Editorial: Risks and rewards of hitchhiking

Last updated 12:32 03/04/2014

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OPINION: As a nation that prides itself on being friendly to visitors, many of us feel shame when tourists suffer harm.

The ordeal endured by two young women travellers when they accepted a lift on the West Coast at the weekend evokes particular disgust because of its senseless, random violence, and the potential for an even worse outcome.

The man charged with attacking the pair has also been charged with the murder of a young Christchurch woman only a day before.

The tourists managed to escape with their lives, despite one suffering wounds to her neck, and the other a broken pelvis as she got out of a moving vehicle.

The pair, who met in Nelson, had been enjoying a typical backpacking holiday, relishing the country's natural beauty and hospitality. Like many others they decided to hitch-hike south to make their budget go further.

The incident raises questions about whether hitchhiking is worth the risk. The women are experienced travellers, and made the wise decision to travel together, yet they were still attacked. Last month there were two incidents where solo women hitch-hikers were sexually attacked after accepting rides in Motueka.

The cluster of incidents is probably an unfortunate coincidence, and they are still rare compared to the number of rides happily given and received by hosts and visitors. The vast majority of those who stop do so out of simple kindness, and the only payment is an often positive cultural exchange.

West Coast-Tasman MP Damien O'Connor says he will continue to give lifts to hitchhikers on the Coast as it's a "wonderful way to travel, they should always feel safe". In an ideal world that would be the case and there would be no violent male predators but the reality requires trying to minimise the risks, such as not travelling alone and keeping in contact with friends.

The Coast attack has also seen the positive face of New Zealand with gifts and offers of support pouring in for the two women. We all hope they recover fully from their physical and emotional injuries.

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- Nelson

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