of a peculiar eclectic type, like some failed potato crop in his veggie garden, maybe in the 1960s, or it might have been the 1950s.

Generally the cars that stopped were packed, already two or three occupants with their luggage, often it was no easy task to accommodate me and my own pack.

There have been rides from a tattoo inscribed Maori guy between stints at the Chathams, a woman from a farm off to rousie during shearing, German speakers, Dutch couples, more Chinese groups, a guy from Scotland, another guy from Scotland.

You can sense a pattern here — a variety of nationalities, with one obvious exception, middle aged New Zealand blokes just like me.