Wellington, the capitol of NZ, was a very lovely town. I think it is similar to Austin in that it is a university town and has a fun young vibe. However, the terrain is much different then back home. I met my friend, Alan (who I previously met in Ecuador). He was couchsurfing and his host invited me to stay at his place as well. Couchsurfing is a world wide program in which people host travelers and show them their city. It is free and you meet a lot of cool people. Our host was Ryan. He was born in Oregon, but has lived in Wellington the past 3 years and was working on his citizenship. He took us to a local movie quiz night at the cinema, happy hours, cafes....we hung out with his friends. It was fun to chill in Wellington with a local. At happy hour one night, I had a chat with these lovely guys and after a little while they gave me these 2 free tickets to a rugby match that night. I had been dying to see a professional sports match (cricket or rugby) so I was super excited. Alan and I went to the game...ate chips (fries) and drank the local beer. It was much like a typical sporting event in the states. Cheerleaders, the crowd going wild and yelling at the refs, obnoxious music. Not to mention, rugby players are CRAZY! A lot of them got hurt and limped off the field....very dangerous, but really exciting to watch.
After a few days in Wellington, we decided to ferry across to the South Island. On the ferry, I met this Kiwi couple who were in their mid-40s. They were born and raised in Auckland and had just sold everything they owned, quit their jobs, and bought a camper van. They decided they needed a change in life and realized that they had never properly traveled through their own country. So, the plan was to camp around the South Island for a year and figure out where they wanted to settle next. I thought it was a brilliant idea! I myself have hardly traveled the USA...how fun would it be to road trip through America for a year??? Hmmm...maybe my next trip :) Anyways, the sparkle of adventure in their eyes was so endearing to see. I meet many people my age who are backpacking and trying to figure out who they are in life and where they want to go. This couple was different then the usual traveler I came across....just because you are married and older and settled...doesn't mean you can't still have a little bit of adventure. They were the first of a few unique travelers that I came across the next few days of my journey.
We arrived to Picton, which is the port town where the ferries come in (population 4000). The town is the gateway to the beautiful Marlborough Sounds. We did a day hike through the sounds which was magnificent. While hiking I met this older woman....she appeared to be in her 60s. She was from Australia and owned a goat cheese farm. For her holiday, she came over to NZ for 3 months...living out of her car, bathing in the streams, hiking every chance she could get, and stopping in a pub here and there. Pretty much, she was the coolest woman I have ever met. She was all alone and seemed to be enjoying every minute of it. We had a good chat about travels and she loved to talk about Obama. She said her and Obama spent the evenings together (she read his books before she went to sleep at nigh). She was a character...and once again, I was enjoying listening to her stories about travel and life. She invited us to work on her cheese farm for a bit if I travel through her town in Australia....free room and board...just work a few hours a day making cheese! That actually sounds like fun :)
New Zealand is clearly one of the prettiest countries in the world. It has lush mountains, valleys, ocean, beaches, glaciers, rivers, lakes, and much more. They are very conscious about the environment and put a lot of money into preserving the parks and wildlife. The country is roughly the size of Colorado with a population of about 4 million (which is not a lot!!!). This means that outside of the main city centers there is tons of land with no people. Before Lord of the Rings, it was not that big on the backpackers circuit, but over the past few years it has grown in popularity. If you like adventure and the outdoors....then this is the place for you. Besides its scenic beauty, everyone speaks English, it is very well developed, you can drink the water, transportation is pristine, and the accommodations are well above average. Because of all of this, it isn't the cheapest country to travel through.....much more expensive then South America. Travel is easy...in fact, I think it is almost too easy. There is not the spontaneity or unpredictability that I came across in South America and other under-developed countries. Although it is very nice and my travels are going well....I felt like I was missing something. So, to help spice things up during my travels here in NZ, I have decided to try hitch-hiking as a means of transport. I kept going back and forth about how to get around (rent/buy car, backpacker bus, fly) and I came to the conclusion that hitching was the best option for me. It was cheap, you met cool people, I could still see cool things, and it is one of the safest countries in the world to do it. Plus, it would give me that unpredictability that I have been longing for :) How long will it take for me to get a ride....will I get a ride at all? And if I didn't get a ride, well then....I would just hop on the next bus out of town.
Our next destination was Nelson which was about 120k from Picton. I was determined to hitch the entire way there. The hostel owner showed us a good spot in town to pick up a ride (because it is a very common form of transport here) and we were off. I had no idea what to expect from hitch-hiking so I just did what I saw in the movies....threw my bags on the curb and held out my thumb. I was laughing hysterically to myself because never did I think that I would hitch a ride like this. Alan and I were holding our thumbs and grinning from ear to ear. About 10 minutes went by and no one stopped....another 10 minutes and nothing. Hmmmm maybe we looked too excited about this. Perhaps we needed to look more helpless....and distressed.."please please...pick us up, we have no car.....no home....we are dying of hunger." Alan was getting a little bit antsy because he had a pre-paid bus pass, but I told him that I was hitching to Nelson...no matter how long it took. Once I get something it my head, I am going to do it dammit!!! I was determined. A few minutes later, a van pulled over with an older fella and he said he could take us about 20k to Springcreek. So we grabbed our bags and hopped in. We both looked at each other with the biggest smiles on our face....we had officially picked up a ride and we were true renegades....hitching the South Island. I was so excited the whole time....if only the driver knew it was our first hitch experience. Ray was a nice fella...he had 2 kids that lived in the states so he traveled there quite often. He loved the states and was talking about some of his travels there (it was refreshing to hear someone say some good things about the States for once.) Him and his wife recently moved to the South Island...they bought and ran a local hotel in Springcreek and liked their new life now that the kids had grown up. It was a fantastic first hitch experience- in fact, too bad this is totally dangerous in the States because I think it is a fantastic way to get somewhere while meeting cool people. Plus, the unpredictability of it all was just way too exciting for me. Ray dropped us off at a good spot for getting rides and said we would probably be picked up within the hour. After about 30 minutes though, we didn't have any takers. It was really fun seeing people's expressions though. You had the old women who just shook their heads and mouthed something along the lines of "you crazy kids". Then you had a car full of young guys who smiled and motioned that there was no more room in their car. My favorite though, were the young families with kids in the backseats. The husband would look at you and smile as if he could remember the good old days of hitching. You could tell that he wanted to stop and pick us up. He would give you a head nod...."way to go kid...keep it up....you will find a ride soon." We spent the next hour imagining the conversations that were going through the passing cars. Eventually, Alan walked to Ray's motel and made a sign for us to hold that read "Nelson, please!". I held the sign up and Alan stuck his thumb out.... And then shortly after, a station wagon flying down the road passed us, but then slammed on his breaks and slowed down. It was two Swiss travelers heading to Nelson as well. We piled our stuff in and we were on the road again. We arrived to Nelson that afternoon all by hitching rides. We gave the Swiss guy a couple bucks for gas because he was empty, but otherwise, it was all free!!! IT WAS AWESOME!!!! I will definitely give it another whirl while traveling on the South Island.
Nelson is an awesome town....they love the arts and have beautiful scenic treks and parks throughout the city. I am staying in a nice hostel that only has 10 beds. This married couple (Lyn & Robin) converted their downstairs house into a hostel and they are the nicest people ever. Lyn told me if I had a sweet tooth I could walk upstairs and she would dish me some ice cream after dinner. How cute is that??? They make you feel right at home and it is refreshing to stay at a place like that every now and then. Tomorrow, a few of us are going on a day excursion on the Abel Tasman trek. We are going to see a colony of seals, kayak, and hike....it will be an eventful day. I have about 5 more weeks in NZ....who knows where the wind will take me....or where my next ride will end up.