Remember when I first started this blog back in July and I did such a fabulous job keeping in line with my schedule of posting three times a week (with the rare exception of brief hiatuses due to lack of WiFi)? Yeah, apparently I gotta work on that, seeing as I’ve been back on the road for well over a week now and I haven’t posted once. Whoops.
To be fair, it’s not due to lack of things to write about. It’s cause I’ve been so damn busy, which has been, in and of itself, absolutely wonderful.
Anyway, I’ve been places and have stories to share. So, let’s get to it.
If you can’t guess from the photo above, yes, hitchhiking is now something I can check off my bucket list.
I got the hell out of dodge – and by dodge, I mean Wellington – two Thursdays ago. To start off with, I caught a bus outta town that dropped me off in Bulls. Unlike when Kathleen and I traveled around, I’m actually trying to pinch pennies. Riding buses isn’t criminally expensive, but the money does rack up fast.
So I got off the bus in Bulls, threw on my backpack, and started walking towards the edge of town. I was fully prepared to walk a longer distance, when I ended up seeing a guy on the side of the street, thumb extended in the air. We both shared an all knowing look, and I dropped my bag and joined him. He was a kid named Seth, trying to get back up to an area near Auckland. We talked about tattoos and he shared his Doritos with me. Finally, after a half hour of us chatting, a car pulled over. There was only room for one though and, despite the fact he’d been at it longer, Seth let me take it. What a guy.
This was my first ever time in a car as a hitchhiker, though I didn’t tell that to Alan – the middle aged guy from Coromandel that picked me up. I made myself sound like a pro; like I had been doing this for years.
First and foremost, all you family members back home fretting, don’t worry. As of right now I’ve hitchhiked in eight different cars, and I’ve been perfectly safe while doing so. With the rare exception, New Zealand’s a perfectly safe place to travel via hitchhiking (I implore you to not google “hitchhiking in New Zealand” right now though. Just… don’t do it, or you’re gonna worry yourselves sick over nothing). Everyone who’s picked me up has been lovely so far, and there’s only been one occasion where I felt just a touch uncomfortable (more on that later).
Also, I’ve learned that hitchhiking is easy. If people pull over to pick you up, they’ve already made a judgement call on you and that judgement is that you seem like an interesting/safe/nice person that they wouldn’t mind spending time in their car with. I’ve found I’m not a huge fan of talking about myself while hitchhiking, only because I always get asked the same exact questions in each car (how long I’ve been in New Zealand, what I do for a living, does my family miss me, have I been to Milford Sound yet, etc. etc.). I’ve learned the best thing to do is ask a lot of questions and get the driver talking. Then all I have to do is sit back and listen. Easy, easy, easy.
So I spent an hour and a half in the car with Alan, wherein he talked about motorbikes for almost the entire ride (and I learned that shop talk can only hold my attention for a grand total of two minutes), then he dropped me off in a small town near my destination. It wasn’t long before a nice married couple picked me up and took me straight to my hostel, where I dropped off my stuff and headed into town.
The place I was staying for one night is a little town called Ohakune. It’s a nice town, but I wouldn’t want to ever live there. There’s nothing really to do. At least it’s pretty.
I had a deliciously greasy dinner of fish and chips in the middle of a park while I blared music from A Very Potter Sequel. Basically, I was beyond content.
Oh, I forgot, Ohakuune is probably most well known for their giant carrot statue.
I woke up bright and early the next morning, repacked my gigantic backpack, and was ready to head out!
The plan was to hitchhike and get to the National Park hostel super early to get settled. I immediately got picked up by a car of four dudes (fun fact: if you are a decent looking female, you will have zero problems getting picked up ASAP as a hitchhiker). The guys – James, Mike, Dan, and Pete – were originally gonna just drop me off at the edge of town, but ended up inviting me to some motorbike event they were going to, with the promise that they’d drive me all the way to the National Park when they were done.
Now, looking back, it was probably a dumb thing for me to say yes. These were four strangers offering to take me in the complete opposite direction of where I wanted to go. For all I knew they could’ve been kidnapping me. I went with my gut instinct though, which told me that these guys were harmless, and went to their event with them.
It all worked out. I mean, yes, the only time I’ve felt uncomfortable hitchhiking so far was with these guys later that day. Let’s just say some inappropriate jokes were made at my expense – having to do with how I’d “repay” them for driving me to my hostel – and all I could do was laugh and smile along with them. It’s never fun being sexualized by complete strangers and of course I was seething on the inside, but as an American female I was brought up to not poke the dragon, y’know (ugh, don’t even get me started on rape culture, folks, cause if I start I wont stop)? So I just kept my smile on and my head down. In the end, I got to the hostel just fine with promises to the guys that I’d text them next time I’m in Auckland (spoiler alert: I’m never gonna text them).
That latter part of the day was a huge damper, but the motorbike event earlier was a lot of fun. I got free beer and got to ride on the back of some motorcycles, which is always a plus in my book. It was kind of lame because the course that the guys were riding along was covered by bush, so I couldn’t actually watch the motorcycles race along. So I just hung around, drank, and ate some ice cream. Not a bad way to spend an afternoon.
If Ohakune was a small town, then the National Park is a microscopic town. I think it’s made of maybe ten or so blocks of houses, a couple vacation spots and restaurants… and yeah, that’s pretty much it. I noticed walking around that there were a lot of empty houses, which isn’t surprising since it’s definitely more of a skiing town.
And what is it with New Zealand and giant things? The hostel had a giant Kiwi in front of it.
No. Wait. Sorry. Scratch that. They had two.
The National Park hostel I stayed in ended up being a lot of WWOOF type work, like what I did during my first round of traveling. Much like WWOOFing, I worked for the hostel (making beds, cleaning kitchens and bathrooms, vacuuming, laundry, etc.) and in return was given free accommodation and food. The food was actually a nice surprise, cause from the emails with the owner I thought I was only working for my accommodation. Success!
Best of all, I ended up making some friends during my time there: Phillip and Jade. I lucked out in meeting two fellow nerds, which meant we hit it off right away. Here’s some pictures of us rock wall climbing like the bad asses that we are.
What the National Park lacks in civilization it makes up for in awesome hiking trails. I did the Fischer’s Trail on my second day, which ended up being a fantastic (and gorgeous) walk.
We also had a day where the three of us biked to the waterfall that Gollum is at in Two Towers when Faramir and his cronies takes him hostage. The bike ride ended up being twenty-four km there and back (that’s fifteen miles in American speak), which I wasn’t exactly in the best shape for, but it was definitely worth it in the end.
We made a couple pit stops along the way to enjoy the sites.
Jade had to turn back early for work related reasons, but Phillip and I eventually made it to the waterfall. Our initial plan had been to go swimming, but it ended up being way too cold (trust me, we tried). So I just ended up channeling my inner Gollum instead.
I also did the great Tongariro Crossing… but that’s another entry for another day.
All of the above was what I achieved in the first half of my time at the hostel. As you can see, I managed to be very busy and active.
The last couple days of days at the hostel though? Those were pretty lazy. I ended up staying a couple days longer than planned, and after the Crossing I honestly did nothing productive for the rest of my stay. I hung around, watched movies and television with Jade and Phillip, got back into playing Pokemon for the first time in years (Soul Silver all the way), and, yeah, was just sort of a lazy bug. It still was a lot of fun, to say the least.
When Friday rolled around, a week after I had first arrived, it was time for me to move on.
And now I’m in Stratford visiting some dear friends, but we’ll touch on that later this week. I think I’ve overloaded you all with enough pictures and tales for the time being. Expect an entry about the Tongariro Crossing sometime later this week, and then I’ll update you on the trouble I’ve been getting up to in Stratford (spoiler alert: I’ve been continuing my lazy streak. Boo).
Being back on the road though… it’s hard to sum up how extremely happy I’ve been. Living in Wellington was wonderful and I was so happy there, but it was a different type of happy, y’know? I was so comfortable and content. With travel I’m meeting new people, seeing new (and some old) places, trying new things (rock wall climbing, hitchhiking, cooking new dishes, etc. etc.), and basically living each day to the fullest. Even on my lazy days I feel like I’m accomplishing something.
I’ve realized that, when I travel, I become a better version of myself. I’m boisterous. I’m brave. I’m outgoing. I’m even more amiable than normal. All my strengths are heightened, working in my advantage. I like the me who travels. I hope, when the time comes for me to head back to the States, that she comes with me.