Jan 16


by in Drawing & Writing


Back when some plans were in the process of bursting (thanks again Airjet!), I called a campground in Leigh. This was the day after the Milford Track, and we’d spent most of that day – up ’til 4PM – getting to a point, plan-wise, where I could even make this call. And… success! The two-night reservation was arranged, all pertinent questions about the facilities were answered, and only at the end did I enquire about local buses from our stop in nearby Warkworth.

“There aren’t any,” the woman sighed. “So you can either take a taxi, or hitch-hike. A taxi’s pretty expensive, so most people hitch-hike. It’s really easy, you won’t have any problems.”

Hitching a ride is far more common in New Zealand than it is in the US or Germany, and among those hitch-hikers there were a few couples like us, smiling hopefully from the road’s shoulder. Kiwis themselves encouraged the behavior far more than they discouraged it, just like this woman in Leigh.

I’d been standing at an intersection with a sign that read “Leigh?” for ten minutes when an elderly woman walked over.

“You’ll have a much better chance if you go up the road a bit,” she pointed. She had a very specific location in mind, one that virtually guaranteed success, she was sure of it, one where everyone HAD to be going to Leigh. But when it came time to tell us how to get there, the directions included a lot of ‘stay to the lefts’ and ‘stay to the rights’, a few hand gestures, some squinting of the eyes, and a particular tree we “couldn’t miss.” Well, we never found that tree, but we did squint a lot, and, with the help of a map, find the spot!

Five minutes later a beat-up hatchback pulled over, two guys in the front seat. “Just need a second,” the passenger said, cleaning up for us. “Got some eggs back here.”

The driver had pink hair and asked our names.

“I’m Antje.”


The guys nodded.



I’ll never forget those names, but it also wasn’t the right time to explain what they meant in combination to an American.

Jessie, the pink-haired guy, laughed when he found out Antje was German. “My daughter’s German.” The mother was from Münster, and he was visiting them that day at a camp-site close to Leigh. Jackson told us stories about the recent oil clean up, and how he’d hitch-hiked all through Europe with a Chicagoan. Both had hitch-hiked in the past, and were happy to return the favor. We got along well, and could’ve spent more than 20 minutes together, but at that point we’d reached our campgrounds.

It was a dump.

Not only was it a dump, but the price of our “cabin” was a touch too high for the plywood it contained.

Well, that’s OK. Two chairs were on the porch, and the view of the ocean was pretty nice, even though the wind made things… cold. Hm. Hopefully the roof didn’t rip off. Bathroom break – but the door to the bathroom was broken, the soap dispenser was broken, the hot water tap was broken, the men’s urinal was broken. Later I’d find that the shower was sort of broken. In the kitchen, the wall-mounted boiler was broken, one of the toasters was broken. On the plus side, there were heaps and heaps of dishware and silverware for general use, save for those unnecessary items called “spoons”, “knives”, and “bowls”. (To be fair, the second kitchen did have a functional water boiler, which I used to sterilize our encrusted silverware.) And where were the trashcans if they weren’t inside the kitchen or outside the kitchen?

We’d come to this campground because it was THE access point for the Goat Island Marine Reserve, a snorkeler’s paradise. With the wind blowing that seemed unlikely, and a talk with the owner, who rented out the snorkel gear, confirmed it. “I wouldn’t even rent it to you. It’s too murky. You’d just come back in ten minutes and ask for your money back.”

Well that was honest and disappointing, let’s get some food!

Technically we weren’t in Leigh, but just outside of it, and we had to get to town to buy our groceries. Funnily enough, that turned out to be almost 2 miles (2.9k) on a roadside shoulder that didn’t exist. Also funny were the General Store’s monopoly prices and lack of, er, foodstuffs.

So this is what we’d hitch-hiked for.

This place wasn’t in need of renovation, it was was just plain rotten, rotten to all hell, and it depressed us. The kitchen felt like college, and the children, having made so many new friends and come up with so many new games in such an awesome place in such a short time, were, for all intents and purposes, on natural methamphetamines, which was fine until they found the piano.

It was time to hunker down.


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