Planning details is not, shall we say, one of my strengths. Nor is it one of Jonathan's. So, I suppose it shouldn't have been surprising that we forgot to buy bus tickets in advance.
We arrived in Auckland at 5am with a lovely place to land, a friend who gave us a bed to sleep in and an ample supply of coffee to revive us from our flight. We had intended to wake up refreshed the next morning to start our journey to Cape Reinga and the start of the trail. But of course, when we got online to buy tickets everything was sold out.
Basically we had a choice: wait another day (2 actually) in Auckland or hitchhike the 6 hours north to Cape Reinga at the tip of the north island. And since we're responsible, cautious travelers... we naturally decided to hitch.
36 hours, 2 bus rides, and 11 hitches later, we found ourselves at the start of Te Araroa. These are just a few of our first impressions of New Zealand.
The first hitch -- when you haven't done it in a while -- always feels a bit ridiculous. Standing on the side of the road with a stupid grin and a thumbs up. But after the first ride you get into the spirit and feel (slightly) less silly.
One of the best parts of hitching is getting to meet a huge array of people. We got rides in trucks chock full of dirty work gear, a rental hybrid, and even, wait for it... a police car. (No mom, I didn't get arrested).
Not only did we learn that NZ police generally don't carry guns, but when a cop car rolled up on us hitching, we most certainly assumed we would get some sort of talking to. But hitching is legal here and the cop, Simon, asked where we we're headed and gave us a ride to the next town. Imagine that!
We also noticed right away that there are tons of people here from abroad. We ran into a guy from Pakistan, a woman from Ireland, a South African, and a German in addition to getting rides from several Kiwis.
And there were definitely some patterns in our conversations. Kiwis, born here or not, *love* their country. Not in an in-your-face way, like Americans, but in a rather endearing, quiet way. All of our drivers told us about what an amazing time we'd have in their country and how friendly the people here are. Funnily enough though, every single one of them warned us that "You might meet some bad folks, so [insert advice for how we should protect ourselves]."
I don't think an American has ever said this me. I think Americans just assume that we're all assholes, so we don't generally warn against the one bad dude someone might meet.
The funniest repeat conversation was that two drivers told us that we were near the town that won the "best toilet in New Zealand" award and were assured that this was a real thing. And sure enough, the NZ Herald reported that Wairoru won "Best Loo" and "flushed away the competiton."
Nearly everyone also proudly pointed out sections of native bush (forest). It's pretty rare for Americans to have any idea of what's native to their area or not, but Kiwis are incredibly aware of this due to massive problems with habitat loss and invasive species. I'll write another post about this issue specifically. Meanwhile, look for another post coming soon about 90 mile beach and our first foray in the native bush in Ratea forest.