Losing my hitch-hiking virginity

With a spare day when I couldn't get on the bus to Milford sound I took it upon myself to do something I have never done before: Hitch-hiking.

New Zealand has a reputation for being the best country in the world to do it and it felt like an opportunity to meet some 'real' people rather than the English who swarmed around the bars of Queenstown. Arrowtown was my destination, an old gold mining town less than an hour away. The reason I wanted to go there was because I had read about a place called Macetown, a ghost town since the gold had run out, 15km from Arrowtown and only accessible by 4x4, walking or mountain bike.

I was very nervous walking along the road and nearly found several excuses to turn around before I'd even got to the junction to Arrowtown. At the junction I assumed there would be plenty of traffic. There wasn't but to those vehicles that came past I tentatively put up my thumb and did my best to look non-murderer like. It quickly dawned on me that hitch-hiking probably isn't my sport because I am an impatient git and after 15 minutes I was about ready to give up and go to the pub when a man pulled over. I don't know why he pulled over because all he said was that he couldn't give me a lift as he was turning off at the next junction but I suppose it was nice that he offered me an explanation for driving past. Other cars made apologetic gestures about their car being full or perhaps me looking a bit too murderer like. But soon a man did stop and I had my first ever ride.

My lift was a generous local man called Mike who took me all the way to Arrowtown and on the way we discussed Macetown. Mike takes his family up to Macetown a couple of times a year to camp and pan for gold in the river, he suggested it was too late to try walking up and back before dark. The best way, he said, would be to cycle up and to my amazement he said I could borrow his.

I like travelling.

Mike drove me out of his way in to town and showed me where the trail starts, about one and a half hours to Macetown then took me back to his house to get his bike and helmet. I thanked Mike several times still taken aback by his generosity then set off on another adventure.

What Mike neglected to tell me was that the ride was a very steep climb and involved 15 river crossings with water up to my waist. I loved it. Trying to ride a bike under water is not easy and after pedalling full speed in to each crossing I tended to get dismounted by a large rock in the river and then push the bike to the other side.

One and a half hours my arse, it took nearer two and a half and most of that I had to push the bike because of the ridiculously steep slopes. Getting to Macetown was worth it, a great little isolated spot full of families camping, panning for gold and enjoying the great outdoors; there were even kids orienteering! The ruins of the town were fairly ruined but two buildings had been restored to show how they were 100 years ago and I cycled around reading the information boards for half an hour.

The ride back down was much more fun and I nearly came off head first a few times when I got carried away with the speed over the rocky ground. It only took one hour to get back to Arrowtown where I bought Mike some wine and chocolates to say thank you. Shark and chips for dinner then back out to the road with a much more confident thumb in the air. I got part way out of town thanks to a middle aged woman and her daughter, unfortunately there were already 2 girls hitch-hiking in the same spot. I jokingly stood in front of them with my thumb up and then walked along to them. They didn't look amused so I apologised, walked past them and sat down hoping they wouldn't be waiting long.

They were gone after 5 minutes and 15 minutes later I got picked up by a man called Gavin. At first I dismissed Gavin as thick. I may have been right but he was also very generous and took me to his house outside town to wait for his friend to give us both a lift the rest of the way. He gave me two cans of bourbon and coke while I waited and in town I got changed and joined him to try and buy him the beers back. He was having none of it though and so I was forced to stay drinking the evening away.

I can't get over how kind the Kiwi people are, free lifts, borrow a bike and Gavin even said he would take me out sailing if I was around the next weekend. Definitely thumbs up for hitch hiking.