A wild ride in NZ

Jade hitching in New Zealand © Jade Johnston

Hitchhiking. You never know who is going to pull over for you, and what sort of characters you will meet on the road. When you are looking for a free ride, the only box you really need to tick is “not a murderer.”

Hitchhiking creates a very interesting social dynamic. You are sharing a small space, with a complete stranger, of whose personality you have no idea. This is especially compounded when you are hitchhiking on “the road less travelled,” and you are desperate for a ride….any ride.

My boyfriend and I stood by the road in Wanganui, New Zealand. We had managed to reach this town from New Plymouth, via four rides which took several hours. We were on our way to a place called Raetihi. From there, we would be starting a multi day canoe journey down the mighty Whanganui river. But first, we needed to get to Raetihi.

Raetihi can barely even be called a small town. The major tourist attraction in the area is New Zealand’s largest scrap metal yard. And the Whanganui river, of course. The town is located at the junctions of two underused highways – 4 and 49. We wondered if it would even be possible to reach this town by hitchhiking at all. With this in mind, one can not be overly picky when asking for a free ride.

We stood by the beginning of highway 4 for several hours, waiting for a vehicle…any vehicle, to pass. Finally, a van stopped for us. Well, it was more of a swerve and a careen than a stop. Five curious, just over 18′s, scrutinized us and then shouted, “where ya going mate?”

“To Raetihi.”

“Where’s that? Jump in!”

When they said jump in, they meant it. The doors of the van were broken, so the only access way was through the window. With a little bit of flexibility, we made it inside, and were immediately presented with a bourbon and cola each. Cans of this stuff are a popular drink with the New Zealand youth – and they taste about as good as they sound (not very good).

Of course, when one is presented with a gift in another country, another culture, you must accept it. Even if the sickly alcohol, combined with the erratic driving along a mountain road is not combining well in your stomach. Did I mention I get motion sickness easily?

The kids were on their way to a concert in Auckland, and the festivities had started early for them. Although the driver was not drinking, that could not be said for the rest of them. And when not cracking open a new can of bourbon and cola, they were drawing on each other with green spray paint.

For several hours, we wound along narrow roads, blasting music and laughing at silly jokes. The journey was broken up by frequent bathroom breaks, that of course included climbing out and then back in through the window. Throughout the whole journey, we only saw one other vehicle – a large transport truck. If we had not gotten a ride with these rambunctious youngsters, there is the possibility that we would still be waiting by the side of the road in Wanganui.

Hitchhiking. You never know who is going to pull over for you, and what sort of characters you will meet on the road. But in this case, it turned out to be one of the most memorable experiences that I have had in New Zealand.

Written by - Edited by Charlotte Amelines - Photo by Jade Johnston

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