|Although illegal, hitchhiking is a common and accepted practice here in New Zealand. Let's Go! New Zealand does not endorse it but does concede that New Zealand is perhaps the best country to hitchhike. But, it reads, use common sense: don't hitch alone. I knew that at some point on my trip I wanted to try hitching -- I figured it was part of the adventure and spontaneity of the trip. So this morning I decide, Aww heck, I'm going to skip the bus to Wellington and try to thumb it. The bus will take 7-8 hours; with any luck, a car will take about 4-5 hours. So I threw my backpack (which is getting heavier by the day, btw) on and walked along the road adjacent to Lake Taupo out towards the edge of town towards Route 1. I've never hitchhiked before, but was feeling both confident and lucky. I stuck out my thumb with confidence and flashed each passing driver a pleasant smile that was friendly, in an "I'd-like-you-to-pick-me-up-but-if-you-don't-it's-no-big-deal-because-I'm-cool-with-that-and-not-desperate" kind of way. I looked at my watch at the start: it was 8:30 am.
There weren't a lot of cars passing, and no takers initially. At around 9am, a car beeped and pulled over. I told the guy I was heading south to Wellington. He was going that direction, stopping in a small town about an hour north of there, so hop in. Very cool, I thought. His name was Dinas and he was a native New Zealander. He had long blonde hair, wore tie-dye shirt, chain smoked and didn't wear shoes when he drove. He was friendly and converstional (this was good), but I noticed right away that the nails on his right hand were long and painted red, and he hadn't showered that morning and quite possibly not for several days (this was bad).
We got to talking right away; he said he was a professor of Judaic Studies at the university in Hamilton (he was certainly intelligent and had some educted views on things, so aside from his appearance I didn't have any reason to disbelieve him). We talked about America, and he was very interested in my views on the election, politics, Israel, Native Americans, gay rights and raggae music. I felt pretty at ease with Dinas, despite the red nails on his right hand (I never did ask) and I simply cracked the window when the smell got to be a bit much.
We then talked about California, since he had been to LA several times. He asked if in my travels I'd been to Pelican Bay State Prison, and I told him that no, I had not. Why? "Because that is where Charlie Manson is incarcerated, and I've always wanted to visit and meet him." I'm sorry, I don't think I heard you correctly. It sounded like you said you want to meet Charlie Manson. Turns out that is what he said.
Now I'm thinking: Alright Bill, forget the backpack in the back seat; you don't need those clothes that badly anyway. And you could survive the jump from a 55mph speeding car with only minor injuries. To make a long story short, Dinas is fascinated by the sociology surrounding cults, brainwashing and... serial killers. But overall, it was a pleasant and stress-free ride for the four hour drive to our last stop, Paraparaumu, which is where he was going to visit his ex-wife and daughter. And I suppose I could have done worse; I was lucky to find a ride willing to take me this close to Wellington. Dinas dropped me off at the outskirts of town, where we said oour goodbyes and I thanked him for the ride.
Within 5 minutes from there, I was picked up by a guy named Ash, a recent college graduate on his way down to Wellington for a job interview with Saatchi & Saatchi. Ash was a very nice, normal guy who played rugby for his university in Christchurch and graduated with a degree in advertising. When he picked me up, he was finishing a meat pie that looked and smelled a whole heck of a lot like the chicken pies from BP. I wanted to ask him if it was indeed a BP pie, but since we were strangers at this point, I didn't want to make him uncomfortable by my BP chicken pie gushings. Ash dropped me off into downtown Wellington, on Willis St., a main drag in Wellington. We said our goodbyes and suddenly here I was in Wellington.
So here I am now, in an Internet cafe in Wellington, finishing all this up before I catch a night ferry for the South Island. Wellington is a very, very cool city. In many ways, I think I like it better than Auckland. It sits sandwiched between the ocean and steep hills, and has the feeling of a city on the edge of the world (indeed, Wellington is one of the furthest south major cities in the world). It is the nation's capitol, is the second largest city in NZ, sits on a major faultline and has been proven to be one of the windiest cities on the planet. And it certainly is windy. Shit is blowing everywhere in this town. Leaves on the floor of indoor restaurants. As I was having a late lunch in Mr. Buns (yes, I had lunch at a place called Mr. Buns. So what??), a roll of toilet paper blew in. Note I didn't say toilet paper blew in; rather a whole roll of toilet paper came rolling into the cafe. Fer real, y'all. This city has more cafes per capita than any city in the Southern Hemisphere (although is that really such a hard title to claim?) and is filled with restaurants, shops and lots of young people. There are only 156k people in this city, and I swear they're all out on the sidewalks right now, because the streets are packed.
Wellington is the gateway from the North Island to the South, and where I am catching the ferry to Picton on the SI (and from there I'm off to Nelson and Able Tasman National Park).
First thing I had to do when I arrived was put my backpack in a locker for the afternoon (since I'm not spending the night, there's no need to find a place to stay), so I stopped by the train station, which is a beautiful old Victorian Building just off Wellington Harbour, and found a coin locker. Next on the list was to find another battery and a new charger for my camera (long story), and also buy a new pair of hiking shoes (my old ones got shredded on the Tongariro Crossing; my favorite pair of Nike shoes that I should have let go years ago). These three tasks took me all afternoon and through most of the hip parts of central Wellington, so it was nice. The weather here is good, but yes, it is frickin' windy. This evening, I catch the three-hour ferry to the South Island. My ferry leaves at 1 am (!) and upon landing in Picton I need to find a way to Nelson (which I think is about an hour drive) so I can catch my shuttle to Able Tasman National Park.
In Able Tasman I am going to embark on one of New Zealand's Great Hikes for the next three days. I'll be hiking along picturesque coastline in what is supposed to be one of the best and most popular Great Hikes in the country. After Able Tasman is finished, I will be heading south to Queenstown on Sunday. It is my hope that by Sunday evening I'll be back on a computer to give an update. Until then, it will be radio silence!! Wish me luck...