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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 4983 reviews)

    Truly the trip of a lifetime!

    The trip was everything we wanted it to be: We went beyond the tour bus stops to explore the true New Zealand wilderness. Our guides approached every day with good humor and great energy, making every day physically challenging and fun. We can't wait to get out there again.
    Jennifer Johnston Review Image
    – Tennessee, United States
    Rimu, March 2017
  •   4.53 out of 5 (from 4983 reviews)

    Exceeded Expectations

    In planning my trip to New Zealand I specifically signed on to the Rimu trip to achieve 3 goals: first to see as much of the South Island as possible in 2 weeks, second to get outdoors and get a feel for the environment and third to have fun with a group of people. My Rimu experience accomplished all three goals and then some. The mixture of driving, and daily activities was perfect. It allowed us to cover lots of terrain while getting us out and active every day. Our guides, Ben and Emma, were terrific. They were tireless workers who not only made us comfortable but created a positive group dynamic that helped bring complete strangers together into a cohesive group. Ben was great at sharing his knowledge of NZ culture and natural history. Emma was a fantastic cook who kept us well fed even at a hut at 1300 meters. Everything about the trip was well organized and well planned. Thank you for such a great experience.
    Tim Reed Review Image
    – Massachusetts, United States
    Rimu, January 2018
  •   4.44 out of 5 (from 908 reviews)

    Whatever the dream, if its New Zealand, find a way!!

    Where do I even start?!?!? NZ has been #1 on my bucket list for as long as I can remember. It wasn't until I realized I couldn't wait forever for that perfect time, to have X amount of money saved, to have a companion to go with me...that I decided to JUST GO ALREADY! And I suggest you do the same! Don't wait another moment. I went alone but found the most wonderful companions I could have ever hoped for! Even got a great roommate. The guides, Claire and Jess were PHENOMENAL! I started crying off and on a few days before the end of the trip because I became that attached to them and knew I would never see them again. Leaving at the airport, I couldn't even speak I was so upset and saying goodbye. So wonderful and beyond knowledgeable! I miss Jess' cooking and Claire's coffee already and I just got back yesterday!!! But seriously folks, the Manuka was beyond what expectations I could have ever dreamed. Yes it was indeed physical, so be ready for that; but there were some flatter, easier options for those that chose to not exert so much energy. There were a couple of times I wanted to just quit, but Claire and/or Jess kept me going saying it would be worth it (for the view AND the accomplishment) and MAN WERE THEY RIGHT!!!

    The food, the company, the knowledge, the laughs, the comradery, the views, the EXPERIENCES....all of it was TOP NOTCH! I have my memories that will last a lifetime; best money I have EVER spent.

    Don't wait! GO! I plan to go back in a couple of years to do the entire Milford Track. That's my only regret is that I didn't spend the extra to do that. But that's on me, not AA!
    June Vidrine Review Image
    – Texas, United States
    Manuka, March 2017
  •   4.60 out of 5 (from 1887 reviews)

    Outstanding Adventure Vacation

    Our Active Adventures trip was outstanding! The entire process was a tremendous experience. Staff were responsive and friendly during the "sign up" phase. Our guides Jordie and Holly are two of the finest professional, friendly and knowledgeable guides we've had the pleasure to work with. Shout out for both of these wonderful people! They did a marvelous job managing group dynamics to ensure everyone was motivated and individual needs were met. Well trained and both have mastered the skillful art of quality customer service. Keep up the good work!
    Lilly Golden Review Image
    – Texas, United States
    Tui, July 2017
  •   4.60 out of 5 (from 1887 reviews)

    Worth every penny!

    This was an amazing trip - highly recommended! Our guides, Koru and Liana, were great - kept us moving and active in all kinds of weather and conditions. Some of the planned tour had to be modified due to weather - it does rain a lot - but no regrets at all. We got a taste of New Zealand on beautiful days, rainy days, and once in rain, sleet and hurricane force winds, but we were always well cared for and felt like we'd seen New Zealand in all of it's majesty. The hiking was strenuous enough to feel like a challenge and leave us tired and a bit sore most days, but never too difficult. The Siberia Valley part of the trip was just spectacular! Koru's knowledge of New Zealand's native plants and animals, history, Maori heritage, and Lord of the Rings stories were particularly fascinating. Would love to go again!
    Bob Martin Review Image
    – South Carolina, United States
    Tui, December 2016



Why travel with Active Adventures?

Above all, we aim to be amazing hosts. We're proud of our kiwi roots, and our professional, warm and relaxed style of running trips around the world is unforgettable.

We're VERY picky about who we select to work in our team, and we have people from all over the world lining up to guide our trips. So we get to hire the absolute BEST in the business.

As soon as you get off the plane, we've got all the details of your vacation covered – top notch meals, comfortable transport & accommodation, amazing guides and INCREDIBLE service.

Whether you’re new to adventure travel, or you’ve never travelled in a group before, you’ll find yourself arriving home positively different from when you left.

With our small groups (no more than 14), you'll get to know our team, your fellow travellers, and have the flexibility and freedom to do as much (or as little!) as you like.

It's all about getting there under your own steam – on foot, in a sea kayak, or by bike. What better way is there to experience mind blowing scenery? If it's your first time, no worries – our expert guides have got you covered.

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