Hitch Hiking in New Zealand

Hitch-hiking in New Zealand

The safest thing to do, hands down, is: DON'T HITCH HIKE! If you have any serious concerns about hitch hiking in New Zealand, don't do it. The New Zealand Police advises, accurately, that "Hitch hiking can be dangerous". Indeed. Of course, driving yourself around in a campervan can be dangerous too - our roads are narrow, often very windy and hilly, and of course we drive on the left hand side of the road. So hitch hiking may not be for you.

Not so long ago, you could stick out your thumb and get a ride just about anywhere in the world, secure in the knowledge that the worst that would realistically happen would be that you didn't get where you were going as quickly as you wanted. People hitch hiked all over the US, all over Europe, even in Asia, Africa... and, of course, in Australia and New Zealand.

Now most Western societies are more careful than they used to be. People will often strongly advise you not to hitch hike, because of the risk of being picked up by undesirable elements who might wish to do you harm. Indeed, it's now illegal to hitch hike in many countries, and certainly, in many cases, a little ill advised. 

New Zealand is, in general, a pretty safe place to hitch (and it’s still legal). Just find a stretch of road that gives drivers time to see you, has a safe area for them to pull over, and stick out your thumb. If you're an international traveller, i.e. you have a foreign accent of some kind and that indefinable hint of exotica that comes with being "not from around here", you'll almost certainly find hitch hiking in New Zealand to be safe, efficient – ok, free - and, in many cases, wildly adventurous.

It is by no means unheard of for Kiwi drivers to invite you home for dinner, or to stay in their homes for a night, or a week. You might get offered some work out of it. You might get the scenic detour, travelling down roads known only to locals that showcase New Zealand's extraordinary range of stunning scenery. You'll certainly get to meet "real Kiwis", and, for sure, you'll be "off the beaten path".

This isn't to say that hitch hiking in New Zealand is absolutely safe. Because you are, by definition, putting yourself in a situation where you are, literally, trusting your life to the good character and safe driving of a stranger, there is always a chance that things could go wrong.

If you DO want to try hitch hiking in New Zealand, some basic precautions are in order:

- If you can, hitch hike in pairs. This *may* mean it's harder to snag a ride, but obviously two of you are safer than one.

- Engage the driver in a little conversation before getting in. If your instincts tell you not to get in the car, guess what - DON'T GET IN THE CAR! Statistically, you've probably just turned down a perfectly good ride, and even offended someone - but that's a better outcome than getting into trouble. We can't emphasize this enough - there's no law, other than an unenforceable social contract, that says you must get in a car that has stopped for you while you're hitch hiking.

- If for any reason you start to feel uncomfortable once you're in the car, just ask politely to be let out immediately. Make up any reason you like.

Now, the important stuff - if you want to succeed in picking up rides, the best methods, field-tested by Active New Zealand staff over the last two decades are:

1. Be a girl. It's the thermonuclear weapon of hitch hiking. Most decent law abiding drivers are as concerned about picking up dodgy hitch hikers as decent law abiding hitch hikers are about being picked up by dodgy drivers. And there's a deeply founded belief, whether accurate or not we don't need to judge, that women are safer than men. So - if you possibly can, in order to get a smooth series of delightful rides with friendly kiwis, delivering you right to the door of your destination, then its simple - just be female. If you can't do that, try:

Plan B - look like a girl! Not as hard as it sounds. Long hair and a close shave that morning always helps. We don't recommend cross-dressing though - transvestite hitchhikers are not a particularly successful species in New Zealand. If you can't do that, try:

Plan C - use a girl! If you're a couple, have the man sit down, unobtrusively without being dishonest, and have the woman do the "hitch". You'll be amazed how well this works.

2. DO use a sign. A BIG cardboard sign with your destination written on it. It may not always help, but it can't hurt. Some humour can be a huge help too - of even just a little info about yourself "Two Germans to Dunedin, please" works wonders. If you're German. And if you're going to Dunedin.

3. SMILE!!! It helps people see that you're an innocuous, chilled out, happy traveller. So you've been stuck in Omarama for six hours, and you're wondering if you'll EVER get over the Lindis Pass and into Queenstown? Well, if you allow that anxiety to show on your face, you're doomed. You may as well go and check out the Omarama Real Estate office. Oh. There isn't one. Too small a town. Huh. Then smile :)

4. If really desperate, carry a fuel can or a spare tire. Either of these techniques will increase the stop-rate by about 1000%. You don't need to lie. When they ask you where your car is, just smile and tell them you don't have one. That's why you're hitch hiking! Never fails.

5. Relax, and enjoy wherever the journey takes you. In our extensive experience, 99% of all rides are positive experiences. The worse you'll generally do is get stuck in a car with some lonely, bored and desperately boring person. More likely, you'll meet all sorts of characters, see a side of New Zealand you'll never have otherwise got to see, and, quite likely, have some extra experiences that you'll never forget.

But, sigh, yes, ok, the New Zealand police says "hitch hiking CAN be dangerous". Yup. So can horse riding.


Trip Reviews

  •   4.53 out of 5 (from 16212 reviews)

    Wonderful Adventure around the South Island

    We do a lot of travelling and this was one of the best trips we have ever done. the guides - Elder and Nick - are top notch. Their attention to detail, sense of humour and advanced cooking skills made the trip. The weather made it a bit of a challenge, particularly on the west (wet) coast, but they kept our spirits up and all of us safe and sound. I highly recommend this trip to anyone who wishes to see and experience the most of what the South Island has to offer. In slightly less than 2 weeks. If you are mentally prepared for some coolish, wet weather, so much the better. This was an active trip, with many options for additional cycling and hiking, which we took advantage of - which made it all the better. Fitness helped a lot. A must do.
    Murray Beare Review Image
    – Ontario, Canada
    Weka 13-day, February 2017
  •   4.53 out of 5 (from 16212 reviews)

    North Island - Kauri

    From the first day to the last, I have enjoyed travelling through the North Island with our fantastic guides Jo and Andy. Rain or shine there was always an interesting hike to go to, or a point of view worth stopping at and they know them all. The landscaping of NZ is fabulous in many areas and I liked the fact that we went out of the major tourist attraction points. Andy, excellent driver, is also an encyclopedia of information and such a good narrator he makes the long road trips fill shorter and very pleasant. Jo the mermaid is an excellent cook who enjoyed preparing meals for kings even in restrictive facilities. I enjoyed the fact that we could participate in a good variety of activities as we were hoping to. We felt secure at all times, we learned a lot about the Maori nation and their influence on the actual NZ.
    A very informative and pleasant trip overall, with excellent guides who adapt easily to any group of people or situations they have to deal with. Two tums up, I will definitely recommend this adventure to anyone who enjoys nature and culture out of their comfort zone.
    Claude Remy Review Image
    – Ontario, Canada
    Kauri, December 2017
  •   4.53 out of 5 (from 16212 reviews)

    Even Cyclone Cook couldn't dampen our fun

    I hopped onto the last half of the Kauri after two weeks on the South Island in the Rimu adventure. It just so happened that we had a cyclone hit the island that week, so everything was very wet, to say the least. But everything still worked out okay! We still did lots of hiking in the rain, which was fun in itself. The views were not the same as they would be on a clear day, but different doesn't mean bad. They were unique, and there were a lot of rainbows thanks to the water. We even did the mountain biking in the downpour, which was hilariously muddy and still a lot of fun. Overall, the people were good, the guides were excellent, the food was fantastic, and the trip was terrific.
    Janine Carbone Review Image
    – New Hampshire, United States
    Kauri, April 2017
  •   4.53 out of 5 (from 16212 reviews)

    South Island Treking trip

    We are both keen walkers and had the Milford Trek on our hit list. We have already done the C2C in the UK, The Inca trail and the TMB in Europe (also in the 'top ten'). The Manuka trip allowed us to do the Milford Trek but also walk other treks on S Island such as The Diamond Lake and Mount Cook which were also awesome. The Milford Trek does live up to its name as 'The finest walk in the World'! The scenery everywhere is truly spectacular even when it rains which often enhances the experience.
    Dave Clark Review Image
    – East Yorkshire, United Kingdom
    Manuka, January 2017
  •   4.53 out of 5 (from 16212 reviews)

    Rimu nov. 27 - dec. 10 '17

    This trip was unsurpassed by any other I've ever been a part of! Ben and Emma seemed like family to us with their wonderful cooking, extreme knowledge of the island and extraordinary skill as guides made every step of every hike better than the last!
    I have not stopped singing the praises of Active Adventures to my like minded friends since returning!
    You really 'knocked this one out of the park'!
    Bob Anderson Review Image
    – Georgia, United States
    Rimu, January 2018



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