How to Hitch-Hike Around New Zealand
The other day, I was looking at a tally I've been keeping since Emmett & I started our trip in New Zealand. According to my numbers, we have hitch-hiked over forty-five different rides in forty-five different cars since we got here. That's quite a lot of distance covered and friendly strangers met. That got me thinking that maybe it puts me in a place where I can give advice to anyone else travelling to New Zealand and considering "thumbing" their way around the place like we have. Thus, I present to you the dos and don'ts of hitch-hiking in New Zealand:
Do: Plan to give yourself a lot of time to get to your destination. You never know how many rides you may have to catch and/or how long you'll have to wait in between rides before you get somewhere. Trips that would take two hours if you were driving yourself can take four or five - especially in areas of low population (of which there are plenty). It's better to give yourself an over-exaggerated window of time and show up early than it is to show up late. Especially if you already have bookings for that same day. On that note...
Don't: Get a late start. Start as early in the day as possible. That will give you plenty of time to get to your destination.
Do: Stand on the left. And stand on the side of the road where cars going in your destination's direction will be heading. Obvious but important.
Do: Be prepared to hitch in the rain. New Zealand weather is famously unpredictable. Being prepared could mean a poncho/rain coat, and a waterproof covering for your pack. (Or a poncho big enough to cover both you and your pack).
Don't: Try to hitch-hike for more than an hour or so if you've never hitched before. I'd highly recommend starting with a handful of shorter trips (even just cross-town 15 minute rides). From there, you could slowly increase the times/distances of your rides before you attempt a long trip. You'll feel more comfortable and confident as a hitch-hiker. I know I did.
Do: Know where you're going and how long it takes to get there. Again, obvious but important. Know the name of the city/town/tourist site that you want to ultimately see. Sometimes even the locals don't know exactly where something is located. Also, if you make sure to know the details of your potential route, you won't be taken off track by someone who doesn't know exactly where they are taking you. Like that time a Christchurch resident took us to Twizel when we were heading to Dunedin.
Even better: know the exact street address so that your driver can take you directly there.
Bonus points: have a copy of a road atlas or some maps downloaded to your phone offline. (I've mentioned this before, but maps.me is great for offline maps).
Do: Walk to the outer edges of the city. If you're in a NZ city, walk or bus yourself to the outskirts to wait somewhere where people are more likely to be traveling out of the city themselves. For instance: if you wait on any city block, you'll mostly encounter drivers who are cruising within the city. But if you wait closer to a major highway, you'll encounter other people who are leaving the city like yourself. We had to do this to get rides more easily in Rotorua, Hamilton, Nelson, Christchurch, Dunedin, Invercargill, and Queenstown. I'd recommend it for other places that we didn't happen to hitch from such as the North Island cities of Whangarei, Auckland, or Wellington.
Do: Try and travel with a friend or partner if possible. It's always safer in pairs. If you're a solo female traveler, don't worry too much... Hitch-hiking is very common in NZ and I've seen many women doing it alone or in pairs. Also, the majority of people who have picked us up have been women or traveling couples. That being said, maybe see if you can't befriend another traveler going in your direction so you can hitch-hike together.
Do: Bring a book to read or some other thing to do while you wait; just in case. Honestly, most wait times are only about 15 or 20 minutes at the most. That's how easy it is to get a ride here on oft-traveled roads. However, we have been on some desolate, under-traveled highways where we've rarely seen a car and that's when we're grateful for a book. We'd read and then throw our thumbs up when that rare car did appear.
Don't: Hitch-hike at night if you can help it. Drivers probably can't see you. However, if you have to and you're out somewhere around dusk, people might be more likely to pick you up because they're worried about you.
Do: Start by asking the driver which way they're heading. (This is only if you don't have a sign like in my next "do"). If you're going in a certain direction but they can only take you halfway, go for it. Any distance covered is good and will only get you to your destination more quickly.
Do: Make a cardboard sign with your destination's name on it if you're going for a longer than 30 minute ride. That way people will know if they're heading your way. I honestly think it makes drivers more likely to pick you up if they know where you're going before they pull over.
Don't: Stand on a road's shoulder, if possible. It's very unsafe. Find somewhere where cars can easily pull off and pick you up without endangering you or themselves. The best places to stand are near gas station entrances or exits, sidewalks next to a parallel parking zone that's free of cars, and close to a wide driveway.
Even better: Ask your hostel receptionist/airbnb host. Hitch-hiking is fairly common, and the staff at your accommodation will most likely know good spots to hitch from.
Don't: Scowl. People aren't going to want to pick up a lil grump.
Do: Make small talk. Most people pick up hitch-hikers because they are friendly and want to get to know a traveler a little.
Do: Send a text to the number SAFE (7233) with the time you are hitching, any details about the car or driver, and the location you're coming from and going to next. They'll record it for safe-keeping.
Even better: text a friend or relative and tell them who you're with and when you expect to be somewhere as an additional safety precaution if you're at all worried. Especially if you're hitching alone. However...
Don't: Get in the car if the driver gives you a weird vibe. Luckily, this hasn't happened to us. (Knock on wood).
Do: Know when to give up. If you haven't caught a ride in twenty minutes and the road is semi-busy, you might be in a bad spot and should probably move to a new one. Consider why you may not have been picked up in your previous spot: did drivers have enough time to see you from afar or space to pull over and get you? Also, if you haven't caught a ride in hours because either a) it's getting late in the day or b) there are hardly any cars on the road you're hitching, reconsider and try again the next day.
Do: Have fun! We've hitch-hiked with so many cool & interesting people from all walks of life. Literally every driver has been congenial to us. They more often than not tend to be locals who want to make sure we're having a good time in New Zealand. It's a great way to get to know the people of this lovely country, even if just for 15 minutes or so. Sometimes they might even invite you in for tea.