It’s a sunny Sunday and after hiking the Abel Tasman Track, I’m leaving Motueka in the North-West of the South Island to get to Greymouth, further south, hitchhiking. Why Greymouth? Well, as I was taking a short break from my road trip in Nelson, I decided to do some HelpX work (volunteering work) in Oamaru during the Victorian Heritage Festival. This year, the festival will be about Alice in Wonderland. After looking up a bit into it at the I-Site and discovering that you can also see some penguins in Oamaru, I was settled to go.
However, Oamaru is on the other side of the island, and I had to figure out a way to get there on time for the festival. I found out there’s a renowned scenic train, the TranzAlpine Train going from Greymouth on the West Coast to Christchurch on the East Coast. From Christchurch, Oamaru is still about 250 km away, so this journey is going to be quite a long ride. Anyways, I need to get to Greymouth first, and I decided to hitch a ride…
All alone this time.
DAY 1: MOTUEKA – CHARLESTON (238 KM) : FIRST TIME HITCH HIKING ALONE
So here I am, in front of this little supermarket where Alessio dropped me, tears in my cheeks because I left my Italian Lover once again. Somehow this guy feels like home, around him I feel safe, and travelling with him means that I don’t have to feel lonely anymore and that I’m worthy of love and attention… We kiss goodbye telling each other: “I love you in-between” because that’s how it goes between us, this precious undefined feeling, not quite like romantic love, but way stronger than a casual friendship. He keeps telling me that if anything happens to me, if I’m lost, endangered or if I don’t get a ride, anything, I can call him. I’m (a bit) less scared. Someone’s got my back.
It’s strange how I always need to set sail, to run away. It’s crazy that need to take a path less secure, to bear and face this travel all by myself. I’m looking for something, even though I have no idea what it could be. Anyway, I had no clue whatsoever of what would happen to me after raising my thumb and my coloured sign on that sunny Sunday…
I don’t even wait 20 minutes when Don’s car pulls other. He’s going to Charleston, not that far from Greymouth. That’s a good start indeed and I jump into his Jaguar (not kidding) and I start making conversation ( it seems I got quite better with small talk since I first arrived in New Zealand about 4 months ago). Don is a bit more than sixty and was in the Golden Bay region because he was part of the organisation of the Luminate Festival in Takaka. He’s going home after a long weekend partying hard. He’s not very talkative, Don, but he offers me some candies. On the way, we take Asaf in, an Israeli guy who’s also hitchhiking and celebrating his 27th birthday that very day!
The landscape is scrolling past. There are deep green mountains with clouds attached to their summits. Some clouds are even attached to the road it seems. This is surreal. I’m sleepy but every time I open my eyes, the landscape is mind-blowing. Especially around Murchison, close to some gorges.
After a long car ride, Don offers us to stay at his home. He owns a little backpacker hostel where we can crash for the night. The night and the dinner are for free. It’s almost 19:00, dark outside, so I don’t even think twice: I’m dreaming of a shower since I hiked the Abel Tasman Track. In his house, we meet Ludovic, from French Guyana, who’s spending his holidays at Don’s, and Dog the dog who’s welcoming me with a lot of enthusiasm! My shower is lukewarm for the house works with solar energy, then we have a nice dinner altogether and we even get some space cookies for dessert. Don’s birthday present for Asaf.
Ludovic then brings us at the far end of the garden… to witness glow worms! This is some kind of bloody enchanted forest here! It’s past 22:00 and the cookies start to kick me slowly, we turn off our lamps and let the magic operate… It’s hard to describe what I feel at this precise moment. A mix of amazement, astonishment and infinite gratitude for being right here right now with these guys I don’t even know, in this place I don’t even know, but where I’m living a precious and unique moment.
DAY 2: CHARLESTON – GREYMOUTH (74,3 KM): LOVELY CANADIANS & PANCAKE ROCKS
I slept like a baby. I was so sore and tired after hiking the Abel Tasman Track and even more after the long day I had riding with Don. I’m getting ready for another day hitchhiking, with Asaf, this time. It’s still better and funnier doing this with someone. I’m leaving a drawing on Don’s fridge as a thank you, I cuddle Dog one last time and take some pictures of this house full of interesting objects and knickknacks.
At the end of Mill Road, Don’s nephew picks us up and brings us to the quiet city centre of Charleston. Well, actually, Charleston might have about three houses and that’s all. Welcome to New Zealand, my friends! Or else in what’s left from the West Coast’s mining towns. The Gold Rush happened here too… Leaving behind a few ghost towns.
We hold our signs; we raise our thumbs and here start one of the longest times I had to wait for a car while hitchhiking. There aren’t many cars even if it’s a highway. Asaf starts singing a love song in Hebrew. I’m facing the road, my thumb up, and I’m hearing behind me this sad, deep chant. I’d like to engrave this moment in my mind, which is as unlikely and intense as last night’s glow worms…
Eventually, a car stops, after more than an hour waiting. And that’s how we met one of the loveliest couples on earth, Leanne and Cameron, two Canadians (did I already say how much I like Canadian people?) travelling New Zealand for holidays. They’re friendly, warm-hearted, funny, interesting, the four of us get along right away! We even make a stop at the Pancake Rocks to witness this peculiar natural area.
The Pancake Rocks, in the Paparoa National Park, are some strange limestone formations that began forming 30 million years ago, when lime-rich fragments of dead marine creatures were deposited on the seabed, then overlaid by weaker layers of soft mud and clay. Those layers are now looking like a pile of pancakes. When the weather conditions are right, the waves come crashing into the rocks and caves around forming giant blowholes! I’m impressed and deeply grateful because I probably would have never seen such a place if it wasn’t for Leanne and Cameron!
After the walk, Leanne offers us a cup of tea/coffee. We talk about a million things and I can’t feel the time passing by as we’re driving to Greymouth: I have a hard time leaving them when we finally arrive. We share lunch all together at Freddy’s before driving me in front of the Duke’s hostel.
And sure, Dory knows what a warm welcome means. A huge smile with some cakes, breakfast included in the morning and soup for free in the evening, there’s not much to ask for. Bicycles maybe? Dory has some as well. He even advises me to go for a ride at the beginning of the West Coast Wilderness Trail, a bicycle path which starts in Greymouth and follows the west coast down to Ross for more than 130 km.
It’s a sunny end of afternoon, perfect to ride a few kilometres and watch the Tasman Sea. Back in the hostel, after devouring Dory’s delicious soup, I’m in heaven when taking a long and hot shower (which is something I was dreaming about for the past 4 days!)
Here I am, finally arrived at my first destination: Greymouth. I was a few hours late to catch a train, but it’s fine. I have a better understanding now of that famous catchy phrase that says that the destination isn’t that much important, but the journey itself counts.
For sure I didn’t expect anything that happened to me… from the hitchhiking in a Jaguar to the glow worms, the Hebrew song on the road and the pancakes rocks, and the discovery of Greymouth, which turns out to be quite charming. This first solo hitch hiking was surely an unforgettable experience! And tomorrow I’m gonna take the train for the first time since I arrived in New Zealand… I could easily get used to this kind of life of surprises.
LET’S GO THERE:
CHARLESTON, wait… No actually, I don’t think you’d like to end up there.
SLEEPING AT DON’S, PYRAMID FARM, Curries Road, Charleston
PANCAKE ROCKS, Punakaiki
FREDDY’S CAFE, 151 Mackay St, Greymouth
DUKE HOSTEL (BBH), 27 Guinness St, Greymouth