Over the last week or two I’ve been exploring the upper South Island, with hitchhiking my main form of transport between towns and cities. One of the rides took me to see an area of NZ I’ll likely never see again (ride three).

I always enjoy reading the adventures of others, so this post about hitchhiking in New Zealand will include:

  • Descriptions of the 10 people who gave me a ride, including what we talked about and things I learned.
  • Hitchhiking tips. For context, I’ve hitchhiked in parts of Europe, Southeast Asia, and the USA

About The 10 People Who Picked Me Up

Note: Names have been changed and I’ve kept some details vague to protect identities etc.

To start, here are a few stats about the 10 people who picked me up. Where there were multiple people, I have used the driver as the statistic.

  • 7 male and 3 female
  • 6 cars, 2 campervans, 1 van, and 1 truck
  • 8 locals, 2 overseas (the two in the campervans)
  • 8 solo drivers
  • 0 awkward conversations

Ride One: Picton to Blenheim

tirohanga track

A cloudy start in Picton

My first ride in the south was from a lady (in her 50’s) who had to the area from Christchurch after the earthquake. When she picked me up she was on her way to the hospital in Blenheim for a check-up as she still wasn’t feeling 100% after being in ICU for a week. I’m not sure how long ago this was! Long enough to be fit for driving I guess? An artist of many talents, she’s had a variety of jobs in the art industry.

Ride Two: Blenheim to Kaikoura

A classic truckie. In his 40’s he was born, raised, and currently living in Auckland. He wasn’t very nice with his word choice towards Auckland and went on to say he’d love to live in Christchurch or the Gold Coast. He was close to moving to Christchurch at one point, but his lady decided it was too far from family.

His family are from the Pacific Islands, and he tries to embrace the Pacific Island culture as much as he can. He met his wife at work, who already had a child who he loves and calls his own. His face would light up when he mentioned her.

He has been working for the same company for over 20 years (not always as a truck driver). Being a truckie is a love-hate thing for him, he loves the driving and scenery but hates how it keeps him away from his family so often which has proven to take them close to breaking point on a few occasions. He really opened up in the two or so hours we spent together.

Ride Three: Kaikoura to Kaiapoi

jetboating nz

I barely got wet on the jet boat! Should have taken the phone.

I was battling to get a ride out of Kaikoura (it didn’t help that I was in the wrong place for ages) when Steve pulled over with a boat on the back of his 4WD. Steve is from somewhere near Napier and has lived a pretty crazy life over the years with a good part of 11 of the last 20 years overseas (in the USA, Nauru, Australia). Some of the time he was living overseas, and the rest involved flying back and forward for work (a trade of some kind…I was getting confused about this part)

On this day he was one car and boat in a convoy of five. They were friends of varying degrees but all had a passion for jet boating and were on a lads trip around the South Island for a week of jet boating on the rivers. They really had no plan having come down from the Napier area early that morning.

When they saw a river that was pretty good looking they made an impulse decision to go jet boating. So that’s how I ended up jet boating for a few hours. It wasn’t as extreme as I was thinking, with a few bursts of adrenaline in between casual driving through the Kiwi countryside….with views I’ll likely never see again. Best hitchhiking perk ever.

Steve has a couple of kids who he wished would get off there fucking Xbox and go out on the boat with him and a wife he couldn’t stop talking about. He also had his dog (a Jack Russell I think) in the 4WD who loved human comfort way too much. I’m not one for dogs AT ALL but hey, a ride is a ride, right?

I thought I might be stuck in Cheviot for the night (would not have been ideal), but thankfully they decided to drive on to Christchurch. Well nearly. There was 11 of them which meant finding a place wasn’t easy at the last minute, they found a place in Kaiapoi, 20km north of Christchurch. I left them to it I was able to catch a bus the rest of the way to the city.

Ride 4: Christchurch to Rolleston

david kidwell in chch

The former Kiwi’s coach on a wall in Christchurch City Centre

After taking a Lime Scooter out to the Caltex Station mentioned on hitchwiki on the outskirts of Christchurch, I was waiting a few minutes when a campervan pulled over. It was a big campervan, with three French lads and one Taiwanese lass inside. They had all met in Perth and were relieved to be exploring the South Island after working in Queenstown over the winter. Their campervan was massive, and they were keeping there plans pretty loose with the weather a big factor.

Despite their good intentions, we took a little bit of time to realise we wanted to be on different highways which set me back a couple of hours. Can’t win them all I guess.

Ride 5: Rolleston to through road

It took 30 minutes of walking to what I figured might be the best road to take that would get me back on State Highway 73 towards Arthur’s Pass. Turns out that was about 2 km from Rolleston Prison so I instantly assumed everyone driving past would think I was escaping prison.

After 45 minutes or so (very few cars in the area) I got picked up by a middle-aged guy from north of Christchurch who spends most of his workday driving around the Canterbury region delivering safety supplies to people living on farms. At least that’s what I gathered. In the back of the van, he had his mountain bike as he likes to go riding somewhere at least once a week. It was only a short ride as he dropped me off on an intersection closer to the right highway. He said he’d come to pick me up again if I was still there after he finished his next job. Legend!

Ride 6: Through Road to Darfield

Darfield is along SH 73 so I was finally getting back on track! My ride to Darfield was from a Church Pastor! He’s been a Pastor since 1991 and loves the chance to meet so many people in his role. He was sad as he and the family are moving to the top of the South Island in the coming months and while he’d be a pastor up there, he would miss his friends, who are basically family, at the church. He often gets to Arthurs Pass as the local Pastors take turns running a service there each week. Unfortunately, it wasn’t a Sunday!

Ride 7: Darfield to Coalgate

Another short ride, but this fella in his late 40’s was on his way back to physio and pulled over. He had fish & chips in the front passenger seat which I had to put on the back seat, he had a lot of food. He was a nice fella, very talkative and his feet were clearly itchy after 8 weeks off work due to an injury. While he seemed to have plenty of excuses for his knee and back injuries (they seemed to be common), I can’t help but think that losing a few of the pounds would help prevent some of them? He dropped me off 15km up the road where there was another road that would bring traffic onto my path which was nice of him.

Ride 8: Coalgate to Arthurs Pass

avalanche peak summit

From the top of Avalanche Peak in Arthur’s Pass National Park

Another lady driver (early 20’s)! She was exhausted having flown from Adelaide to Auckland via Melbourne the previous night. She slept at Auckland Airport (represent!) and flew to Christchurch that morning. She would normally stay at her sisters in Christchurch but had to go home to get her work boots from the West Coast for her next shift the following morning.

She’s a ranger and usually works 8 days on, 4 days off around South Island. There are three people she lives with, they all work together which has been an interesting experience for her. She grew up north of Auckland, so moving to the South Island was a big culture shock, mainly in that there is a far high Maori population where she grew up. But was loving it all the same, and doesn’t regret dropping out of Uni to pursue being a ranger which she loved.

Ride 9: Arthurs Pass to Bealy Spur Track

Jake was someone I would be mates with for sure. He must have driven super quick as the 14km drive to the track went by in a flash. We connected over hiking, rugby, travel, and Denver. I wasn’t quite sure what he did for work as always seemed to be traveling (guessing we were of similar age) and he plans to start walking the Te Araroa Trail in December. Ideally in 100 days or less.

Ride 10: Bealy Spur Trailhead back to Arthurs Pass

from the bealy spur track

From somewhere along the Bealy Spur Track

Two Western European girls in another epic campervan was the first car to pass me after the hike and pulled over to pick me up. They were one month into their two-month kiwi road trip. They were loving all the South Island views but at this stage preferred the variety of views in the North Island. They both had quit their jobs and were so glad they had despite being a bundle of nerves before the trip which was conceived over alcohol.

Tips For Hitchhiking In New Zealand

  • It doesn’t really matter where you are in NZ, there’s plenty of space on the roadside space to stand on the outskirts of most towns. And everyone was super friendly.
  • Hitchwiki is a great resource for hitchhiking everywhere and while some of the pages aren’t up to date in NZ, I have been using that as my primary source as always.
  • In terms of signage, 8/10 times I didn’t use a sign. The two times I did were rides nine and ten between Arthur’s Pass and Bealey Spur Track. I got the sign from a hostel friend (the visitor center made the sign for her) and it really would have made no difference.

A Few Final Thoughts On Hitchhiking in New Zealand

rapaki walk christchurch

That hunchback though (Rapaki Walk, Christchurch).

Hitchhiking is funny, I never see hitchhikers on the side of the road in NZ, but there are dozens if not hundreds doing so every day. In my room at the Fat Cod Backpackers in Picton, there were four of us and everyone was hitching. That was pretty random but sums up the hitchhiking culture in New Zealand.

As always, I don’t recommend hitchhiking, but love it myself! Well it’s a love-hate relationship really.

hitchhiking in new zealand