We hit the ground running with our first five days in New Zealand. It featured: 14 rides hitched throughout the North Island of New Zealand, jumping a music festival we didn’t know the name of and going au naturale at a natural hot spring. It was quick and dirty, fast and loose, and definitely did not have the heart foundation tick of approval.
Pat checking in. It’s day one and Lachie arrived in New Zealand less than 12 hours ago. We’re staring at weather radar studying the big storm that is about the hit most of New Zealand. But we ain’t buying it, and we ain’t about to let a weather radar tell us how to live our lives. Anyway, we figure that if we’re going to be wet, it may as well be at Lake Taupo.
An hour later and we’re sitting at a fuel station just outside of Auckland, trying to hitch a ride to Taupo. We ask a trucker if he’s heading to Taupo and happy to take us. His response, “Just take a bus, it’s quicker, it’s safer and it’s not going to cost you much.” So why not take a bus? Here’s why.
10 minutes after our rejection by this trucker, a middle-aged legend, Malcolm, pulled up to the curb in his brand new WRX. We squished our packs into his boot and Malcolm tore down freeway ramps at speeds that would have been questionable on the autobahn. Turns out, as we dodge cars while flying down the freeway at 150km/h, that our first ride in New Zealand has a passion for driving race cars. Luckily for us, he was on his way to the track to meet his sons and tear it up.
After checking out his small fleet of legit race cars, we happily followed him to the track office to sign our lives, kidneys and whatever else away for a chance to ride in one. Grinning like idiots, we donned the fireproof suits, put on the helmets and took turns being strapped into the seat of the car that can apparently give a Ferrari a run for its money.
John and Dan, Malcolm’s sons, drove the cars on the absolute edge of control. You could feel the heat radiating from the engine against your leg. The smell of burning rubber hung in the air and wisps of smoke rose from the tyres, slowly filling the cab as we hit speeds of over 220km/h.
After the racetrack adventure, we flagged down our next ride. Ian, a truck driver, pulled up and squeezed all three of us in his cab.
With Lachie sitting in the spare cab seat, Paige and I sat on the bed hiding behind curtains when other truckers radioed about police ahead. None of us had ever been in a truck before so we tagged along with Ian for a few hours as he drove around areas picking up coal from mines and delivering it to power stations.
The kindness of this bloke was incredible. When Ian eventually finished his 16-hour day of driving, he took us in his ute further down the way to Matamata where we shouted him some hot chips before he dropped us at a caravan park.
Paying camping fees when there are so many freedom camping stops in New Zealand is cheating, so we jumped in a ute with three locals lads who somehow managed to have the entire population of New Zealand’s flies living inside their car (legitimately hundreds). Fortunately, we only had to go 10km to get to Wairere Falls where we set up camp in a windy paddock just before the big wheel of cheese took over from the sun.
As with everything, ‘your first’ should be special, right? So for our first breakfast on the road we walked up Wairere Falls and munched on our oats while looking over the valley from the top of the 153m waterfall. A quick wash in the river on the way down ensured that we weren’t too stinky to continue hitching a ride to Taupo.
Waiting for a lift out of the waterfall we were treated to a sprinkle of rain, but nothing like the ‘cyclone’ that was predicted as we left Auckland. In fact, warnings of torrential rain were passed on by everyone we met for the next couple of days and it didn’t take long for Paige to correctly conclude that “New Zealanders are full of it, it doesn’t even rain here”.
Four rides later and we were watching the sunset from a natural hot spring on the Waikato River at Lake Taupo. This also marked the first time since leaving Auckland that we actually knew where we were. And even then, it was just a general idea.
We spent hours jumping between the hot pools, chatting with other tourists and enticing them to come on our ‘tours’ into the cold, very fast flowing Waikato to drift downstream. As the light started fading we set up camp on a hill overlooking the river and hot spring so that we could come back for one last spa before bed. And when you’re in a natural hot spring, it would be rude not to follow suit and go au naturale.
Day three, or as people in the real world call Wednesday, started with someone rustling our tent just after sunrise, and the voice of a concerned citizen saying we would most likely be fined $200 each for camping there if we stayed there much longer.
I'm not sure if you guys have seen how slow a sloth moves, well, we were the opposite. We hastily packed up, removed all traces of camping and made our way down to the hot pools for Scenic Breakfast #2. This is when we met Harriet who, after using the words “music festival” and “Raglan” in the same sentence, found three Aussies squishing their stuff into her car.
Lacking tickets, and even the name of the festival, the only logical option was to walk right up to the front gates and wave our wristbands from the racetrack a few days earlier at security as we waltzed right through. The gods were shining on us, because it somehow worked and we found ourselves boogying the night away to some of New Zealand’s best. The cherry on the cake was ticking a personal bucket list item of crowd surfing on an actual surfboard and hanging 10 in the mosh to Ocean Alley’s set.
As we later found out, the festival was called Soundsplash and the second day was packed with a huge line-up. This means there was only one way to arrive, in style. Five of us packed into the tray of a ute thundering along the NZ roads and we cruised right up to the festival gates. That was a bit cocky.
By day two security actually knew what the wristband looked like. But not to worry, because there’s always a Plan B. This involved a short scramble through some bushes up a hill to a fence at the top of the festival. It was the most obvious spot to jump in but for some reason security totally neglected it, so we could shake our hips to The Jungle Giants and NZ legends Ladi6 and Shapeshifters.
Friday marked the time for us to meet up with our Kiwi mate Ana so we got our thumbs out again. Not dissimilar to almost every lift we’ve scored, after less than 15 minutes we were piling into another stranger’s vehicle. This one turned out to be a motorhome driven by an Alaskan bloke who had almost as few plans as we did. After another few rides, we ended our day chilling out beside the Waikato River, just outside of Pokoke, where we spent the evening climbing the bridge and causing trouble until Ana arrived.
After our week of hitchhiking, we spent two weeks clocking over 3000km around New Zealand in what can only be called a road trip for the geographically challenged. It features jumping off waterfalls, boogie boarding down a waterfall, surfing (on waves, behind cars and down sand dunes) and being shot at. As we write this, we are at Auckland Airport armed with our backpacks, a one-way flight to Patagonia and about 20 hours of Spanish podcasts. NZ Part 2 coming soon. Stay tuned - Pat