How To Hitchhike in New Zealand

If you want to try your hand at hitch hiking, than New Zealand is the best place to do it. Despite one or two cases making it into the news, New Zealand is still one of the safest places in the world to hitch hike. Of course, hitch hiking always carries with it some risks, but then so does every other activity in this world. So if you are keen to hitch around New Zealand, then this guide will give you the basics.

Why hitchhike in New Zealand?

hitchhiking to nelson
Hitchhiking to Nelson

 

New Zealand was the first, and only, place I have hitch hiked in. Originally I started hitch hiking because there were no public transport options to where I wanted to get to. It was my only option. Even where there are public transport options, they are often infrequent and rather costly, so hitchhiking is a great way to save money when traveling on a budget.

As I became more seasoned and comfortable with hitchhiking, my reasons for doing it became less about saving money and more about the interesting encounters I had with people along the road. The Maori mother and her children, the forest scientist, the accounts manager for the Hobbit film – I wouldn’t have met any of these people unless I was hitch hiking.

hitchhiking to wellington
Hitchhiking to Wellington

 

Hitchhiking is common in New Zealand.

You need to understand that hitchhiking has been an accepted part of travel in New Zealand for a long time. Many people hitch hike or have hitch hiked, whether they be foreigners or locals. Most drivers are fairly open to picking up hitch hikers, and in busy areas you will have a fair amount of competition when it comes to catching a ride.

kaikoura sunset
Kaikoura sunset

 

Hitchhiking is easy, even in isolated areas.

I never had too much trouble catching a ride – even in some of the most isolated areas of New Zealand. I even hitchhiked to and from trail heads in National Parks. I hitchhiked roads that are barely roads. I found that most locals are more likely to pick you up from remote locations because they know better than anyone that is not much traffic in these regions. In fact, it was around the larger towns and cities that I would have the most trouble catching a ride. For example, I was once trying to catch a ride out of a town called Raitehi. It’s basically a nothing town in the middle of a nothing highway that goes through the middle of nowhere. I went out to the one road in town (which was also the highway) and settled in for a long wait. I didn’t know how long I would have to wait for just another car to pass, let alone for someone to stop. I prepared myself to grow old and die by the side of that highway. Five minutes later a truck stopped for me and took me all the way to Rotorua – a major town several hours down the road and back to the middle of somewhere.

kepler sunrise
Kepler sunrise

 

Tips for getting a ride:

  • Stand in an area where it is easy for cars to slow down and pull over for you. If they can’t safely stop for you, they won’t.
  • Make a sign with your destination on it. Although most drivers probably won’t have time to read what you have written, I was told on several occasions that having a sign shows that you are going somewhere with purpose and not just some drifter on the road.
  • Look presentable and clean. No one wants to pick up a smelly person.
  • If you have been waiting a while for a ride, here is a sure fire way to get a car to stop – start doing something awkward. No matter how long we had been waiting, a car would stop 100% of the time if my partner went out to the bushes to pee. Or start making a sandwich, get some peanut butter on your face – a car will always stop when you are at your most ridiculous.
hitchhiking
Hitchhiking

 

Don’t try hitchhiking if:

Don’t try hitch hiking if you have to get somewhere for a certain time or event. Sometimes you will be able to cover huge distances in a day; like from Auckland to Wellington, while other times you will wait ages just to get to the next town. If you have to be somewhere for a certain time, just shell out and get the bus.

Don’t try hitch hiking if for any reason you don’t feel comfortable with the situation or the person who has stopped for you. Remember that although most people in this world mean you no harm at all, there are a few bad people out there. If you gut is sending you warning signals, pay attention to it.

south island mountains
South Island Mountains

 

Hitch hiking in New Zealand: it’s worth a try!

Some of my best experiences and memories were made while hitchhiking in New Zealand. At first the whole thing felt really awkward to me, but after a few rides I got over it. Each person I met was totally different, each ride an adventure. Hitch hiking is definitely a part of the New Zealand experience, and something each traveler should at least consider.

About the Author

hitchhiking to nelsonJade Johnston blogs about all things travel at OurOyster.com. She likes to write helpful guides for the places she visits to help others realize their travel dreams – on a budget. All this while navigating international travel with a baby. You can also connect with her on social media. Take your pick of Facebook, TwitterPinterest or Google+.

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50 Comments

  • I heard a lot of fascinating stories of solo female hitchhikers in New Zealand. It really seems to be safe and you make incredible experience. Nonetheless I don’t know whether I would dare to do it myself. Probably not solo…I don’t know, I think I would be too scared during the whole journey and couldn’t enjoy it. But who knows, maybe I’ll give it a try one day :)

  • Thanks for the tips :) Have always wanted to try hitchhiking. It’s not very common here in the UK so haven’t had a chance to try it thus far, but if I’m ever in New Zealand or other countries where it’s more acceptable will definitely give it a try!

  • Seriously agree, hitchhiking in NZ was one of the best experiences there, I met so many amazing a friendly people that went out of their way to show me their country, take me fishing, or just make sure I got where I needed to go even if they weren’t going there.

    Most surprising ride I ever had was coming smelly and unshaven off a 3 day hike I was picked up by a mother taking her 13 year old daughter to ballet practice. I waited in the car while she dropped the daughter off and then drove me into town and to my hostel.

    Friendliest people ever and if you’re going to start hitchhiking anywhere NZ is the place!

    Chris

    • Wow what an awesome experience! I also had an experience when I was picked up by a mom with 3 small kids cause she wanted some adult conversation haha! Some of my best experiences were when older couples picked me up when it was getting close to night and took me to their houses to stay the night. Such amazing and friendly people!

  • This was an absolutely fascinating post to read, Jade! Here in America it would be a big no-no (for safety reasons) for a female to hitchhike. Says a lot about our society unfortunately. And in many places it’s illegal. Though it’s a really good country. But, not the comfortable, safe feeling you’ve shared here about New Zealand. I would really enjoy the part about meeting the new people on a drive…really getting to know a local. Good stuff! This was great and an amazing learning lesson for me :)

    • Thanks Mike for sharing. I guess I would enjoy hitchhiking in America with my friends at my side. That would be definitely much safer and more fun.

    • A lot of people say that about the country they are from… maybe it’s because we hear so many bad stories on the news every day when we are at home? I have had people say “oh I would never do that in Canada…etc”, but I have done it in Canada with no problem. Of course, like any activity, hitchhiking has it’s risks, but I think sometimes those risks are slightly exaggerated by the media

  • It’s so strange about hitchhiking; I wouldn’t feel safe doing it in Australia (wouldn’t even dream of it), yet did it so many times in Central Asia and the Middle East without thinking twice. I guess there’s a certain naivety which comes with being a foreigner in a strange land where everyone is nice to you, while at home you’ve heard all the horror stories.

    • Same here Tim. Hitchhiking scares me a bit, especially when you are a young blonde Polish girl :)! I would feel safe maybe in South-East Asia, but Middle East? I don’t think so! China is pretty safe, but hitchhiking isn’t common here at all.

  • Interesting post! I’ve hitchhiked a handful of times, but most of the time it doesn’t even occur to me as a way to regularly get around. I like the tip about having a sign, not just to identify where you’re going, but to make yourself seem less sketchy.

    • To be honest Jess, I never hitchhiked. I was always scared of being raped or get hurt. Europe is not the safest place to catch a ride, but I might go for it when in New Zealand.

    • For me it was a necessity at first because I don’t have a drivers license, but soon I got into the “culture” of it and did it because I enjoyed it. The sign is definitely one of my most recommended tips!

  • Not for me…but here in Germany we’ve seen an upswing of college-age people hitchhiking from the autobahn gas stations…very interesting to watch them approach people. I’m sure it’s against the law here.

    • I don’t think it is illegal in Germany, but then again I am not sure. I do know of people who have hitch hiked in Germany though, and of course many of the people I met hitchhiking in New Zealand were Germans so I sort of assumed it was fairly common there.

  • I would consider it but if you’re uncomfortable with the situation, how do you go about nicely telling someone that you don’t want to accept their kindness for pulling over and offering you a ride? I’ll be a solo traveler, so I have considered hitching rides since it’ll be cheaper and cooler way to meet people.

  • Great tips on hitchhiking, even though I never considered it. I think hitchhiking is something that a traveler learns over a period of time depending on the situation.

  • I live in a rural town in New Zealand called Greymouth and my husband and I always pick up hitchhikers as we know how bad the transport is. We love meeting new people from all walks of life and enjoy telling them about what we like about living here. We emigrated 7yrs ago from the UK. It is a way of life for even the locals to hitch lifts from the side of the road and that way we all stay connected. Last month we were coming home from a trip in Hokitika and picked up a couple and we enjoyed their conversation so much; she was from Spain and he was Brazilian, that as we were about to drop them off it started to rain and my husband felt bad for them trying to get another lift. So he drove another 35km to where they wanted to go. It was great to do help them and show off the Pancake rocks, a must see for anyone visiting NZ. Only advice is don’t feel bad in saying ‘no thanks”, there will always be another lift.
    Happy tramping everyone.

  • have always wanted to try my hand at hitchhiking, just another experience really. New Zealand is such a beautiful place, the people are so friendly, I could see why this would be an ideal place to try it.

  • Though I didn’t do it myself when I was travelling through New Zealand, I definitely concur that it is an acceptable way to travel for backpackers in NZ. I picked up a few hitchhikers along the way when I rented a car in the South Island and it was a great experience for me too, from the other side!

  • ha ha, i was there 40 years ago and a guy from a local paper came by and took my picture because i was lying alongside the road hitching like i couldn’t care less. everyone who gave me a ride invited me home as their guest and by the end of the day i went to a farm and learned the basics of handling fleece so i could get a job in blenheim as soon as i arrived there.

  • It’s super that people are so willing to pick up hitch-hikers. I’ve only done it in Europe, but definitely thinking back to NZ, it’s another country I would feel keen to hitch in :)

  • I havent actually hitchhiked in NZ but I have picked up hitchhikers. Its true, I am mostly likely to stop for someone in a remote location because I know there isnt much traffic and they may be waiting a while! Id feel guilty otherwise!

  • We’ve picked up hitchhikers twice while overseas but never here in NZ (though we don’t travel all that much by road and don’t see hitchers too often).

    I remember one German couple we hosted through Couchsurfing … weren’t sure when they were supposed to turn up and they didn’t arrive until late in the day, and that’s because they had been waiting for someone to pick them up!

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