The Hitchhiker’s Promised Land – A True Story

You are standing in the prettiest place in the world. Sun is up, and filters pleasantly through an elusive variation of clouds. The camp-fire smell in your clothes reminds you of the glorious conversations and last night’s one-pot stew. This morning’s cowboy-coffee takes the edge of the relentless sand-flies’ bites, but you don’t really care:

In front of you is Mount Cook and his range of snow-capped alpine cousins. Towering so near – pouring clean, crisp water down their arms, and into the hands of the forest and the bush. Silent lakes and strong-headed rivers. Drowsy pastures and the odd farm-house. Over litter-less beaches and into the patiently pulsating Pacific Ocean. This is the last place we got to – the freshest land on the planet.

Back down again, Javi and I are setting out on an epic hitchhike down the most beautiful part of New Zealand; the West Coast of the South Island. Unfortunately without a camera...

Javi and I are setting out on an epic hitchhike down the most beautiful part of New Zealand; the West Coast of the South Island. Unfortunately without a camera…

Time is not an issue. Your thumb is the agenda, and your camp is on your back. Cars passing by allow for another tea and another story – another belly laugh. Nature talks back with subtle critters in the grass, whooshing leaves and the distant crash of tidal waves. The road is warm and life is happy. Someone always picks you up.

A bare-foot granny just back from a horse riding competition. A charming young Indian dentist, beaming to you all the secrets of her trade with a flashing smile. A top-bureaucrat on a break from the matrix with a camera meant for meditative moments. A quad-lingual local tour-guide with a Master in philosophy and 20 years of international travelling under his belt. 3 Czech cherry pickers on a beer-run to the nearest town. Two kids and their mum on their way to pick up a hairy husband with a broken motorbike. Everyone has got a story and many have an apple or a snack for you too.

At some point the day slows down. A friend of a friend of a friend comes to your rescue, with wiry dread-locks and a crowd of jolly mates waiting eagerly for us at the pub. On the way back to her squatted camp on a deserted remote beach, you swing by an old gold-digger friend of hers. He gives us a quarter-hour lesson in being simultaneously lucid and loopy, leaving us elated for an evening by the sea with words of wisdom and practical advice.

Now where did that image go?

The Haast Valley, shot by Charlie Evans

The pristine beach runs for miles and miles. So many elegant hand-sized stones that you run out of pockets before you get to the nippy waves for a dip. Dramatic piles of driftwood everywhere and not a single person in sight. A distant ship competes with a flickering summer-star in the warm, late nightfall and the yarns slow down. When you finally turn in, to open sky dreams, you’ve buried the cooking stones in the fine dry sand, warming your grateful back – bringing you comfortably across to the next timeless day.

In the last two weeks, when I haven’t just found a lovely spot in nature to camp, I have stayed with more than a handful random strangers who have kindly picked me up from the side of the road, driven me as far as they possibly could, fed me and offered me shelter in their houses, and told me so many amazing stories that my memory is bursting from everyone’s input.

For decades I was told that the kindness of Kiwi’s make their stunningly beautiful land, the world’s best country for riding on the thumb. Now I know they were right: New Zealand is the hitch-hiker’s promised land. Take my word – this is the place for good rides, gorgeous views, generous hosts and great stories. Got the message? Just get your adventurous ass here to the end of the world and stick your thumb in the air; magic will unfold. Oh, and don’t forget the bug-balm.

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4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Inna
    Dec 19, 2013 @ 16:03:53

    wonderful.. so happy you’re having such a flow! …and you even got to mention Tui Bug Balm – haha. Has it been working then?

    Reply

  2. Trackback: Beauty & The Beast Records Album In Quaint Queenstown! | Impromptu Immigrant
  3. Mairead
    Dec 21, 2013 @ 23:18:12

    What a refreshing good read there Cornelius. . . illuminating many of the reasons why we LOVE NZ. Hugs on the road, M : )

    Reply

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