"Cameron, you need to use your thumb. Matt, your sign is
upside down. Hold it the right way up. Come on Kirst, thumb
out," Stuart chivvied as we stood by the side of the road,
freezing in the morning air. The Rastafarian truck driver
cracked up laughing in his cabin, giving us a thumbs up
in return but indicating with a nod that he wasn't going
any further than the camping ground opposite. A whole family
strained their necks staring as they drove past. "Never
seen a family hitch hike before?" Stuart muttered, as their
car stuffed with people, mattresses and luggage chugged
up the hill without us. Clearly they hadn't. I was a first
time hitch hiker, but it didn't take me long to develop
the two necessary techniques. The first involved me sticking
my thumb out confidently, making eye contact with the driver,
then dealing with the rejection. The second was a nonchalant
half gesture, indicating I couldn't give a toss whether
or not anyone stopped. I started with the first of these
techniques, then ended up practising the latter as time
Family on a Bike try hitching
As hitch hikers go, we were a shambles. Matthew
was bored after ten minutes and more interested in simulating
a volcano by dropping pumice stone on his brothers head
than hitching a ride. Cameron immediately crumpled up his
'chairlift please' sign and was trying to hitch with his
middle finger. Stuart was getting increasingly desperate.
"Come on boys, thumbs out. Kirstie, you hold the sign. Hold
both signs. Look everyone two campervans in a row."
We had cycled to Whakapapa two days before;
an uphill ride to the highest hotel in New Zealand. We were
aiming for the chairlifts which would take us up onto the
ski resort, high up the active volcano. However, we spent
our time there mooching around. Two things were in our way;
the chairlift was closed due to eighty kilometre winds,
and it was seven kilometres away, up a winding road with
five hundred metres of vertical ascent. We weren't about
to cycle that. But on the morning we were due to leave the
resort, the wind dropped and the sun came out, penetrating
the freezing mist. "It's open Kirst, the chairlift is open."
Stuart pointed towards a sign outside the village shop.
We happily made enquiries, but the only bus had left at
eight that morning. Stuart quickly decided there was no
way of getting up to the chair lift unless we bagged ourselves
a lift. There weren't many vehicles on this quiet mountain
road, but most of the ones that passed us were buses or
campervans. "It won't be difficult to fit us all in. I reckon
it's just a matter of time."
"Right. Change of tactic. Let's try begging,"
I decided. We had been sticking our thumbs out for forty
minutes without any joy. The kids had given up and were
messing around in the bushes, the paper sign had disintegrated,
Stuart's wrist was limp and I had long since had enough.
I approached a couple just leaving the visitors centre.
"Hi. We need a lift to the chairlift, do you have room for
four cyclists without bikes?" I asked. "Sure, jump in,"
said the American couple, clearing a space on the bed for
us all. Five minutes later we were there.
Stan and Kit restored our faith
in humankind with a lift
The first chairlift was fast and creaky, and
only had room for two on each seat. I experienced a rush
of adrenaline as it hurtled towards Matt and I, hauling
my son clumsily onto it as we lifted into the air. "This
is higher than I have ever ever been." Matthew shouted as
we hurtled into the icy cloud. I looked behind at Stuart
and Cameron and tried to take a picture with freezing fingers.
Cameron looked no bigger than a toy doll, huddled into his
daddy's arms for warmth.
Stuart and Cameron appear out
of the mist on the way back down the chairlift
The second chairlift was wider and we could
all fit on. "Dad, why is this even higher than the country
of Europe?" Matthew asked. "It's not really Matt, some of
the Alps are much bigger than this, and Europe isn't a country
anyway," his Dad patiently explained. "I know that," said
Matthew. "Europe is a collection of countries including
Hungary, France, Spain and of course the United Kingdom.
Oh and Idaly. I think we should cycle Idaly for our next
trip. They eat pizza and pasta there every day you know."
We looked at each other, astonished at Matthew's sudden
knowledge of Europe. "I like pasta and pizza, can we go
to Idaly now Mummy?" asked Cameron. "Look, we're at the
top of the volcano, can we play in the snow dad?" said his
brother, suddenly back to sounding like a four year old.
Cameron had never played in snow before. His
eyes were wide and his fingers clenched tight as he grasped
the crystals firmly and then wondered as they melted in
his hands. He wasn't going to be left out as his Dad and
brother strode across the frozen wasteland of snow and grey
The barren rocky volcanic snowscape
up Mount Ruapehu
In the café we ate hot pies and viewed photo's
of people skiing on the volcano during the last eruption.
"The crater lake is full at the moment," said Stuart. "There
could be a mud flow at any time. Lets go shall we." As we
approached the chairlift once more the rain came in, along
with an ice cold mist. On the way back down the mountain
I was given an education in volcanoes by Matthew, who pointed
out the places where the rock was rich in iron. As I lifted
him off the lift he whispered in my ear, "Don't lets hitch
hike again, it was rubbish. You go and get us a lift Mum."
But I too had now mastered the best technique for hitch
hiking and immediately collared a Yorkshire man outside
his campervan. We were down the hill and eating ice creams
before Cameron had begun to thaw. "They eat ice creams every
day in Idaly," you know Dad, said Matt, his face dyed green
from a 'goody gum drops' cone. "I like ice cream. Can we
go to Idaly now Mummy?" said Cameron, hoping if he asked
enough it might just happen. "And there's volcanoes too."
Added Matthew, "Idaly is really great. Family on a Bike
will love it there. But I think we should cycle there Dad,
'cos you're terrible at hitch hiking."