By Jade Johnston
It’s not where you are, but who you are with. Or in the case of hitch hiking, it is not how urban or remote you are, its who is driving by.
Westport to Blenheim – 260 kilometers
Blenheim to Queenstown – 784 kilometers
Westport to Blenheim was through a route with hardily any traffic at all – However, it was a relatively easy hitch.
Blenheim to Queenstown was down the most major highway, and then down a very touristic route – However, it was the most difficult, soul crushing part of the trip so far.
THE RULES OF HITCH HIKING
- 1)It is important to look presentable
- 2)It is important to make eye contact with the drivers
- 3)It is important to have a sign
- 4)It is important to be in a spot where it is easy for people to pull over and where the traffic is already going relatively slow
However, none of these things matter if no one that passes you by has the inclination to pick up hitch hikers.
We left Westport early in the morning and after about half an hour of waiting we were picked up and taken to the point where the highway splits to go to Nelson and Blenheim. This highway does not have very heavy traffic and we settled in for what we thought would be a very long wait. We were not even properly holding up our sign when the first guy that passed pulled over for us. He seemed like a really interesting guy, and he was working his way through listening to all of the albums in the famous “1000 albums to listen to before you die” book, but unfortunately the state of the roads made me so car sick that I had to just sleep to avoid feeling ill. Luckily, James was there to make conversation. He dropped us off in Richmond, a town near Nelson.
After lunch in Richmond we caught a ride with a Dutch man who had immigrated to New Zealand several years ago. He took us to Nelson. In Nelson, it took a while to get a ride, so James and I took turns holding the sign while the other one read. We got so involved in the book that we didn’t even notice that someone had stopped for us! Peter took us from Nelson back to Blenheim. He was monitoring the lumber industries impact on the environment and is also an avid hiker. We told him about our hiking experiences and that we were soon going to be doing the Routeburn, but that we were a bit worried that it would be much colder on an alpine hike. He quickly offered to lend us his camping air mattresses, which are essential to insulate you from the cold ground.
We stayed in Blenheim, and left early the next morning for Queenstown. We have two days to go almost 800 kilometers, and we must get there on time because we start the Routeburn hike on the morning of the 14th.
Today’s theme is spinal injuries. We were picked up right away in Blenheim by a guy going to Kaikoura to pick up a new engine for his truck. He works in the forestry industry as a tree planter. He told us how year ago he had a pine tree fall on him which completely crushed his spine. He was paralyzed for a long time and eventually had to relearn how to walk. He miraculously recovered and is still working as a tree planter.
From Kaikoura we were picked up by a semi truck taking armored vehicles to Christchurch and taking away wrecked vehicles. As we zipped around corners and through tunnels, I hung on tightly (there were only two seats in the cab so I was in the middle) and told myself that he must be a good driver since it is his profession, and not to worry too much. Soon after having these thoughts he started telling us about how he rolled his truck once and was paralyzed from the next down. He had only been back on the job for eighteen months now. At this point, James and I switched seats. I buckled up and went to sleep – so as to not be too afraid. We arrived in the same amount of pieces as we started out in, and maneuvered ourselves to a good spot to get our of Christchurch.
Getting out of Christchurch was surprisingly easier than we expected to, and we were almost immediately picked up by two guys. One of the guys was a traveler from America who had been staying in a backpackers when the earthquake hit – and all of his possessions were lost. They took us as far as Geraldine. From there, our luck ran out. After giving up in Geraldine, we decided to start walking and try to find a good camping spot outside of town. We walked for about five kilometers before a truck pulled over. A farming couple offered for us to stay the night at their house, and we gratefully accepted.
We have encountered some amazing hospitality during our travels around New Zealand, and this is another example of it. We got to sleep in a real bed, have hot showers, and not freeze in the poor little tent. The next morning, they even offered to take us to the next town along – Fairlie – as there were not good places for traffic to stop outside their property.
From Fairlie, it wasn’t too difficult to get to Lake Tekapo – a town famous for the vibrant blue lake. The lake is that colour due to the sediment that was ground up by the glacier which created it. In Tekapo a Canadian girl picked us up. Very few travelers ever pick us up. Most of our rides come from locals, and especially from Maoris. We have started to assume that all camper vans and rental cars won’t stop. But on some occasions we are wrong. She took us to where the highway splits for Queenstown and Mount Cook. She headed to Mount Cook and we waited for a ride to Queenstown.
Another hitch hiker was dropped off at this same location.
We tried waiting as three.
He started walking to a place further along the line.
We waited as two.
Eventually we started walking as well, and passed the other hitch hiker. We walked and walked and walked. Ten kilometers later we reached Twizel.
By this point I was very very upset. It had been over four hours that we had waited and no one was stopping. We were supposed to be catching a bus out of Queenstown for the Routeburn hike the next morning at eight. Everything had been pre booked, and nothing was refundable. We decided to ask in Twizel if there were any buses to Queenstown. As James walked to the tourism office, the last bus pulled away and left us behind.
Eventually, someone did pick us up – but they only took us on to the next town.
We waited some more.
Finally, we were saved. A South African couple pulled over and offered to take us all the way to Queenstown. I couldn’t believe our luck! We drove through the dramatic scenery of the southern alps and arrived in Queenstown just after 7 pm. Tired and exhausted, our journey finally over – until tomorrow.