On top of Mt Egmont, otherwise known as Mt Taranaki, and yes, it was as cold as it looks!


LOST SHEEP IN NEW ZEALAND

This is an extract from one of my stories. It begins at the beginning; my first stop, on my first trip in February 1992.



It was a long walk to the start of the motorway, and we were beginning to regret the six bottles of duty free liquor that we'd crammed into our huge, already overweight backpacks. Our first lift was quite soon, and so was the second, but neither one took us much farther from Auckland. Not being such experienced hitchhikers, we didn't notice that the second driver left us at an off ramp from the motorway at a section where there was no on ramp. In New Zealand, like many countries, it is illegal to hitchhike on freeways and motorways; you must stand by an on ramp. We set off walking down the motorway with our thumbs out. I had a feeling this could be a problem. Well, the policeman told us he should fine us a hundred dollars each, but he didn't want to have to do that. What we would have to do, he said, was walk to the next off ramp, staying well off the shoulder of the motorway, and hitchhike on the adjacent Great South Road, not...he said...not on the motorway.

"Yes sir," we said "Thank you, sir."

It was a long, long way and those bottles of liquor just became heavier and heavier. I think from memory it was something like eight kilometres, but when Cosmo and I tell the story, the distance ranges from eight kilometres to twenty-eight, depending on how many beers we've had, and who we're trying to impress. Five lifts later, it was late afternoon and we were stuck in the drizzle, still only halfway to Hamilton. We were lucky even to make it to Hamilton by nightfall, a couple of hundred kilometres from where we'd started. But that's the thing about hitching; you have good days and bad days. You get all sorts of rides in all sorts of vehicles, with all sorts of people. I'm sure neither Cosmo nor I will ever forget the fat lady the next day, in the Toyota, driving us across the Taupo mountain range at breakneck speed, with children's Sunday School songs blaring on the stereo- "Like a sunflower, I turn to you, my Lord!" Remember that, Cosmo?

There were no independent hostels in Hamilton in those days so we had no choice but to spend that night in a cold, clinical YHA hostel in Hamilton. It was worth the NZ$14 each to dry out, and have a warm bowl of soup. I was in a tiny little room with just one double bunk, and the guy below me snored like a steamtrain, so I didn't get much sleep. That's something I would just have to get used to staying in dormitories, or buy earplugs.

Cosmo and I on the bank of Lake Taupo, about five minutes before we were drenched by rain

Next day seemed much more promising. It was a glorious sunny day, until a sudden downpour drenched us as we were walking out of Taupo. This was when we came to the conclusion that our 'waterproof' ponchos weren't all they claimed to be. In spite of that first rude impression, Taupo remains my favourite town in New Zealand.

The employment service didn't seem too hopeful. I got the impression that they were more concerned about finding jobs for their generous supply of local unemployed than in helping out a couple of ratbags from Australia. So we invested in a phonecard, and went through the Yellow Pages. We phoned every name under the heading "Fruit and Berry Growers", told them we were experienced pickers, and that we were keen to work. We left our names and details and the phone number of the hostel, and the next day, phoned them all again.

"I just need a couple of extra guys to help us out for a week, while we're picking the Golden Queens," he said, and that was just what we wanted. We pitched our tiny one-man tents in a campground close to his orchard, and started work at 12:30 that afternoon.


The work was hard, we'd expected that, and the days were hot, it was January, after all. What did surprise us was the generosity and hospitality of our boss and his family. There were several other travellers working on that orchard, and we had only been there a couple of days when we were all invited to the bosses house for a barbecue. It was good to have a big feast of meat, as we figured we'd be living on rice and pasta for a while. And we were able to sample our first New Zealand beer - Tui. Perhaps 'sample' is the wrong word; I saw crate after crate of cold beers being brought out from the chiller, and crate after crate of empty bottles being stacked against the wall. We made it to work on time the next day, but I don't think we picked as much as usual!

We worked there for ten days straight, nine and a half hours a day. The night before we left, Ross and Ngaire, their son Troy, the manager Martin and his wife Sue, and all the gang met us at the pub for a farewell. Late in the night, when Ross and Ngaire decided it was time to go home, they shook our hands and thanked us, and sat five jugs of beer on the table in front of us. Troy had asked us to stay on for the season, and I must admit I considered it. But as Cosmo said, if we just wanted to pick fruit, we could've stayed home and made a lot more money. (The award wage in New Zealand was only $7.50 an hour) We did have a lot of fun though. Actually, looking back I have to wonder why they wanted us to stay. There was the time that Cosmo got lost on the tractor. That was our second day there. He took a wrong turn after losing sight of the rest of us. Martin drove back looking for him, but he was nowhere to be seen. Then we spotted him speeding along the highway in top gear. Apparently, he didn't see where we turned off the road, found his way onto the highway and followed it right into town, only turning around when he reached a set of traffic lights. I also enjoyed the time Cosmo almost knocked Martin unconscious by slamming him in the side of the head with a stick. Of course he insists he was about to throw the stick for Martin's dog to fetch. The day after that incident, just to show that I also could be the centre of attention, I crashed the boss' motorbike- with sidecar- right in front of all the workers. 'Rode it straight up an apple tree. Try to live that down.

This is NOT the apple tree that I crashed into. This is Te Matua Ngahere, a giant kauri tree in the Waiopua forest; with a girth of 16.41 metres

The money we saved in those ten days (and the 400% profit we made from selling most of our duty free booze!) carried us around New Zealand for the next month, hitchhiking all the way, with never a repeat of that disastrous first day. Sometimes we stayed in hostels, sometimes we camped in the woods or just slept on the beach.

Enjoying a dip in a hot stream that flows into the Waikato River, just north of Taupo

We tried trout fishing in Taupo, we kayaked around the Bay Of Islands, and we climbed Mt. Egmont.

Kayaking through the mangroves in the Bay of Islands


We left New Zealand with our original bank accounts still intact, a little bit wiser, and ready, we thought, for the big time -our next stop- Los Angeles!



Footnote- I returned to New Zealand almost two years later in November 1993 with my girlfriend, and Ross and Ngaire were good enough to employ us both. That time, we worked for them for three and a half months, and they made us feel more like family than like workers. Thanks Ross, thanks Ngaire.

Visit my favourite books page for some recommended reading relating to this trip around New Zealand. Roll your mouse over the cover photo for a brief description. Click for more details, to purchase online at a discounted price from Amazon, or to view other titles. (if you buy a book, or any other product from Amazon, through this link on my site, I get a small commission- even more if you buy the book you clicked on. Go on, buy a book today!)


TIPS FOR NEW ZEALAND:

  • Campgrounds in New Zealand are great; all the ones I stayed in had a TV lounge, coin laundry and a communal kitchen. Make use of the kitchen- carry some basic cooking utensils, even if it's just an army mess tin, a canopener, and cutlery. Campgrounds make a pleasant change from the usual hustle and bustle of a hostel, although they're often no cheaper due to the fierce competition between hostels in some places.
  • Be aware that even in the Summer, the nights can be cold. My sleeping bag was rated to -10°C, and I appreciated the extra warmth on many occasions.
  • There's a lot to see and do in this little country. Don't leave yourself short of time. We had to extend our stay by ten days, and we only sampled a taste of what New Zealand has to offer.
  • · Hitchhiking here is fantastic. New Zealand is one of the few countries I know where it's viable to plan your itinerary relying on hitching as your mode of transportation. The only exception to this is the West coast of the South Island. Listen to other travellers' horror stories about this stretch of road- which incidentally runs through the second wettest region on the
    face of the planet- and think of another option for that leg.
  • Special backpackers' adventure buses run up and down there all the time; in fact all around the country these buses make an affordable alternative for travellers who aren't keen hitchers.
  • Don't bother taking vegemite or Australian beer to NZ - they're both cheaper there, and Kiwi beer is bloody good. Try 'Lion Brown', try 'Tui'...hell, try them all!


· 'must see' places from this trip-

  • Taupo (nice town, beautiful lake, volcanic mountains)
  • Rotorua (if you're into thermal pools, geysers & boiling mud)
  • Bay of Islands (try kayaking through the mangroves)
  • Waiopua forest ( arguably the largest trees in the world)
  • Mt. Egmont a.k.a Mt. Taranaki ( a great climb...in Summer)
  • That Swedish girl

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