Over the next few weeks here at Gadling, we’ll be bringing you updates from our recent travels across New Zealand – in the process, we hope to offer a range of perspectives about what visiting this truly unique and fascinating country is all about. You can read previous entries HERE.
We picked up Kevin near Springs Junction, nearly 200 kilometers southeast of Picton, New Zealand, standing on the side of the road with a backpack in the middle of nowhere. Like us, he was headed to Christchurch, so he tossed his gear into the back seat of our Mitsubishi Colt and jumped in behind it.
Among travelers, you always start with the same hour of conversation: Where are you from? Where have you been in New Zealand? Where do you think that we should go next? Kevin was traveling across the entirety of both islands on a series of hikes carrying his tent, sleeping bag and stove on his back and using the kindness of others for transportation. He was probably a few years younger than us, clean cut with a standard hiking fleece and khaki cargo pants. I could have confused him with the cashier at Whole Foods.
As a recent geography major from Canada, in fact, our friend had bounced around to a few jobs after finishing college, but had never found his groove. Eventually, he saved up enough money to voyage to New Zealand. Maybe to find himself. Maybe to stay. He never said.And that’s how most conversations went between Kevin and his drivers. Light fluff, catching up, swapping travel stories and talking about the beauty and luster of New Zealand. Amazingly, he didn’t have a bad experience from his entire weeks of hitching across the country. The longest wait that he had ever experienced was before we picked him up – a total of fifteen minutes. Among his worst stories? An art dealer in a Land Rover who talked a little bit too much.
We all agreed though: hitchhiking isn’t something that we would try in most other countries. Something about the friendliness and the culture of the Kiwis makes New Zealand perfect for backpacking – the warmth of their characters, the trust of another person, the wanderer buried in every single driver. It fosters a sense of security and altruism among hitchers in this corner of the world, and the resulting experience, especially in Kevin’s case, is definitely worth the risk.
Would he recommend it to anyone else traveling through this corner of the world? Absolutely. While not for everyone, hitchhiking is a unique experience. One meets random characters, saves a ton of money and opens oneself up to the improbability of mishaps on the road – in one of the safest countries of the world mind you. Isn’t that a core fundamental of adventure travel?
Before long we found ourselves in front of the hotel in Christchurch, Kevin with his backpack headed towards his hostel and our paths diverging. The phone number that we scribbled on our Gadling.com business card was wrong, I now remember — it went to a phone that had stopped working days ago. But it didn’t matter. Our service as drivers was done now, the exchange complete, two travel worlds briefly merging for a road trip to Christchurch.