Marie got a ride to Auckland airport with a colleague and set ‘camp’ up a corner with a precious power socket. A cancelled meeting enabled Emma to catch a slightly earlier flight.
After a quick change and some trading of packing, we bought water and headed out of the building, with the sign Emma had made saying ‘South’
We’d had a brief discussion about what to say to people that were kind enough to give us a lift. Maybe not everyone would appreciate giving us a ride if they knew we’d turned down a paid flight home (Marie) and in fact paid to fly up in order to hitchhike back (Emma) and that actually we were just seeking an adventure.
It was tempting to invent a story, a whole new exciting fictional life. But that doesn’t sit comfortably with our straight up honest personalities. We settled on just being a little coy on the details and to be honest in telling people we were simply heading home for work on Monday after spending a couple of days in Auckland.
We walked 5 mins out of the airport and sussed the main road south. The Friday rush hour meant it was gridlocked. That suited us. We debated the most strategic location to stand, where it was easy to be seen and for willing drivers to easily pull over.
It took 8 minutes to get our first ride with Eleanor and her teenage son Devon. They had a well nice car and a typical Pacific Islander she was so relaxed she just flicked the boot we threw in the bags and jumped in. She was super sociable and chatty. Our intention to be honest went out the window with her first question ‘so where are youse from?’ It was loaded with excitement and we instantly felt pressure to be exotic or risk letting down someone who had just taken a chance on us. ‘Oh we’re Brits’ we replied, and there were satisfactory nods and ahhhs, ‘when did you get here?’ ‘Oh we just got to Auckland a few days ago’ and with that our intentions of being honest went out of the window. That we were so ‘fresh’ seemed to excite Eleanor more. She was excited to tell us about NZ and Auckland and to be playing a part in our trip. This was a common theme on our first night and we quickly discovered that it was fascinating to be a tourist in your own country, and to hear how people expressed their thoughts and views on it.
Eleanor and Devon were only going to South Auckland but the 11km trip took 30 minutes. She kindly detoured to drop us near the motorway on-ramp in Manukau. We had a chuckle that we could still see Auckland’s Sky Tower in the distance. Also as South Auckland doesn’t have the greatest reputation we had a laugh at being dropped off in the middle of it.
The traffic was quite fast towards the on-ramp so we walked a little up the road feeding it trying to find the best spot. As we went over a crest we couldn’t believe it when up ahead on our side of the road was another bloody hitchhiker! We figured as he was ahead of us he’d probably need to get a ride before we’d really stand a chance but with few alternative options we picked a spot where the cars were slowest and had some space to pull over and cracked out our best smiles to go with our sign, which we’d named Sammy.
Seems Emma might have smiled too nicely as after half an hour or so a young guy pulled over. When Emma asked where he was going he replied ‘for a good time’ then asked ‘would you like to spend some time with me?’ Emma passed on the opportunity.
Much more common was people smiling and waving and one group hung out of the window and shouted good luck!
The overcast grey sky meant the light was fading quite early and then it started to spit with rain and get a bit cool. We started to wonder if we’d ever get a ride but after 50 minutes a young Indian couple pulled over. They took us down to the Bombay Hills/Pukekohe petrol station. We were happy with that as our aim for Friday evening was just to get out of Auckland.
With 3 petrol stations clustered together by the expressway on-ramp we decided to give getting another ride a go, even though traffic volume wasn’t high it was all going our way.
It was starting to rain heavier and it was basically dark. We took up a spot on the road that became the on-ramp opposite the last petrol station that was a self service one, so there was a bit of light. There was no point using the sign so we put our thumbs out. We’d been there literally a minute when Damon pulled out of the service station and pulled straight over. He opened the door and said I’ve just bought this car so my driving might be a bit dodgy but I’m happy to give you a lift. He was going to Hamilton which was perfect! We liked his honest attitude and hopped straight in.
It was a lowered boy racer car, and he was stoked to have just bought his first nice car. He was equally stoked to have company for the hour long journey and was excited to be picking up his first hitchhikers. Despite being in his 20’s he told us his mum would be proud of him as she picks up hitchhikers because she hitchhiked when she was young.
He was an incredibly chatty fast talker, a real character. To be that young and such a character we could just imagine how much of a character he was going to be when he got older! He said he had a colourful past and his family was complicated but that basically after being born and raised in Wellington he moved to Hamilton 6 years ago to get away from gang connections. He had made a good honest life – working, not going out, not drinking, playing a few computer games and spending time with his partner. He also has a weakness for cars and fast driving and admitted it was probably a good thing he picked us up because he really wanted to top end his new car but because he wanted to drive us safely he was being restrained. We didn’t go over 120km.
On the way we did a quick Google, found a backpackers and gave them a call since time was getting on. Damon kindly went out of his way to take us there. We arrived in the dark and rain and discovered it was on like a motel street.
Our $75 room was tiny – a double bed and enough room on one side to get out. We shared a toilet and shower with the room next door, both couldn’t have physically been any smaller. It was very basic but tidy, and given it was 9pm we were just going to sleep, shower and leave anyway. Luckily Marie had earlier got provisions for dinner so we went downstairs to the kitchen and chatted to an Australian truck driver until we were so shattered we could only just crawl to bed. We deemed stage 1 a success and looked forward to a proper full day of it.
We had left our digs and scored a passable coffee by 9am. Google told us the highway was 1.8km away. There was a dampness in the air as we set off but the perfect blue sunny skies soon burnt that off.
We passed a supermarket so grabbed lunch provisions. When we found the highway we picked our spot just past some traffic lights and held our sign out. Less than 30 minutes later a guy called Andy and his teenage son stopped. We couldn’t believe they were going home to Levin!
We had slightly mixed feeling about taking such a long ride but he was a slow and steady driver, and we stopped in Tokoroa, had a hour long lunch stop at Spa Park in Taupo and we had a coffee shop stop in Taihape so we didn’t feel like we had rushed through. The weather was perfect – blue, sunny, warm and just a gentle breeze.
Originally from Invercargill Andy had a slow southern drawl, probably in his early 40’s he was a really down to earth steady kind of guy. If we had to guess we’d say he was probably ex-Army. He runs some classes at this local gym and was meticulous in his organisation. His hands never left the 10 and 2 positions as he drove. He was so cautious in his driving we both wondered if there was a bad life experience associated with driving. His son was really quiet so we think he welcomed some company on the long drive. All up it took us close to 8 hours.
Andy was kind enough to offer us his living room floor but he’d already been generous enough and we wanted a bit of space to ourselves so politely declined and instead booked into a basic cabin at the local holiday park. It cost us $58 and we had the luxury of our own toilet. With bedding not provided we got to use our sleeping bags. We had a walk around the town after dinner, Saturday night in Levin it seems is dead.
The final morning we walked the kilometer or so to the highway. Manukau and Levin have been by far the friendliest places with lots of people smiling and waving.
We figure that drivers have literally a second in which to make the decision of whether to pull over, so our approach was to both stand up so people could see us properly and hopefully make that assessment that we aren’t dodgy
We had a 16 minute wait until an Argentinian and French tourist pulled over. We can’t pronounce their names, but they were doing a hire car relocation from Auckland to Christchurch. We’d already decided that rather than get a ride to Porirua where we live and walk the 5kms from the highway to our house that we’d hitchhike to Wellington and pick up our car from our work car park to save us going out to get it later. So when they said they were going to Wellington we were stoked. On the way they gave us all their travelling NZ tips, like how Pak ‘n Save is the cheapest supermarket and how the car relocation thing worked.
We said our goodbyes in Wellington and celebrated by getting a coffee.
Random life goal = achieved!