From the big dizzy mountains that screen it, to the deep deathlike valley’s below……it’s the beauty that fills me with wonder, it’s the stillness that fills me with peace. Robert Service’s literature is primarily based on his experiences in Alaska’s Yukon, but I think his descriptions depict the austere splendour of New Zealand flawlessly.
On and on we go: After leaving Taupo where Gwenda and I trekked across the marvelous Tongariro Alpine Crossing, we hitchhiked to Ohakune, the Carrot Capital of New Zealand. Why is Ohakune called the Carrot Capital? Perhaps due to the two-story plastic vegetable near the town’s welcome sign? Or because you can buy a 10-kilo bag of carrots downtown? I might never know.
Ohakune was actually a spur-of-the-moment stop on our itinerary. Bijan, an American traveler who Gwenda and I met during our adventures in Tonga, worked at the Mt. View Inn hostel, and he invited us to get our ski on for a few days. Luckily, Mount Ruapehu stayed relatively cloud-free during our visit, and we enjoyed the fresh powder on the Turoa ski fields for a few afternoons.
Ski fields on Mount Ruapehu: Mount Ruapehu boasts two separate ski fields. Whakapapa sits on the mountain’s northwestern slopes and has some excellent beginner’s slopes. Then, the Turoa ski fields lie on the southwestern slopes and offer some of New Zealand’s best snowboarding terrain. Both ski fields are outfitted with everything that both an advanced skier or a newbie skier need for an afternoon of fun on the slopes: rental equipment, ski and snowboard school, retail stores, and cafes with food and plenty of hot chocolate.
Beginning on Mount Ruapehu – I have no previous skiing experience. None. Except for one misfortune that ended with me getting stuck in a briar patch, my skiing history is limited to “boot skating” down the hills behind my Illinois farmhouse. And I don’t like being mediocre at things, especially outdoorsy activities. Therefore, you better believe that I was going to take advantage of some intense ski lessons on top of Mount Ruapehu, and I immediately signed up for the beginner’s round of lessons on the bunny hills.
My fears of being stuck with a group of talented 6-year olds were satiated because, as it turns out, there were others like me! My “Adult Learn to Ski” class was full of mid-twenties, one-time skiers such as myself. And we were begin taught by an 18 year old Swedish Adonis on skis. I turned into a giggly schoolgirl for the first 20 minutes of class. When Adonis failed to sweep me off my feet, I ventured off to some of the more advanced ski hills, and did just fine. I won’t be an Olympian by any means, but I didn’t get stuck in any briar patches this time around either. I might be a snow bunny after all!
Hitchhiking in New Zealand – Transportation around the North Island thus far hasn’t been a problem. Between taking the buses and hitchhiking, we are saving a bundle and meeting new people. After leaving Ohakune, Gwenda hitchhiked with me halfway back to Auckland. Our first ride was with a Kiwi road working crew on their way to Hamilton. They fed us donuts and coffee – such chivalry.
I bid a sad farewell to Gwenda in Hamilton. She was staying for another week to see more of the New Zealand’s north island while I was headed back to Australia. Gwenda had been a wonderful travel companion during the many times we were able to meet up around the world: Thailand, Tasmania, Tonga, New Zealand. Hopefully, we will be seeing one another on another continent sometime soon.
Before sending me off, Gwenda stood on the side of the road with me as I held up my “Auckland Please” sign and helped analyze the trustworthiness of the offered rides. I was a bit nervous about hitching by myself. but the young guy that pulled up seemed trustworthy (don’t’ they all?). He even had a teddy bear sitting on the front seat of his pickup, and claimed he was on his way to a birthday party. I tend to be to rather trusting of anyone and hopped right in, oblivious to the fact that he could be a serial killer keen to the fact that girls trust men who carry teddy bears. I was just excited about the free ride! Gwenda, on the other hand, properly wrote down his license plate number and made sure I checked with her along the way via cell phone.
Larry wound up to be very pleasant, and although he had terrible taste in music, he drove me to just outside of Auckland. From here, I grabbed a ride with a group of backpackers traveling to Auckland in a tiny, rusty ute. It was a tight squeeze in the miniature cab, and I insisted on treating them to ice cream as a thank you before they dropped me off at my backpackers lodge downtown.
Looking back to when I backpacked through New Zealand, I did save a few hundred dollars by hitchhiking. Fast forward to present time, and would I do it again? Probably not. I would try more diligently to grab a ride with other backpackers in my hostel, or shell out money for a bus next time around.
If you do decide to hitchhike, have a plan. Let the hostel you are leaving that morning know your plans, and then call ahead to the hostel that you will be arriving at that evening. Take a photo of the license plate before climbing in, or text the license plate to the hostel. If your ride seems upset by this, then it’s probably best not to ride with him/her. Do accept rides in vehicles that have multiple people in them. Turn down rides if you get any sort of weird vibe from the driver or car occupants. Hitchhiking can be FUN, and it’s a super way to meet other travelers, but use common sense while on the road too. I’ve met some simply fantastic locals while hitchhiking, but I’ve also had some truly odd and even a few downright scary experiences. How about you? Do you have any hitchhiking stores to share?