Thursday, March 08, 2007


If any of my readers are ever considering hitchhiking in New Zealand, beware of the area around Cheviot. Cheviot itself is a wide spot in the road (pop. 390), but the people around there are very, very friendly and helpful. I know, because I got rides with people from that area several times, and at some point they'd turn off on a road to nowhere (well, to their homes, probably), leaving me stranded.

"Are you sure you don't want to stay at our place for the night?" they'd say. "It's no trouble. What if you don't get a ride? You could be stuck here all night."

And me, the idiot, would reply, "No, no, it's no problem. I'm sure someone will come along."

If this ever happens to you, take them up on their offer, especially if it's towards the end of the day.

I once spent two hours waiting for a ride at one of these turnoff points, with my then boyfriend. Just as it was getting dark and we were about to give up and look for a soft spot on the ground to sleep on, an insane old fisherman in a beat up pickup truck with several crates of beer on the back screeched to a halt and asked us where we were going.

"Kaikoura," we said.

"Jump in," he said, and we did, idiotically grateful.

He told us that he often picked up hitchhikers there.

"It's a bad spot," he said. "Not much traffic. You could be stuck here all night. Happy to help!"

Of course we did not know he was insane. He just seemed rather jovial. We climbed into the cab, and ... well, I guess we should have been warned when he told us he knew the road like the back of his hand and could drive it blindfolded, but we were so relieved to get a ride that all we did was thank him effusively. We probably thought he was harmless because he was old.

Ha. Ha.

That old guy drove like a madman. He hardly seemed to look at the road, so perhaps he was right about the blindfold thing. But he seemed to have perfected a sort of no-hands driving method as well, waving his arms as he told us a series of increasingly wild fish stories which we only half heard because we were busy holding onto various bits of the truck and each other and trying not to shriek. It was not so bad for the first bit but once we got to the hills it was terrifying, and we were mad to stay in the truck. (When we talked about it later we discovered that I was determined that if my boyfriend wasn't complaining then I wouldn't either, and he said that he was waiting for me to complain, and when I didn't he thought that if I could cope then he could too. How's that for stupid?)

At some point our frighteningly jolly driver asked if we would like a beer. Thinking he would have to stop the truck to get the beer from the back, and welcoming that prospect, we accepted. He responded by cackling dementedly and taking the next hairpin bend EXTRA FAST so that the crates would slide across the back of the pickup to his side and he could lean out through the window and grab a can for us, still driving at full speed. We told each other later that if he'd stopped we probably would have risked sleeping rough rather than get back into the truck. But as it was we were too terrified to think straight, and concentrated on holding on tight as we hurtled over the mountains in the dark. That beer maneuver was the most terrifying thing I have ever experienced in a vehicle. Most of him wasn't even in the cab. And he did it TWICE. Frantic cries of, "We'll share this one!" did not prevent the second occurrence, because he wanted one for himself as well.

The beer did not help our nerves, but we survived, so I suppose I shouldn't complain.

"You guys were a bit quiet," said our benefactor as he finally dropped us off at our destination. "Never had a ride like that before, eh? Told you I knew the road! Got you here in double quick time, too! "

"You certainly did," we agreed. "Er, thanks very much."

"Going anywhere tomorrow? Want a lift?"

"NO!" we chorused. "I mean, no, thank you."

He was still cackling as he drove off. We could hear him.

People think that hitchhiking is dangerous because of the risk of assault, theft, rape, murder, and other crimes that occasionally happen. But those sorts of incidents are very rare. I have met the biggest hitchhhiking danger in New Zealand, and he is probably still hanging around Cheviot, waiting for his next victim. He'll probably be about ninety by now, but I very much doubt that will stop him.