I’m in New Zealand with absolutely no idea where I’m going or any plan whatsoever. In truth, I wanted to come back to Australia, but I couldn’t get another visa, so I got the closest thing I could: a one-year work visa in New Zealand.
After a few miserable, rainy days in Auckland (I arrived in the off-season when the weather was worse than Ireland and the hostel was almost empty, so I was super lonely), I headed out hitchhiking to see where I’d end up.
My first ride into the wilderness
One guy, I can’t remember what he looked like now, but he was older in his ’50s, gave me his first ride. When we were driving, he pointed to some Mauri lads moving bags up a mountainside. “They’re growing weed up there,” he told me. “It’s amazing how hard some people will work so that they don’t have to work.”
I laughed, realizing that the New Zealander stereotypes about their native people are probably just as false as the Aussies’ racist attitude towards aboriginals. However, I’d been warned by several New Zealanders that Mauri’s like to fight when they drink and that I should be careful of them.
This guy dropped me off in a tiny little place I can’t remember the name of now. I looked at the map of the North Island on Google Maps, and I couldn’t find it. I just know it used to be some sort of penal colony, and it was deep in the rainforest.
As I jumped out of the car, I realized I was deep in the sticks. There was a single bar, no shops, and I could hear crickets and bugs chirping in the forest. I was standing there at the side of the road with my thumb out every time a car drove by, but I didn’t have any luck for about 30 minutes or so.
Eventually, a rusty, beat-up old car pulled up outside the bar about 10 meters away from me. The guy in the driver’s seat waved me over, and I picked up my backpack and walked over to the driver’s side window.
When he rolled it down, it was a car full of Mauri guys, and it stunk of weed. The guy offered me the end of a smoke and asked if I wanted to get in. Naturally, given what I was told and that these guys looked like gangsters, I was a little bit unsure, but I decided to roll the dice and go with them.
They asked me the usual stuff: my name, where I was from, what I was doing in NZ, and so on. I realized we were off the main road and headed up a country lane, so I asked them where we were going.
“My place,” said the driver with a smile. “I can’t take you where you’re going, but I’m gonna get you a cup of tea and something to eat. You’ll be standing out there for hours.”
At this point, I was either going to be murdered and never found, or the negative stereotypes I was told about these guys were about to be blown to bits. Based on the fact that I’m still here, writing this, you can probably guess how it turned out.
Mauri mate and lots of kids
I’m not sure where the other people in the car went, but the next thing I remember was sitting out the back of this guy’s ragtag wooden house with a tin roof with him. He fixed me a cup of tea and some biscuits, and we started chatting.
“These are all your kids?” I asked him, pointing to the half a dozen or so toddlers and small children kicking about the yard.
“Yup,” he said, smiling.
“Jesus. You’ve been busy. How did your wife manage that?”
“She managed some of it. Her sister managed the rest,” he told me, laughing.
I looked at him for him to go on.
“Married one. Had a few kids. Wanted more, and she didn’t, so her sister gave me a few more.”
I didn’t even reply, but he sensed my shock and curiosity and went on. “That’s how we do it here, mate. Us natives don’t live by white man’s rules. I love them both, so why the fuck not make one big family?”
“I’m not judging. Just amazed,” I laughed. He smiled and drained his cup of tea.
Of course, everybody in this world wants something, and so it was this time, too.
We were sitting indoors now, I don’t exactly remember if it was in a garage or shed or something like that. He produced the biggest bag of weed I have ever seen in my life and set it down in front of me.
“Listen, brother. I need to feed these kids, and I don’t have a job,” he told me. “Can you buy some of this? It’s grown here organically on the farm and is good sh*t.”
Of course, wanting to be hospitable in return and also fearing what would happen if I said no, I bought some from him. Not the whole bag, but a little bit. Enough to put some money in his pocket and give me a good few days.
After the exchange, we had another cup of tea, talked some more about family, life, and all that, and he drove me back down the same country lane to the very place I had stood about an hour ago.
The next ride and a few days on a magnificent farm
I was aware that it was evening time at this point, and the sun was starting to set. There was nowhere to stay, and I was literally in the middle of nowhere.
“If you don’t catch a ride, come back up that lane, brother. You’re welcome to stay the night,” he told me.
About 15 minutes later, a big silver Volvo estate pulled over beside me. A big, bearded man with a sizable belly and a redheaded woman were in it.
“Ver are you going?” he asked in a distinctly German accent.
“I actually have no idea. That way,” I said, pointing North.
“Jamp in,” he said, introducing himself as Peter.
As night fell, they sensed my worry and said I could stay with them for a few days as they were farmers in the WWOOF program who took in backpackers in exchange for labor.
It was a gorgeous farm overlooking a valley, and I learned the ropes of farming cattle in the NZ highlands. But that’s another story for another day.
What did I learn from all this? Stereotypes are bullshit, and we’re all just humans trying to survive and feed our kids. I can’t even picture that guys face anymore, and nor do I know his name, but he showed me kindness and offered me a bed for the night, which is something I haven’t forgotten after all these years.