We almost never met. She was at a gas station back down the road, but Carolina and I were heading inland. If it weren’t for the fact the tank was near empty and places to fill up were few and far between in this part of New Zealand, I would not have turned around.
After hitch hiking around New Zealand on my own and picking up hitch-hikers before, I gave no thought to taking in a stranded traveler.
She was looking for a ride to Queenstown—we could get her as far as Wanaka. What I didn’t know was how fruitful this meeting would be. She ended up showering us with gifts and giving us great suggestions for sights to see on the ride to her drop-off point.
A chance meeting
Carolina was at my side as I steered Frogger down along the West Coast. Last night, we had stayed at a hostel near Fox Glacier. Fox Glacier has been receding at an amazing one meter a week since 1985.
It’s not safe to walk on unless you take a helicopter over to it on a paid tour. Instead, we took a 30-minute walk beneath the canyon walls it had carved and below the waterfalls it left behind right up to where it has receded.
Now we were ready to begin heading inland. The Otago region of New Zealand was said to be the most beautiful area of the South Island. We could hardly wait!
Something I’ve learned about the South Island is you may drive for 100-200 miles without seeing a gas station. Anticipating this, I saw we were at about ¼ of a tank already. “Wasn’t there a sign just back there with a gas station symbol on it?” I asked Carolina.
We decided to head back.
Sure enough, we found a station off on a side road. When I went inside to pay, the station clerk asked me, “Where are you headed?”
“There’s a hitch hiker here looking for a ride that way.”
The clerk took me outside to meet Sammy, a Korean woman who spoke only a little English. I asked her how she ended up stranded at the gas station in Haast and she told us she was in a car accident. The brakes failed in her rental car and she slammed into a rock wall. She was okay; the car was not.
I told her we were heading to Lake Dunstan tonight then Queenstown tomorrow. We agreed to drop her in Wanaka so she could catch a bus from there to Queenstown before her flight the next morning.
“Thank you. Thank you. You want money?” She kept saying. “No, no. We’re going that way anyway!” I insisted.
Giving Sammy a ride
We were surprised she had such little luggage. With all our camping gear and two large back packs squashed into our tiny hatchback rental, we were glad she was able to fit in the back seat with only her small backpack.
“So you’re going back home to Korea?”
“Yes. To my job.”
“What is your job, Sammy?”
“I am a doctor.”
Sammy is a medical doctor who was vacationing on her own for two weeks in New Zealand. She asked us what we do. Carolina is a copper smelter back in Sweden and I told her, “I am a doctor, too. But a research doctor, not medical like you.”
“You want medicine?”
Carolina and I looked at each other like, “What?!” We asked her what she had: ibuprofen and cold medicine. We insisted she keep it—she could still use it back home!
As we drove down Route 6 we were following the crystal clear Haast River. Sammy said, “Oh there is beautiful waterfall here.”
She directed us along the road and we pulled over to take some photos. Sandflies were out, so we didn’t stay long, but eventually we made it to Fantail Falls.
Visitors had set up cairns all over the bank of the river near the falls. Carolina and I reflected on the cairns we had seen together our first day road tripping around Iceland together.
Sammy then also told us about several lakes on the route ahead. She said they were very beautiful and we could stop to take nice photos. She was right!
This was just the beginning of the Otago region beauty. Here are the gorgeous, still waters of Lakes Wanaka and Hawea:
Kindness breeds kindness
Sammy needed help buying her bus ticket once we reached Wanaka. I spoke to the woman inside the i-Site and got Sammy all squared away for her evening bus trip to Queenstown.
I felt bad not being able to drive Sammy the rest of the way to Queenstown but she was so thankful. She gave me a huge hug and said, “I love you!” which made me laugh.
Carolina and I continued on to Lake Dunstan where we set up camp down by the water. When we went into the back seat of Frogger we found a bunch of new items there: a bottle of pain killers and a packet of cold medicine, two big bottles of water, and a pair of cool socks.
We nearly died of laughter over the “cool socks.” They were so cute! And I actually wore them throughout the rest of the trip. I have to say, these items were probably the most useful items we possibly could have been given. Water is always needed when camping and we both ended up catching colds about a week later.
Sammy was so sweet for leaving us all of these items. I never asked her for her contact information so I can only hope she will read this someday. Thanks, Sammy, for being the best hitch hiker ever!