Location: Places >> Oceania >> New Zealand
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Reflections after 4 months in NZ
Posted March 21st, 2011 - 2:48 am by from Nelson, Canada (Permalink)
So we've been hitchhiking our entire trip, eating only from supermarkets (usually couldn't get to fruit stands or farmers markets), WWOOFing, couchsurfing, and tramping. 3 months South Island, 5 weeks North Island.

Here's a few observations that I thought would be helpful to share.

Hitchhiking
We bagged over 200 rides throughout the country as a mid-20's couple with big packs. Northland was BY FAR the easiest hitching in the country. Coromandel was good and the East Coast was fine too. Everywhere else I was a bit disappointed overall. Our average wait time was close to an hour, with many waits of over 2 hours. I'm not going to give general hitchhiking advice, but I will say that I don't think signs work at all, despite what the drivers told us. Most junctions had enough space to pull over, so that helped. Starting early helped, especially to beat other hitchhikers to the punch. Rideshares rarely seemed to line up for us. We only rented a car for one day, to do the Catlins, but in retrospect we could've hitched that too. Lots of places we couldn't go, but for the mainstream stuff, it was no problem. There was only 3 days where we didn't get where we were going. Te Anau to Dunedin, we had to stay in Gore. Marlborough Sounds also had MUCH less traffic than we thought (it was after school holidays), and we had to catch a water taxi back to our camp.

Freedom Camping and hitchhiking is possible, but DOC campsites aren't always near the highway, and there's a LOT of pasture in this country. The bush is generally quite thick exept on the south island a bit higher up when you are in Beech forests, such as Arthurs Pass and Haast Pass.

The only other thing to mention is ETIQUETTE. If someone has beaten you to a spot, it is my opinion that you are obliged to either hide out of sight, or walk at least 200m further down the highway before sticking out your thumb. Had a few tense moments with others that didn't seem to have a clue. I don't mind chatting for a minute to see how long others have waited and to share crucial advice, but more than 2 people in one spot does not get picked up.



WWOOFing

Between WWOOFing and HelpX, we stayed at about 9 farms for about a month in total. Plus we were able to do housekeeping at a few Backpackers just to pay for our room, just for a day or two at a time, so it's worth asking about.

It was hard to find farms that were free. None of my first choices had space. Some were booked out MONTHS in advance. Best to ask a few weeks ahead of time. The fact that we only wanted short term stays probably hurt us a bit. I recommend calling too, although emailing ensures they see your profile.

Supermarkets

If you can go to fruit stands and farmers markets, by all means do it. The one in central Dunedin is legendary. But if and when you need a supermarket, keep in mind:

Pac n Save is the cheapest and you don't need a silly coupon card or whatever. But they weren't always available, so we went to New World, because they're bulk section was pretty good, and you can get the coupon card instantly. Countdown has temporary coupon cards as well, but was our least favorite.

Watties is a great brand for soups. The mid-priced yoghurt is pretty good. O made a point of only buying New Zealand produce and suggest you do the same.

CouchSurfing

As with WWOOFing, Couchsurfing is very busy. This isn't the country for beginners or the half-hearted. Many hosts in desirable places get multiple requests daily. Smaller towns off the beaten path may not have much to offer otherwise, but your chance of getting hosted increases dramatically. Choke points like Picton and Te Anau, don't even bother.

Secondhand Bookstores:
My girlfriend and I read a lot, but we only read good books, and of course we don't want to be overcharged. Keeping that in mind...

There is a pamplet you can get for most bookstores south of Christchurch.

Litter Arty in Nelson has good books, but pricey.

Ashburton probably had the best selection that was reasonably priced.

Black Cat in Queenstown is appallingly expensive and should be boycotted.

Wanaka has a small selection at the back of a souvenir shop if you ask around.

Most bookstores in Christchurch had disappeared even BEFORE the February quake. Call ahead to save time. The one in Lyttelton if it still exists, is good selection but expensive.

Dunedin easily had the most bookstores for the size. Like 9 or something, most decent.

Book Worm in Mt Maunganui of Tauranga had a solid selection for reasonable prices. Probably tid for the one in Ashburton for our favorites.

Greymouth doesn't have one, but Westport's is decent.

Others that we checked out and can verify their existence as of the last 4 months includes one other in Nelson besides Litter Arty that alright, Hokitika (shitty selection), Alexandra (decent) and Kaikoura (pricey).

Tramping:

It was shit weather on the south island this summer outside of Nelson.

You've probably heard that February is the nicest month, but it wasn't this year. Most hikes in the Lonely Planet are going to be busy. Mount Cook was great, didn't bother with the crowded Mueller Hut. The Rees-Dart was great but there were 72 people in the one hut that has 32 bunks (maybe the busiest all summer, but still). The Cass-Lagoon was a waste of time, to be honest. Taking off the day before a nice stretch of weather should put you ahead of the crowd. Lots of morons in huts, hut etiquette is really important. Spraying DEET inside, wearing boots inside, noise after 10pm, letting bugs in - all things to AVOID. Clean up after yourself! Don't start a fire if you don't have to and especially if you don't know how. And get a Backcountry Hut Pass. They're a damn good deal. Pester people that don't pay - this is the best hut system in the world. Not perfect, but the abuse it gets is shocking. And the abuse is very disproportionately coming from travellers of one country in particular (but let's not name names, you'll see for yourself).

Sorry to rant, but people are the worst part of tramping.

If you do buy a hut pass, try to buy it in the area you'll be hiking in, because the money from your pass goes to the area that you purchased it in, so Auckland gets way more than its fair share.

Posted March 21st, 2011 - 3:10 am by from Dunedin, New Zealand (Permalink)
Thank you! Even for me (living in NZ) this is insightful information.

All the best for the future.

Posted March 21st, 2011 - 7:51 am by from Margaret River, Australia (Permalink)
thoughtful of you to share your advice. thank you.

Posted March 21st, 2011 - 7:23 pm from New Plymouth, New Zealand
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Posted March 21st, 2011 - 11:44 pm by from Auckland, New Zealand (Permalink)
WoW and bloody hell! lol

Re hitchiking, it's alright if your a couple, but a Kiwi Male on his own without a LARGE BACKPACK on his back or near his person, can be difficult to pick up rides..it's a Kiwi thing eh. lol
Hey cheers re that bookstore in Queenstown, they are all rip-offs down there man, including the coffee places eh, alot of shop owners in Queenstown should be shot!

Posted March 23rd, 2011 - 7:50 am by from Honolulu, United States (Permalink)
This is really great advice! I arrive in Auckland in July so this is extremely timely, esp the info on HelpX and WWOOFing.

Posted March 23rd, 2011 - 10:16 pm by from Nelson, Canada (Permalink)
Just a few more add-ons...

You can try to hitch from Auckland Airport into the city. Didn't do it, but heard its not hard from the closest petrol station to the airport. There's a big motorway in Auckland, so hitching isn't really possible. check out these two sites for info on hitching in and out of NZ cities:

http://www.digihitch.com/article947.html
http://hitchwiki.org/en/New_Zealand

We only hitched in the same spot as other hitchhikers a few times, probably saw a group of hitchhikers every few days on average. It's not uncommon, but not too busy either, except in hot spots.

The bookstore in Taupo was pretty poor.

There are two bookstores in Thames, both reasonable, but I wouldn't expect the moon...

Posted March 23rd, 2011 - 11:40 pm by from Auckland, New Zealand (Permalink)
Hey ya Dan, yeah if you guys try hitching from any motorway in New Zealand, for that matter, and you get spotted by the cops, it's a $25NZ(I think) instant fine, as it's ILLEGAL to hitch from on a motorway in this country, hence the instant fine if you get caught that is...but having said that, everywhere else is fine and you fellas with BIG backpacks on ya should have no trouble getting a lift from anywhere in NZ really, us Kiwis usually pick you up..but jus use common sense of cos when SPOTTING potential lifts, as opposed to accepting...I hitched all round NZ no worries well before my first OE in 1995.

Best,
Gregg.

Posted March 25th, 2011 - 9:34 pm by from Nelson, Canada (Permalink)
Also, if you are in the country for more than a month, I'd highly suggest opening a bank account. You don't need a NZ address and their EFTPOS (debit) system is the best in the world. You can always get cash out with any purchase.

Also, to add to the hitchhiking stuff, I wanted to mention that of the 200 rides we got, precious few were in backpacker vans. Maybe 3 rides from backpackers who'd bought a van and a few more in vehicles that were rented (including the bigger units). If you are in the country already, you know how many Juicy, Wicked, Spaceship, and Escape branded vans are out there. Imagine only getting one ride from them in 4 months! Pathetic! We did get rides in rental cars though

Posted March 26th, 2011 - 8:14 am by from Bournemouth, England (Permalink)
Good work on the hitchhiking report dan!

I've been hitchhiking a lot recently and in general its been awesome! Lost count of the amount of times the 1st car has stopped (particularly on quieter roads).

also agree that I've never been picked up by any rental car (wikid/explorer etc)and only once by a campervan the other day.

99% of my rides have been from local people, who have been awesome, many going out of their way to drop me off in the best places.

I think the south island and northland are brilliant for hitching!
happy travels

Posted March 26th, 2011 - 9:23 pm from Christchurch, New Zealand
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Posted March 27th, 2011 - 2:56 am by from Auckland, New Zealand (Permalink)
Jus offering a theory there James, of what I have seen personally, ALOT of overseas backpackers in their rental vans/cars simply do not have room for starters in their vehicles for even one more person..jus a theory..as alot of travelers jus pack it all in the back seat, and boot of cos..mattresses..backpacks etc..So I guess they would not stop for anyone standing on the side of any road in New Zealand.

Posted March 27th, 2011 - 7:46 am from Christchurch, New Zealand
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Posted March 27th, 2011 - 8:48 am by from Bournemouth, England (Permalink)
yeah thats a fair point greg! however i think picking up hitchhikers just isnt everyones cup of tea!

Posted March 27th, 2011 - 8:57 am by from Auckland, New Zealand (Permalink)
Too true, too true Nick!..the, us locals will normally stop to pick up those who look like they are from overseas, your fellas BIG BACKPACKS give you away mostly..but us Kiwis are normally in a hurry to get somewhere all the time and will not stop on any occasion..unless of cos they have room in the back of their van/car and do think to stop if they think it's a OVERSEAS person with their thumb out...somethin like that..

Posted March 29th, 2011 - 12:20 am by from Obrigheim, Germany (Permalink)
thanks a lot for the post, would apriciate more post´s of this kind :)

Posted March 29th, 2011 - 12:42 am by from Astoria, United States (Permalink)
I've done a ton of hitchhiking here as well with great luck, from north to south island. Only waited more than 30 minutes once or twice, and generally picked up within the first dozen cars. In the two and a half months I've been in the country hitching, I've had five or six people let me some stay at their place for the night, and many more people that I camped with along the way. A few even offered me work.

Hitching is the way to go, great country for it.

Posted March 29th, 2011 - 2:27 am by from Auckland, New Zealand (Permalink)
I wanna see the size of your BACKPACKACK, then it would explain why you got lifts all the time! lol

Posted March 29th, 2011 - 2:28 am by from Auckland, New Zealand (Permalink)
BACKPACK rather. lol

Posted March 29th, 2011 - 2:42 am by from Astoria, United States (Permalink)
haha, here it is: https://lh4.googleusercontent.com/_oTAk0UdEyBU/TJ1e0HZavUI/AAAAAAAApdQ/kqvPwD7HN-k/s400/IMG_3594.JPG

Posted March 29th, 2011 - 2:43 am by from Astoria, United States (Permalink)
One thing I noticed is that I got picked up much quicker when I was walking. The longest I waited was just over an hour in Blenheim standing still, I started walking and got picked up in less than five minutes.

Posted March 29th, 2011 - 7:49 am by from Nelson, Canada (Permalink)
We had drivers suggest say that Kiwis like to see hitchhikers making the effort and walking down the highway. I've done that in Canada where there's shoulders on the roads, but in NZ, it was often too dangerous. Why walk on a narrow strip where cars are going fast and don't have to room to pull over when I can stand in a spot where people are going slow and have room to pull over. Seemed like a no brainer. In less obvious spots we we look around a bit, and sometimes start walking if need be, but maybe only onace actually got picked up while moving. Of course, each spot is different and each driver expects something different. Some drivers could care less if you had a sign, for example. And when we did have a sign, many that stopped for us evidently hadn't even read it, believe it or not.

And certainly people have different luck. We had days at a time where we got rides no problem and many times when the first vehicle picked us up. We got informal WWOOFing once from a ride and offers to stay the night 2-3 times.

Time of the year could be another factor. We were essentially Decemeber through March.

Picture of our packs

Two of us with those packs was obviously a factor, but then again, we often fit into a sub-compact hatchback, even with two people in there already.

Posted March 30th, 2011 - 9:36 am from Nelson, New Zealand
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Posted March 30th, 2011 - 6:42 pm by from Nelson, Canada (Permalink)
To have a white board as a sign and be bale to change the destination on the fly would be great. "not far", "other side of town", etc.

I've never been into soliciting for rides at gas stations, especially if you're still in a town and it's unlikely that someone is even leaving town. Still if it works for others, power to 'em.

Posted March 30th, 2011 - 7:48 pm by from Wheat Ridge, United States (Permalink)
I hitchhiked alone for 3 months in NZ, and it's been as extraordinary as the scenery. I never tried walking because I think it's better to make eye-contact: just like in advertising, the person makes up their mind in a fraction of a second.
The longest I waited was one hour, but it was made worthwhile because the ride took me from Mt. Cook to Ashburton. More than once, I didn't even finish crossing the street and someone already picked me up, but that might have something to do with the fact that I'm a woman. I got the best rides in the SI and not the North, and the way I summarize my experience is: "It's just like going to the movies: every 2 hours the scenery, the characters, the stories change". Only that this is free and you wind up with new friends.
Maria :)

Posted March 30th, 2011 - 11:20 pm by from Auckland, New Zealand (Permalink)
Shet that's jus a small one Ken, I was thinking of the size the Germans and French like carrying here, bout 5 feet in length. lol

Posted March 30th, 2011 - 11:16 pm by from Auckland, New Zealand (Permalink)
All interesting this, but why not discuss in the real too, why don't we do it next week at the Auckland CS drinks night Wednesday..burps..I was there las night, it was all good and was great to see some familiar faces there! :)

Posted April 1st, 2011 - 4:03 am by from Vienna, Austria (Permalink)
i'm hitching through nz atm and i got quite a lot of lifts from other travellers (even sometimes in the back of a campervan) which was great cause they are mostly not really in a hurry and want to see the sights on the way.

a good way to hitch lifts with travellers is to ask people at parking places of sights, never had a problem with that and for example in the catlins it was far better than just getting a lift through on the main road...

happy hitching!

Posted April 1st, 2011 - 5:17 pm by from Nelson, Canada (Permalink)
Good point on asking people at tourist sights. I forgot we actually did do that a few times and it worked.