After spending a couple of days in the old fishing town of Kaikoura I decided it was time to move on. Remembering this time to make absolutely certain that I had everything, including my towel. I packed up the van and headed for State Highway 1. Once again it wasn’t exactly a nice day, a cold fine drizzle clung to everything that wasn’t Teflon coated. I stuck on the windscreen wipers, selected ‘Road To Nowhere’ as my initial musical entertainment and hit the road. I had been driving for about five minutes when; at the side of the road, a pair of damp thumbs poked out.
My only knowledge of hitchhikers and hitchhiking comes from the great school of sitting on your arse in the cinema. As far as I can tell there are two scenarios. Either a young, good looking American couple – possibly on honeymoon or travelling to ‘the lake’ – decide to pick up a lonesome looking hiker, caught in a storm. In this case, the hiker will be a mentally disturbed escaped lunatic from the nearby nut house and try to dismember one whilst the other watches. The other scenario see’s a young American man or woman by themselves out in a storm or in the middle of the desert with a flat tyre / out of gas / engine problem. Whilst trying to get to the nearest garage, s/he will thumb a lift from a man in a pickup truck. The man in the pickup will be the homicidal mass murderer the Sheriff has been hunting for weeks. Never be the Sheriff, for some reason they always get slaughtered somewhere in the middle of the film.
Another nugget of knowledge comes from my Dad, a lorry driver. “Thumbs for bums, Plates for a pro.” Meaning those men you see sometimes on the motorway in Britain holding out what look like old tax disks are lorry drivers at work, usually delivering lorries. Those without plates just using their thumb to hitch a lift are bums who can’t afford the bus fare. This should have been my clue.
For months before I came over to New Zealand, I had been reading posts on backpacker board. From this I gained the impression that everyone was looking for someone to share the experience, share the laughs and share the petrol bills. Petrol in NZ isn’t as expensive as in Blighty, but when you’re driving a 14 year old people carrier that lists both Captains Cook and Kirk as former owners, the fuel gauge is rarely away from the bottom. Having someone to share the fuel bill would be a blessing, because with the mileage between towns in NZ usually being over 30 miles, petrol gets drunk faster than free Scrumpy at a music festival.
I stuck on the left indicator and pulled in to the side, provoking a jump for joy from the girl. After some pushing and shoving I managed to fold my mattress back and unfurl the rear seats. Should I ask about fuel now, or later? No, it’s wet out, lets get on the road and hopefully the subject will come up soon. Where were they going? Blenheim, same as me. They were pleasant enough, polite conversation about the weather and our respective homelands (he was from Belgium, she was from Argentina) and the miles past by. It turns out they were working on a vineyard just north of Blenheim and staying in a hostel nearby. The prices seemed reasonable (NZ$23 for a bed or NZ$15 to hole up in the car park and use the facilities) That was good, I needed a place to park for the night so why not there? Shall I ask about fuel now? No, it’d be strange in the middle of the journey. Eventually we made it to the hostel, a real backpackers hideaway called ‘Swampy’s’, a log cabin affair with a great big fireplace and soft sofas. I let them out as I parked up, they hadn’t mentioned fuel and I had by now guessed it wasn’t going to be brought up. There were about fifteen to twenty other guests, most seemed to be working their way around NZ in the vineyards. We played drinking games and music was constantly playing. Eventually I asked one of the others, not one I had given a lift to, what was the etiquette for hitchhiking and fuel contributions? “What’s the point of hitching if you have to pay? Nobody pays!” was the answer. Hmmm…
That night I’m sure I would’ve been very drunk had the lager I had been drinking been brewed with actual alcohol in mind. I certainly wouldn’t have found the place without the people I picked ups’ help. But here’s the thing. They gained a free lift and I used more fuel hauling them around, this time I was lucky because they knew a good place to spend the night. But what would’ve happened if they just wanted dumping in the centre of Blenheim and I had nothing to show for it? What if they had turned out to be mass murdering lunatics with an addiction to violent video games and a partiality for Liver and Chianti? I think it comes down to a question of whether you enjoy you’re own company whilst driving. If you feel the need to talk to someone, pick them up, and hopefully they won’t just fall asleep, or try to eat you. If you don’t mind being alone whilst driving in a different country, just go on by, it’ll save you precious petrol.
Mini Count:- 9, still.
Follow Me: 41 27′ 37.75″ S 173 57′ 45.62″ E