I heard quite a lot about Kiwi culture, but I still was not expecting what I found.
Arriving in Auckland early on a Saturday morning is something I would not recommend; the entire city shuts down on the weekends, it seems, like North America used to do over 20 years ago. I was scrambling around the empty streets trying to find my hostel, no NZ$ for a cab, unsure yet if my cc would work overseas, GPS running me into brick walls, back-tracking, lugging 100lbs (45kilos) – I clinically overexerted myself by the time I arrived! There was a fever. I was bedridden for days. It was not a nice beginning to the trip, but it opened some interesting doors for discovery…
I left Auckland for the beach as soon as I was physically able. My booking with a hostel which had a shuttle was overlooked (very NZ), so I had to take a city bus. I must have looked pretty sickly because an older gentleman struck up a conversation with me asking if I wasn’t depressed for having left home. After talking with him awhile, somewhat lost & confused, he got directions, grabbed my luggage and headed me on to the bus stop (100lbs in tow). When the bus came he and my luggage got on. He blurted some congenial banter at the Maori driver and she playfully, and confidently, shot back at him. “He got yours” she smirked, gesturing towards my coin-searching hand, while I watched him dragging my wheelie case down the aisle.
I had heard quite a lot about NZ hospitality, but I was not expecting this: he dinged the bell at my hostel, dragged my luggage to the door, then came in and introduced himself to all of the backpackers lounging around. He found one who’d been to Vancouver Island (where I’m from) and made her promise to take care of me. He left, as it started to rain, saying he’d enjoy “a nice walk back downtown anyhow”.
NZ continued to amaze me. There is so much to do, so much incredible nature to see, and the atmosphere is reminiscent of decades past. (They’re advocating for seatbelt use these days, and beginning a campaign against drinking and driving.) Hitchhiking was safe, effective, and super-fun. One of the greatest parts of any trip is the incredible people you meet; hitchhiking immediately turned any outing into an adventure. My favourite parts of some of the best days were the good-willed people who picked me up, thumb out and hopeful.
The backpackers from all over the world, the Kiwis with their open arms, the Maori humour and cheek – it all blended together in this enchanting scene to make me realize, nay remember, what travelling always does: it reminds us that we can make our unique and individual dreams come true – you do it yourself, and meet people who are doing it every day – and underneath all of that, at the end of the day, we’re all basically the same. We all basically want the same things.