My Hitchhiking Tips

I had been in New Zealand for over a month and had not tried to hitchhike yet. I only had a few weeks left in the country, so I thought if this is something I want to try I better get to it. I was heading to Hokitika, and had read all about the Hokitika Gorge in my Lonely Planet book. It was definitely a place I wanted to visit. My only problem was I had no car, and the gorge was about 35km (22 miles) one way from my hostel. It was my chance to shine and hitchhike for the first time. I succeeded. I even hitchhiked again in Wanaka when I wanted to hike Roy’s Peak. My personal experiences are documented in my blog which you are welcome to read. But now as an expert hitchhiker, I would like to share my tips to make your hitchhiking experience a smooth one.

The Hokitika sign at sunset 


  1. Have a plan. Whether it’s a backup plan, like if no one picks you up how will you get to your destination? How long are you willing to wait for someone to pick you up? And if you are walking with your thumb out, remember in the event you don’t get picked up you will have to walk back. So don’t walk to far away from home. I never knew of someone who didn’t get a ride in New Zealand. The kiwis and their tourists are some of the friendliest people I know. But I would like this guide to be a universal one you can use all over the world.


  1. Pick a bad ass place to go. It just makes everything that much more exciting. You are headed to some awesome, one of a kind location, and getting a ride from a total stranger. It’s exhilarating, and makes for a hell of a story. As someone who travelled exclusively by bus, hitchhiking got me to places I would have never been able to see otherwise.
Swing bridge across the Hokitika Gorge 


  1. The thumb or the sign? I would use the sign in the event that from your current location you can get to multiple destinations. This prevents people from pulling over just to find out you aren’t going in the same direction. If you are on the main road, and it only goes to your desired destination then I believe your thumb will work just fine.


  1. Walk on the same side of the road as the cars going in your desired direction. I think this is common sense. Also, if you happen to be on a narrow road with little to no pull outs, I think you should stay still at a good pull over point. Maybe stand just before the pull over point (in a safe location obviously), so the driver has time to see you and pull over.


  1. Make eye contact. I think this is important because it creates a relationship with the driver before they pull over. They could have thought, “Don’t really want to pick up that hitchhiker.” But then they see you making eye contact with them, and they see your smile, and it could just change their mind. I would walk facing the direction I was headed, and when I would hear a car, I would turn to make eye contact. Sometimes, my one arm got tired, so I would walk backwards.


  1. Smile, think positive and have fun. Think about when you are driving down the road and you see someone with their thumb sticking out. Who are you more likely to pick up, someone smiling and happy? Or someone who looks miserable and frowning? You will be surprised how far a simple smile can get you. Also, if you think you are going to fail, you are more likely to fail. So keep sticking your thumb out and know that someone is going to pull over for you. But most importantly have fun. Hopefully no one is in a dire situation, and you are just looking for a new experience to write home about.
The summit at Roy’s Peak (Wanaka)


So get out there. Be safe. And experience something new!

The Journey West


I was making a pit stop in both Queenstown and Franz Josef because the bus didn’t go all the way to Hokitika from Dunedin. That would be an awful drive anyway. My time in Queenstown was short. I grabbed some food and said hi to a few friends I had made the previous time I was there, and then had a nice chat with my dorm mate about some various hikes throughout New Zealand. It was good info because he had just come from where I was headed. The bus ride from Queenstown to Franz Josef was absolutely breathtaking. You can see the transition from a more mountainous drier region to a lush rainforest. The bus made numerous stops along the way so we could take in some of the sites. One of the stops was at a waterfall which was pretty cool. I decided to watch Mad Max during my journey, and I thought it was a bit ironic. Mad Max was filmed in Australia and is portrayed as a wasteland, and here I was, driving through their southern neighbor’s lush rainforest. Green everywhere. I thought it was silly. I don’t think Mad Max does Australia justice. I’ve heard nothing but positive remarks about the country and its beauty. Once arriving in Franz Josef, I settled in and then went for a nice run closer to the glacier. I had wanted to go to the top of a nearby small hill, but the trail was closed. The weather had absolutely destroyed it. On my way back I wanted to see another short trail near the town center. That trail only went a short way because it too had been destroyed by the weather. Since the West Coast, Franz Josef, is a rain forest it rains a lot. And the last few months had been particular rainy. The temperature was warmed than Te Anau or Dunedin, but it was still cool and wet. I was having some poor luck with my weather. The following morning, I made my way to Hokitia. Their nickname is the Coolest little Town. And it was a cool little town. Right on the beach, and known for beach wood and greenstone, jade. On a clear day you can get an epic view of Mt Cook from Hokitika, but the weather was awful almost my entire time there. My first day was supposed to have the best weather, no rain but cloudy, so I wanted to take advantage of it and try to get out to the Hokitika gorge. The river that runs through the gorge is turquoise and the pictures I had seen looked amazing. The bad part was the gorge was about 35km out of town, and I did not have a car, nor was there a bus or shuttle that went out there. At this point I had been in New Zealand about 6 weeks; it was about time I tried hitchhiking. As I walked along the road with my thumb sticking out, I thought about the rules of hitch hiking. Are there rules? Are you supposed to walk? Stand still? Hold your thumb a certain way? Face traffic or walk with it and turning your body when cars approach? I had no idea. So I started walking with my thumb out; I was walking forward, but when a car would approach I tried to turn my body to make eye contact. Half hour of walking and nothing. How far was I going to walk out? Because if I never got picked up I would have to walk back. I decided I would walk for an hour and then I would stay put. That way I wouldn’t have far to walk back if I failed. At like 55 minutes someone pulled over. It was a local lady pulling a horse trailer. She was going part of my way, so then I thought. If I get a ride with her it takes me closer to my destination, but not all the way, and further from my room. Thus, if I failed I would have a longer walk back. When hitching, you probably shouldn’t have a negative attitude and think about failure because then you really will never succeed or get anywhere. I accepted the ride and drove for a short distance with her. When the lady dropped me off, I checked my map and truthfully I still wasn’t too far from town. It would probably be easier to get a ride into town, but even if I did walk it wouldn’t be terrible. When I started walking with my thumb out again, I decided not to walk as long. Only like 30 minutes I think. I stopped along the side of the rode with my thumb out. I tried to pick a location where people would get a good view of me from a distance and have ample room to pull over if they decided to give me a ride. Another kiwi farmer stopped and gave me a ride. He wasn’t going all the way out to the gorge. Really only tourists go to the gorge, but he could get me a good chunk of the way out there. I kept thinking, I can’t fail, I won’t fail. I will get to the gorge, and I won’t be stuck out here. He dropped me off at a turn off. I was about 17km from the gorge. As soon as I got out of his truck, a camper van pulled over. I thought, o heck yeah! They asked if I needed a ride to the gorge and I said, “Yes please!” They were an English couple on holiday and had been traveling around Australia and New Zealand. We arrived at the gorge and I thanked them profusely. I had made it to the gorge. I still needed to get back, but I was here. The parking lot had a decent number of cars in it so someone was bound to let me ride with them into town. I made the short trek across the swing bridge and to the river gorge. I took some pictures and soaked up its beauty. Then the sand flies attacked. I felt like I had been pretty lucky with sand flies. Only really being attacked in Te Anau and now in Hokitika. I made my way back to the car park and started my scout for how I would get back to town. I saw a family that looked like they were getting ready to load up and leave but there was quite a few of them, and I was unsure what kind of room they had. I saw a few couples leave, but they left so quickly I couldn’t make my move. After maybe 10 minutes I saw a girl by herself. She was walking toward her car; I quickly followed her. “Excuse me, you wouldn’t happen to be leaving would you?” The cool thing about the route to the gorge, is even if you aren’t staying in Hokitika you have to come back to town to get on the main hwy to go north or south. There was only one way to go. She nodded, and I asked if I could get a ride with her back into town. She said yes, and I was ecstatic. She was an Australian doing a South Island holiday. It was actually her second time coming to the gorge. She was headed to Punakaiki for a few days to relax, unwind and divulge into a good book. The weather was supposed to be terrible, so I think she had a good plan. I was dropped off in town and I was feeling accomplished. Hitchhiking was a confidence booster for me.