A hitchhiker’s
guide to…

The West Coast


There are generally five types of motorists you encounter when you’re on the roadside with your thumb out.

  1. The motorist who pulls ‘thumbs up’ back at you and thinks it’s funny. It’s really not. It’s not original. Don’t do it. Ever.
  2. The motorist who looks at you, shrugs their shoulders and angles their hands out like an Aztec dance as if to say “I don’t know”. What don’t you know? Whether or not there’s enough room on those four empty seats in your people mover for us?
  3. The motorist who yells something out the window, like, “Fuck you, mother fuckers!” I’m sure it’s a real buzz to scream at people when you’re drunk on a weekday morning but it’s also a dickhead thing to do.
  4. The motorist who refuses to acknowledge your existence and stares straight ahead with a sour face as if to say us freeloaders are not worthy of attention. They are my favourite.
  5. The motorist who sees you, thinks these boys look like good blokes, flicks their left indicator on and pulls over. The beautiful people. Salt of the earth.

However, this story is about the 6th kind. The kind that Ben alluded to in his brilliant post about our ride out of Queenstown. I’m talking about the crazy rapist murderer kind.

It took a long time to catch a ride out of Greymouth. Too long for comfort. The town had the highest number of the above types per capita of any town that we got stuck in.

The driver couldn’t take us far but we were relieved to be on the way. He dropped us at Kumara Junction where State Highways 6 — our route to Franz Josef — and 73 intersect and we found ourselves standing on a roadside for the second time that day. It was bleak, raining lightly.

We waited. Sometimes we would guess how many cars it would take before someone stopped. Sometimes we sang songs. Sometimes we threw stones at road signs. Waiting was part of it. We spent hours battling boredom on roadsides. Nobody owed us a ride so we were always thankful when one was offered.

State Highway 6 near Kumara Junction

After about an hour of waiting the driver of an ugly red sedan pulled over, hopped out and frantically introduced himself; so frantically, in fact, that we never caught his name. Warning sign number one.

“You boys Kiwis?” he asked. “My parents are from Petone. We don’t really speak now cos we had an argument about religion. I’m religious, they’re not. I hope you don’t mind me telling you that. I don’t mean to cause offence.”

Warning sign number two.

He was a small man in his 40s with black thick-rimmed glasses and a cheese-cutter hat on his tiny round head. He studied French and Russian at university and had been living in China teaching English. “I don’t mean to boast but I speak quite good Chinese,” he told us.

He spoke so fast, barely ceasing to breathe, and jumped between subjects so erratically that Ben and I were soon concerned for his sanity. It was like he hadn’t slept properly or needed a fix.

He repeated himself, was overly apologetic and often proceeded his sentences with, “I hope you don’t mind” and, “I don’t mean to cause offence…” He was never offensive but we were starting to mind.

He had a Creed CD. Warning sign number three.

It wasn’t until he overtook another car that we really felt unsafe. He thrust the accelerator down, sounded the horn hysterically and held his breath. He was in a state of panic, his body tense, eyes darting. It was the only time he was quiet. I’m not sure what speed he reached but Ben, who was sitting in the front passenger seat, told me that after his maniacal passing manoeuvre he had studied the car’s interior so that, if necessary, he could knock the guy out, pull the handbrake, jam the car in neutral and jump out. Warning sign number four.

He talked to us about religion and said that he believed in God because it’s good to do nice things for people such as giving us a ride. However, he found many Christians to be hypocritical and told the story of a 15-year-old boy from his church who ignored him at the supermarket. “That’s not cool,” he said.

Another person who wasn’t cool was the woman who interviewed him for a teaching job that he didn’t get. He deeply resented her and said so more than twice. They just didn’t click for some reason.

He told us that his dad was ill and he was planning a visit. He wanted to do something nice with him, maybe something like what we were doing — a walk — but much shorter, of course. “That would be nice,” he said. “He’d like that.”

This man, whose name we didn’t catch, was sad. He was sick or lost or something. He had little bits of stories, shreds of life, but it was hard to know what was real and what was what he wanted to be real. He spilled his life to us in stammering bursts and told us little.

He only took us 22 kilometres to Hokitika so we were with him for less than 20 minutes but it felt much longer and we were genuinely relieved to get out of his car. It was the first and only time that we felt nervous riding with a stranger. I don’t really think he was a crazy rapist murderer, that’s not fair. But he was crazy.

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