HITCHHIKING TO TAURANGA made me happy I was traveling by thumb. It only took one minute for a car to pull over. I told the smiling man that I liked hitchhiking opposed to taking buses because people would occasionally act as tour guides and show me interesting landmarks along the way. He replied by offering to drive out to a beautiful lake where his brother-in-law owned an outdoor adventure facility for youth. The man drove me 20 extra kilometers because, he said, he enjoyed talking to me and I would be better off getting a ride at this next pullover.
[Editors note: Aviva, insert hitchhiking disclaimer here, please: Hitchhiking is illegal in many states in the US. This is because there is a possibility of danger, and mothers everywhere advise their daughters not to get into cars with strangers. I will not lie, New Zealand is not completely safe and the common thought is that hitch hiking is not a preferable means of travel. But in general, New Zealanders are incredibly kind, hospitable and trustworthy. I knew that the most important thing is to trust a gut feeling, have an idea of the potential risk involved and have a plan, just in case.]
My next driver was a Raglan-born Maori fruit deliverer. He told me he worked hard everyday to save money so one day he could buy a house on a small farm. He had never left New Zealand and only been to the South Island once a long time ago. At the grocery store in Tauranga he unloaded the containers of grapes and we said goodbye.
Wendy picked me up next.
I stayed a week in Tauranga with Wendy, Craig and their two little girls. My family's good friend knew Wendy when he was young working at a ski resort in New Zealand and has kept in touch ever since. Tauranga is on the east coast of the North Island and close by is a beach with warm, picturesque, white sand. I made a friend named Marius. He took me out one night, brought me to the animal shelter to volunteer with him and lent me a bike so we could go mountain biking.
Wendy & Craig from Tauranga
After a week in Tauranga I left for Waihi to visit Jake the wedding photographer. Before arriving I received a text: Hey Aviva, you are welcome to stay with us but we are moving soon and live in a super small house right now. You can stay in my two-year-old daughter's room, but I'm not sure how long you'll want to stay here...
The forcast showed heavy storms but my best New Zealand friend, the weather, had my back. I went hiking everyday.
Then one day I decided to pack some extra granola bars and hike to a hut shown on my photocopied map. I learned that the more risks I took, the more I was willing to take.
It was me, alone, with my headlamp and small pack in a large, bunk-filled hut looking out at the stars. I assumed the emptiness was due to winter approaching. When I got to New Zealand the sun set around 9:30 PM. On my campout it set at 6:00 (ok, we have to account for daylight savings being taken off). I played solitaire, lit a candle to read a three-year-old issue of some New Zealand fashion magazine and zonked out at 8:00.
The day I left Jake and Meg, his wife, lent me their car. The keys jingling around my neck made me feel amazing, like I was in charge again. For the first time, I could pull over at any beach, any fruit stand I wanted.
For lunch we all ate meat pies, one of the only signature New Zealand foods I encountered. Then I tried my first fijoa, a refreshing, green fruit mainly grown in New Zealand. I cannot describe the taste, only that it is often mixed with apple juice and eaten by cutting in half and spooning out the soft inside.
I hugged them all goodbye, feeling like I had yet another New Zealand family.
With a red bow in my hair I tried hitch hiking to Auckand. It was April 6, the first night of Passover. I was reminded of this when a woman looking at my profile on couchsurfing.org (which I joined a few days prior after countless travelers raved about their experiences) and seeing my Hebrew name invited me to a Seder in Auckland.
To everyone who still can't imagine hitchhiking I will share this: I asked the family who initially picked me if they knew any stores along the way where I could buy smething to bring to the Seder. They pulled over at the next convinience store, I hopped out with my purse and they waited for me. I trusted them enough to leave my backpack in the trunk, and by this point it was not because I was naive.
Having told you that, the next thing I did was one of the most stupid things a hitch hiker could do, and I knew it before it happened. A nice, young girl picked me up and said she was not going all the way to Auckland. Of course, I couldn't get a ride standing on the freeway. And April 6th was a public holiday in New Zealand, the friday before Easter, so trains and buses weren't running. After driving around trying to figure out what I should do, she dropped me off at the airport and I took an hour bus ride to the city centre to catch another bus to the woman's house, all the while feeling horrible for being so late to meet my Jewish Auckland host.
While traveling, it is impossible to be the punctual, reliable, focused person I stive to be. I sent Lilach a text to suggest she leave without me to the Seder and poured my worries into my journal. Kindly, she ignored my text and I ended up being the only one who spoke no Hebrew at the Seder. The four Israeli families I met moved to New Zealand for safety, although never stopped talking about when they would go home.
The next day I had my second couchsurfing experience, equally great. A man with a baby met me outside Starbucks and decided he wanted to take a road trip that night. After lunch he gave me the keys to his new apartment in the centre of Auckland and left. I had just met this person and he trusted me like we'd been friends for years!
Listen to the audio blog below to hear Aviva's last days in New Zealand...