I have arrived in New Zealand! As I already visited quite a bit of North Island on my last visit 2 years ago, and I wanted to meet my two new baby cousins, I planned to go straight to Taranaki to visit my family.
Unfortunately, I was landing late in Auckland so a short stay there was kind of unavoidable. I also hoped to get some administrative thingies done in the city. I found a hostel conveniently located with a spa pool on the roof and enjoyed my couple of days in the biggest city of the country.
Public transportation may be efficient and available in New Zealand, it is pretty expensive. On a tight budget of 40 dollars a day, I “couldn’t” afford to take buses too often.I’m saying “couldn’t” like this because obviously my bank account states that I can totally buy these bus tickets, but my budget-backpacker mind states otherwise. So if I can find a way round these expensive bus rides, I’ll pick that!
From Auckland Airport to City Centre
As advised in the Hitchwiki website, Instead of paying the nearly 20 dollars ride to the city centre, I walked from the airport to the nearest gas station to try to find a ride to the city centre. Luckily, before I even asked anyone, an employee had given me directions to a cheaper way to the city, and a woman waiting for her husband offered my a ride! Moreover, she offered my to stay at her place in Tauranga if I ever wanted to visit. Sweet!
From Auckland to Taranaki
Here we go! I definitely didn’t want to pay the 50 dollar bus ride from Auckland to Taranaki and spend 6 hours on a boring bus. But getting out of Auckland sounded like quite huge challenge!
At 8:45, I walked out of my hostel onto Queen Street, and walked all the way to the end of Hobson street leading to the highway. I was still on crutches for support, after my knee injury I still had some trouble walking with the heavy load of my backpack. Somehow, I had entered New Zealand with a light backpack (13kg!) but when I departed from my hostel it felt like someone had put bricks in it.
Ride 1: Out of Auckland
(waiting time: 1 hour)
The spot I had was not good. In between the two last traffic lights before the highway, most cars would be speeding too fast to read my tiny watercolour-painted “Taranaki” sign. Although there were some convenient parking spots, nobody seemed to be able to stop for me.
I was beneath a hostel’s windows, and one of the staff members, a German called Matthew, came to offer me some encouragement and a cup of coffee, and also offered to pray for my knee. Thank you Matthew!
I tried going at the last traffic light, but people who stopped didn’t want to offer me a ride, and those in the back of the line couldn’t see me, especially that there were a lot of buses. So I reverted to my previous spot in the middle of the lane.
After about an hour, a lady pulled aside but told me she couldn’t offer me a ride. As I was thinking to take a bus to get out of the city, I asked her if she could give me some advice about public transportation. After looking up something on her phone, she told me “actually, I know a very good spot where you should be, I’d love to drive you but I have a meeting and don’t have enough time”. Then she called her friend she was supposed to meet, rescheduled and drove me to the spot quite a bit further south on the highway!
She was a single mom and screenwriter who loved travelling in Europe, and had had a difficult divorce which restrained her son to the country, so she couldn’t travel with him until he reached the age of 16. She would be welcome home whenever she can come to France!
Ride 2: Slightly out of Auckland to Bombay
(waiting time: 0 minutes)
I had barely got out of the car and walked to the highway entrance that a man called me over and offered me a ride out to Bombay, which is south of Auckland and apparently quite a good spot to get a ride!
This gardener was going on his last tree delivery of the day, and said he saw me with the backpack and the crutches and even though he wasn’t going far, he wanted to help me out!
Ride 3: From Bombay to Hamilton
(waiting time: approx. 20 minutes)
I remember this spot from hitching a ride from here 2 years ago, and I remember it as being quite a good spot! This time, I got less lucky: not much traffic was going on the highway. I refused a ride from a friendly guy going in further south but wasn’t sure about a good pick-up spot. Still, I didn’t have to wait too long until a Maori going to Hamilton called me over to offer me a ride.
He had recently lost his wife to cancer, and had taken up golf as a distraction and was driving to Hamilton to pick up some gear he had bought second hand online. He told me about his traditional Maori Ta Moko tattoos, representing his family on his right side and his wife’s family on the left side, with his son he lost to war on the shoulder. We had pleasant conversations during the ride, it was interesting to hear about the Maori traditions from a Maori himself!
I was afraid of getting stuck in another city, but if he dropped me before getting into Hamilton I would probably be able to get a ride further south. It turned out this friendly man knew the roads better than I did and dropped me on what he said was what used to be the main road from Auckland to New Plymouth. I felt less hopeful when I was left on the side of a road with nearly no traffic at all.
Ride 4: From Ngaruawahia to Whatawhata road
(waiting time: approx 40 minutes)
Now there’s some fun Maori names coming in! For my readers who aren’t familiar with Maori, the “ng” is pronounced like a nasal “N”, the “wh” is pronounced “F” and the “R”s are rolled. Here we go 🙂
Once my driver had gone off after offering some safety advice and wishing me a safe trip, a Maori lady pulled over to offer me some advice about where to stand and wished me a safe journey.
There was very little traffic, and as it was almost noon I had my lunch cooked the evening before. with my sigh tucked under my handbag’s strap. Before I could even start to feel desperate about the lack of traffic, an old couple pulled over. They were driving to Raglan, on the West coast, but could drop me on the main crossing going towards New Plymouth.
Ride 5: From Whatawhata road to New Plymouth… or maybe not!
(waiting time: 0 minutes)
I crossed the road and dropped my backpack. As soon as I stuck my thumb out, a car stopped!
This man was driving straight to New Plymouth, and was offering me to ride all the way with him. How lucky! He was originally from the Middle East but had lived in NZ and Aus for the last 10 years, and was now visiting family.
However, after an hour or so, the car started feeling quite wobbly. We stopped a couple of times to check the wheels, but then the car totally stopped. Damn it! My driver was going to wait for his friend to help him out, and I would try to get another ride!
Ride 6: From the Middle of Nowhere to the Middle of Nowhere, further South
(waiting time: 10 minutes)
I was in a bad spot: just after a hill and a curve, where cars would speed past me. Luckily, there was a farm entrance with some space to pull over, and I was able to stand safely at a distance from the road.
Before I could start to worry too much about my bad spot, a camping-car stopped over, and an enthusiastic old man pulled my backpack in his vehicle. He was employed to drive the car from Auckland to South Island. He expressed his strong opinions loudly on controversial subjects, and it was a fun ride!
Ride 7: From the Middle of Nowhere further South to New Plymouth!
(waiting time: 10 minutes)
I barely had enough time to take a couple of selfies before a black van stopped for me. A young Taranaki native on a sales trip to his home town welcomed me on the ride all the way to New Plymouth!
We had nice conversations about various subjects, and enjoyed the magnificent landscape surrounding us. Finally, I was reaching Taranaki!
We got in town before 5pm, so Auntie Donna was still at her workplace. By luck, we found ourselves driving straight past it so I could surprise her!
I had a very fun day and a smooth trip from Auckland to New Plymouth! All of this thanks to the kindness of strangers who helped me along the way.
If you want to do the same trip, or any other hitch-hiking trip, bear in mind that although New Zealand is a safe country, there are still some nutcases out there! I always picked up the number plate of the car and most of the time texted it straight away to my aunt with the destination and a description of the car and/or the driver. Before getting in a car, I always asked the driver’s destination, discussed the dropping point, and evaluated my trust in the stranger in the short conversation we had. I was always paying attention to the situation and was regularly tracking our ride on my GPS. Had I felt unsafe, I would not have gotten into the car, or I would have asked the driver to stop. Fortunately, I didn’t encounter this kind of situation. Safe travels!