When Tom first suggested we hitch across Tasmania, I was hesitant. Tom (23), and me (36) met thru-hiking the length of New Zealand on the Te Araroa Trail last year, where we hitchhiked out of necessity from the trail into towns and back. I was broke when I was twenty-three as well. But with a steady income and enough money for a bus ticket, I felt somewhat fraudulent and immoral to live like a vagabond with no roof over my head or means of transportation.
Our only direction and objective were to explore as many of Tasmania’s nineteen National Parks as possible during our thirty-day visit on the cheap. All I was carrying was a five-kilogram rucksack, and with no itinerary or agenda in my back pocket, I felt as light as a feather. But I had some hesitations about the unknowns ahead. Where we’d eat, sleep, and shit each day would be in the hands of the stranger behind the wheel.
Upon arrival we stood by the roadside on the outskirts of Launceston (or Lonny as the locals refer to it), holding our thumbs out with bright eyes and eager smiles. My arm began to cramp within the first few minutes, and I couldn’t help but become doubtful of our success, sweating in the unseasonable temperatures the island was experiencing in the final week of January this year, when bushfires were raging through half the state.
I was about to suggest we catch a bus, when a red pick-up truck pulled over, driven by a local man with his four-year-old daughter in the back seat. He mentioned he’d driven passed us twice already, deciding to swing back because he felt sorry for our unfortunate position along Highway 1.
“You’ll never get a ride here,” he told us bluntly, before driving us ten kilometres south for a better chance.
This first ride led to countless others, from people as varied as the vehicles they were driving.
I’d arrived with preconceived notions about the types of people who would stop for us, assuming they’d be driving painted vans with prayer flags and wearing colourful clothing with wooden beads in their hair. But during our 1,500-kilometre journey across Australia’s forgotten state, these stereotypes were demolished, replaced by the constant surprise of the vastness of people who stopped.
There was Carl, the baker from St Helens, who’d just finished his overnight shift at the Banjo’s franchise. A seven-year-old boy named Ancus on a weeklong trip from Hong Kong, who was forced to translate for his Chinese father. There was the Korean couple with their Dutch friend heading to a campsite in Swansea, Leanne from Ballarat in her campervan who made costumes for the local theatre, Jimi from Hobart battling depression, Beth and Barb touring the hops plantations near Mount Field, Davo the eccentric millionaire from North London, and Karly the debt collector, who was a single mother with a two-year-old kid.
Though we witnessed the sparkling blue waters of Wineglass Bay, the breathtaking cliffs of Cape Pillar, the rusty-orange rocks along the Bay of Fires, and the sun dipping its head beneath the horizon from the summit of Cradle Mountain, my greatest memories of Tasmania are the people and their stories. The state developed a certain charm and character, painted by the portraits of the people who drove us north and south.
Every ride opened my eyes to something different. I learned about patching phone calls in Australia back in the 1960s, where to buy the best pizza in New Norfolk, how to sew the arm of a costume so that it slides off in an action sequence, and the best place to camp on the Three Capes Track. But everyone we met agreed on the same very thing. They all loved Tassie. If they were local, they wanted to keep the state a secret, and if they were from the mainland or travelling, they were making plans to move there.
I discovered so much more than if we’d rented a car and remained in a tourist bubble. Why people stop to pick up strangers remains a mystery to me, but there’s something to be learned from these generous people, and I look forward to returning the favour some day soon.