Middle Earth Day 8: A Hitchhiker’s Guide to New Zealand

I woke up at 6:45 am to make sure I was at the spot the hostel receptionist suggested to hitch hike by 7:15 am. I wrote on a piece of cardboard “Milford” and headed out the door. Before falling asleep the night before, I looked up some advice on the quote/unquote rules of hitchhiking. I stood on the sidewalk just off the street near the edge of town with my hand out and sign displayed. I wanted to hitchhike not for the opportunity to travel free but rather for the odd experience of meeting different people and taking a risk. Seeing car after car pass you by is quite a depressing and discouraging experience but I stayed hopeful. Eventually a truck pulled over ten meters ahead. I stood still unsure whether it was for me but decided to walk over and open the passenger door. A grizzly man in his thirties greeted me and I asked where he was headed. He was on his way to work but he could take me to Frankton, the next town over, and put me that much closer to Milford Sound. Altering stuffing my bags into his truck I hopped in and waited for him to pull away. He is a man from the Netherlands who had traveled to New Zealand on a working holiday and over time got a steady job that kept him in Queenstown. He always tried to pick up hitchhikers since he used to do it himself extensively during his travels through Australia, Europe, and Asia. I talked to him about what I had done in Queenstown and explained to him that this was in fact my first hitchhiking experience. The man dropped me off on the other side of a roundabout in the direction of Milford Sound and wished me luck. I felt so good about hitchhiking after that first trip and figured the next leg would be just as promising. I posted up once again with my sign and extended my left thumb awaiting my next ride. The wait continued and continued for another hour and a half. I gave myself another half hour before I would call it quits and either walk back to Queenstown or get a bus back. One car full of assholes swerved over to the side of the road as if it was going to pull over before drifting back in between the lane’s lines and flying away. I was about ready to swallow my pride and go back to Queenstown when a car pulled up next to me. I opened the door to find a woman in her early fifties. I asked her where she was headed and she told me Invergall (pronounced in-varr-goh). I heard of Invergall before but the pronunciation threw me off. I wasn’t sure if it were out of the way from where I wanted to go but figured why the heck not. She has been living in New Zealand her whole life and came to Frankton to drop off her daughter at school. She saw me pathetically standing on the side of the road the first time around and decided to pick me up on the way back to her home. She told me she has picked up hitchhikers before but normally she has other people with her when she does. The drive winded alongside the mountains near Lake Wakatipu with the Remarkables always in sight. I was driven probably an hour or so away from Frankton before the road diverted to Invergall and Milford/Te Anau. She dropped me off at a T intersection in the middle of nowhere with just a random deli/coffee shop in sight. Cars continued to pass me by but not as frequently as in Frankton. I was getting worried since I couldn’t travel as easily to Queenstown as I could have in Frankton. Sure enough another car pulled over and I found a red haired Frenchman in his late twenties in the driver’s seat. He was traveling to Te Anau, which is not all the way as I hoped but it still put me that much closer. He hitchhiked when in Europe, which he said is more common than I might imagine. He was nice, kind of a hippy type traveling on a holiday. I was dropped off just outside of Te Anau halfway to Milford but still two hours away. After getting some advice about where to post up, I walked through Te Anau and outside the town where the road only led to Milford Sound. I waited awhile to the point I lost all hope of getting to Milford. It was getting late and I didn’t want to be stranded over night in Milford. With that conclusion, I walked along the road pissed off with myself for essentially wasting a day hitchhiking when I could have easily booked a coach in Queenstown to Milford. At the same time I don’t regret hitchhiking. It was a unique experience that few are willing to try. Life needs risks to keep things interesting. Would I do it again? Maybe if I had nothing but time to kill; otherwise it can be a huge waste of time. The people I met were amazing so that part of it has no complaints. Before finding accommodation for the night, I get distracted into walking down a road toward the lake and mountains that surrounded the town. Amongst the farms in the area, I found a nine or so square acre lot filled with possibly 120ish cows grazing. Trying to say hello to the cows that stood near the fence, I began mooing to them. They looked up and stared at me intently forgetting their hunger. I continued doing so while walking back toward the city center and as I did so they began following me. I quickened my pace and they did the same. All the while, more and more cows joined this curiosity. At the corner of the lot where the cows could go no more and stood and continued mooing in various tones. Nearly the entirety of the herd fought to reach this corner where I stood. The ones in front of the line nudged away any that tried to cut in line. This was crazy enough as it was but it suddenly turned into mating season as several of the cows started mounting the unsuspecting bystanders. I really wanted to run back in the direction of where I started to see a charging herd of cows but I didn’t want to appear to be a crazed lunatic but, then again, this example doesn’t help my case. I found a hostel lodge with beds available and booked travel to Milford, a cruise, and a return to Queenstown. With little else left to do for the day I booked an evening tour of the Glowworm Caves. Hungry, I departed in search of food when all of sudden I heard someone shout my name. I turned around and found the people I met outside Fergburger. What were the odds? We made plans to meet up after the tour tonight. On the boat ride over to the caves I met three people from Sydney. In between looking at some of the features I would see at Milford Sound, I asked them about sights in Sydney; in particular, I told them, I was on a hunt for a wild kangaroo. They told me about a park and beach 2 and a half hours south of Sydney which is loaded with kangaroos. Some of the best advice really does come from locals. The cave tour was a short boat ride through a pitch black cave filled with glow worms. At first, I couldn’t see much except for a blue light in the distance. As we got closer to the light, the blue light expanded into small bright blue dots hugging the ceiling of the cave. The lights were grouped into random formations similar to stars in the sky. With my eyes having a difficult time adjusting to the darkness, the blue light was trippy and mesmerizing. The cave felt like the sky in the middle of the night while in the wilderness where no city lights can distract from the spectacle woven into the space above but these “stars” were seemingly within grasp. I sat in the boat with my mouth agape thoroughly consumed by the dreamlike experience above me. As we were told later, these worms use the light to attract food and below them hangs silk strands covered in mucus to paralyze their prey. As it turns out these glow worms are actually larvae during their main feeding stage. I went back to the lodge waiting on the people I met while enjoyed the peaceful quietness of the night, after I knew they wouldn’t be coming, I went back to my room to continue blogging. In this 12 bed room I had only one roommate, a forty plus year old man from Holland. He was traveling in New Zealand for a month or so. We talked for quite awhile just the two of us. He busted out a large New Zealand map and gave me advice on what I could see in my limited time on the island since he is a frequent traveler of New Zealand. It was a great conversation that led into the late hours of the night. I guess after what seemed to be a wasteful day, the whole experience turned out to be worthwhile. I can’t wait to see the place I specifically came to the South Island for: Milford Sound.

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