We’re on our way down to Queenstown. Outside Wanaka we pick up a girl hitch hiker. She’s a kiwi on her way down to meet friends in Stewart Island. She has the fine ginger hair of many of her fellow countryfolk. Her dress says ‘new-age’. She loads her immense backpack into the boot, obviously a strong girl, and off we go. It’s a very fine morning as we make our way down through countryside which gets more and more rugged. There is a lot of yellow broom in flower along parts of the road. After another steep and winding climb (how often you seem to use that phrase when describing this country) we reach the top of the Crown Range road. There is a vast spacious view from here and a plaque telling us all about it.
The descent is steeper and even more winding than the ascent with another viewpoint overlooking our goal, Queenstown. It is set in a spectacular alpine landscape on the shore of Lake Wakatipu. We’re booked for a fly-cruise-fly trip out to Milford Sound. We locate the airport at Frankton on the outskirts and then head back into the town for a look around.
It is a very pleasant, tourist-oriented place. There are broad pedestrian precincts with lots of busy cafes. A hair-raising cable lift up the steep, high, forested slope behind the town and a bustling lakeside area. There’s an esplanade where people are amusing themselves trying to dodge waves which splash over the wall as the lake is choppy. There are cruise boats. An old but very handsome steamer pulls in as we arrive. There are lively bars and restaurants and a large number of buskers.
We stop at a cafe and order coffe and a couple of blueberry muffins. This is our hitcherhiker’s breakfast. ‘We don’t want you having to rely on roadkill!’ I quip. The muffins take a while to arrive. When they do there are three smallish ones to an elegant modern plate for each one ordered. They are hot and delicious. We eat them and drink our coffee to the accompaniment of a Rheinhadt-Grapelli style pair busking at the end of the street.
Alison and I relate yarns of our own hitch-hiking days. Trips through France on beer and peaches. Illegal swimming in Venice. The time one freezing cold March night my schoolmate and I hitched to Loch Lomond via Inverness and were so tired we couldn’t be bothered to put up our tent, we just used it as a blanket and slept in a field. The time Alison and I stayed on Orkney and were breakfasted by the farmer whose land we were on with eggs and bacon and invited into his tiny croft for cups of tea. The return journey when we were stranded in Helmsdale for a day as foreign tourists sped by in cars full of luggage.. Looking back to a time when hitching was the standard means of transport for the uncarred youth of Britain. Indeed a time whan there WAS an uncarred youth.
Maybe this morning will feature as a tale for future years when this young lady passes on the favour to another idealistic youngster seeking new horizons as we’re doing in a small way now.
Completing the circle one more time.