I had a bit of an hitchhiking adventure recently. Desperate to see the Bay of Islands in New Zealand’s northern tip, I decided to risk this mode of travel. One of my colleagues at the local pub where I worked in Rotorua, the Pig and Whistle, clarified the peril element perfectly – "Don’t hitch, you'll get murdered". Cheers.
I went, anyway. (A Danish mate spent two months hitchinghiking New Zealand. It cost him six beers for 4,500 kilometers and he never had his throat slit once). I whipped out the Auckland cardboard sign and apprehensively stood by the highway, walking and waiting for that lift. It started raining heavily. I was feeling low and I was wet. I nearly gave up.
Number One Lift – Frank, the Maori
A 45-tonne timber truck pulled up. I clambered inside the cab (I thought, this isn’t bad, he can’t kill me, he's at work, he's definitely going to Auckland, the view is awesome and it’s not raining in the cab). The driver's first words went something like this "Howzit Bro, where to?" I responded, "Auckland, please mate".
With a “Sweet bro, name's Frank,” we were off. Frank was Maori, heavily tattooed with arms like trees and a drug problem, sorry, drug problems. During the initial pleasantries, Frank butted in with a controversial icebreaker.
"Smoke the herb, bro?"
"Er, no, I don’t."
"Oh well, excuse it bro, just gonna pull over for my fux."
Once I’d deciphered that fux meant fix, it dawned on me what he was. Nice Dave, hitch a lift with a stoned bloke. He whipped out a huge bag of skunk, rolled his joint and rejoined the highway with a classic, "Ahh, that’s better. you can’t drive a truck without it." I wanted to say, it’s probably more beneficial to yourself and other road users…, but Frank was a very big bloke.
Discussion centred on the dimensions of his truck, his weekly intoxication schedule, Lord of the Rings and possum shooting. I could only offer chocolate chip cookies, Frank didn’t mind, he'd been driving this route for eight years. He was glad for the conversation. He scribbled his mobile number and said there was a lift back to Rotorua later on if I wanted it. Despite the bloodshot pupils and delayed reactions, he was a top trucker.
It took two hours to get from the southern to the northern outskirts of Auckland. Like all large cities, the sprawl means a transportation crawl. I got off the local bus in Silverdale, a den of suburbia. People only went as far as the local shop – not the Bay of Islands, where I was heading!
I had to face facts. I found a hostel and spoke with an interesting chap from Carlisle who had decided to do some motorbiking round New Zealand. He had to travel light, but I was surprised when he pulled out an old-fashioned bugle horn from his pack. "I always travel with a horn." It normally takes me a while to engulf in tear-jerking laughter in the presence of strangers. This was an exception.
Number Two Lift – Ray, another Maori
I was speaking with Anthony Hopkin's senile second cousin, sipping tea in the McDonalds the next morning. The experience was random, I was only in McDonalds because it was right next to the highway. I then scored a lift with another Maori trucker. Ray was cleaner, more decipherable and professional than Frank.
We had several enlightening conversations, but the one about an Israeli girl he picked up made me laugh. She travelled with nothing more than a drum and a loaf of bread to communicate with the gods. Ray offered a classy one-liner. "I offered her some shoes but she refused, she was a bloody freak."
Number Three Lift – Girl in An Old Car
I recommend truck travel. I was dropped off at the Paihia turn off (the main town of the Bay Of Island region). I had 17 kilometers left to travel. A scatty girl in a very old car picked me up. I took the lift and even agreed to pop into her mate’s house with her, which was only 200 meters up the road.
Progress to Pahia was slowing down. The house was neglected. Her mate was bigger than Frank and drugs featured heavily amongst the soft furnishings. The girl was nice and pleasant, but she and her friend were clearly attempting to be high soon.
I bolted after seven long minutes – the deciding factor turned out to be the moment when my driver started on a pot pipe whilst nibbling a hash cookie and pouring a bourbon and cola – a normal sunny afternoon on the Bay of Islands. I’d seen enough, made my feeble excuse and left hurriedly. Thinking I couldn’t land another lift from a druggie, I put my thumb out again.
Number Four Lift – Risks Worth It?
This time an old man pulled up, sober and clear eyed. He delivered me into the centre of Paihia. I found a hostel and reflected on the bizarre day. Bay of Islands turned out to be a stunning place and well worth the risks I took to get there.