Desperate to see the Bay Of Islands, in New Zealand’s northern tip, I decided to risk hitching. One of my colleagues at the local pub I worked at in Rotorua, the Pig and Whistle, clarified the risk element perfectly; ‘don’t hitch you’ll get murdered’. Cheers. I thought bugger it and went anyway (I had a Danish mate who spent 2mths hitching NZ, it cost him 6 beers for 4500km and never had his throat slit once).

I whipped out the ‘AUCKLAND’ cardboard sign and apprehensively stood by the highway and kept walking and walking, then it started pissing down (heavy). I was pretty low (and wet), in fact I nearly gave up, mostly because I was feeling like a prize plonker, but then a 45 tonne timber truck pulled up.

I clamber inside the cab (I’m thinking this isn’t bad he can’t kill me he’s at work, he’s definitely going Auckland city, the views awesome and it’s not raining in the cab). The drivers first words went something like this ‘Howzit Bro, where to?’ I responded ‘Auckland please mate’ and with a “Sweet bro, name’s Frank” we were off into the plummeting rain.

Frank was Maori, heavily tattooed with arms like trees and a drug problem, sorry drug problems. During the initial pleasantries Frank butts in with a controversial icebreaker; ‘Smoke the herb bro?’ ‘Err no I don’t ‘ ‘Oh well, excuse it bro, just gonna pull over for my fux’. Once I’d deciphered that ‘fux’ actually meant ‘fix’ in his kiwi twang, it dawned on me he was an obese pothead. What! Nice one Dave, hitch a lift with a stoned bloke in a 45 tonne truck! He whips out a huge bag of skunk, rolls his joint and rejoins the highway with a classic: ‘Ahh that’s better you can’t drive a truck with out it’. I really wanted to say ‘well actually, it’s probably more beneficial to yourself and other road users ……. etc’ but Frank was a very big bloke.

Discussion centred on the dimensions of his truck, his weekly intoxication schedule, Lord of the Rings and possum shooting. I could only offer choc chip cookies in return but Frank didn’t mind, he’d been driving this route for 8 years ands was glad of the conversation! He scribbled down his mobile number and said there was a lift back to Rotorua later on if I wanted it. Despite the blood shot pupils and delayed reactions he was a top trucker.

It took 2 hrs to get form the southern to northern outskirts of Auckland City, like all large cities the sprawl means a transportation crawl. I got off the local bus in Silverdale, an absolute den of suburbia, people only went as far as the local shop – not the bloody Bay of Islands where I was heading! I had to face facts, found a hostel and got to talking to an interesting chap from Carlisle (ever heard the accent!) who had decided to do some motor biking round NZ. He had to travel light but I was surprised when he pulled out an old-fashioned bugle horn from his pack – ‘I always travels with a horn’. Now, it normally takes me a while to engulf in tear jerking laughter in the presence of strangers, but this was an exception, the guy was traveling with a bugle horn, and I laughed a lot.

I spoke to Anthony Hopkins’ senile 2nd cousin as I was sipping tea in the McDonalds next morning. Yes the experience was as random as it sounds and I was only in McDonalds because it was right next to the highway.

I then scored a lift with another Maori trucker. Ray was cleaner, decipherable and more professional than Frank. Again, many an enlightening conversation but of note, the one about an Israeli girl he picked up made me laugh. She travelled with nothing more than a drum and a loaf of bread to communicate with the gods. Roy, offered a classy one-liner ‘ I offered her some shoes but she refused, she was a bloody freak ayyhh!’

I recommend truck travel; you fear no one and put the shits up cyclists. I was dropped off at the Paihia turn off (the main town of the Bay Of Island’s region) and so had 17km left to travel. A scatty girl in a very old car picked me up (I’m thinking she cant kill me she’s a girl; Pahia is the only town nearby and I’ve gone 500km for a pack of biscuits thus far). Oh deary me, this was absolute ‘dodge’ territory. Maybe just to fuel future nightmares, I agreed to pop into her mate’s house with her which was only 200m up the road, progress to Pahia was slowing down. The house was pure squalor. Her mate was bigger than Frank and drugs featured heavily amongst the soft furnishings. The girls were actually nice and pleasant but they were clearly attempting to be ‘off their skulls’ on every high available by tea-time. I bolted after 7 long minutes – the deciding factor turned out to be moment when my driver started on a pot pipe whilst nibbling a hash cookie and pouring a bourbon and cola. Just a normal sunny afternoon on the Bay of Islands. I know New Zealand is relaxed but that was ridiculous. I’d seen enough, made my feeble excuses and left hurriedly.

Thinking I couldn’t land another lift of a drugged up maniac I put my thumb out again. Luckily, this time an old fella pulls up (sober and eyes non bloodshot) and delivers me right into the centre of Pahia. I find a hostel and reflect on a bizarre day as a tight fisted Swedish backpacker helped to ‘share’ my much needed pack of beer. Bay of Islands? Oh yes, turned out to be a stunning place and well worth the risks I took to get there.

Dave Holcroft