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on 20 July 2006
I first read this book a year ago, almost by chance; we were planning a 6-month stay in New Zealand, and the community library didn't have much else. Remember being amused by it, enjoying it a lot. Yes it is patchy and inconsistent, as another reviewer comments; what that reviewer fails to mention is that the book was written as a series of newspaper columns. It wasn't intended to be coherent; it didn't annoy me.

This is one of those books that make a bigger impact after reading than during. Whilst in New Zealand, it lingered in my memory. I felt I had a greater affinity with the place because of it. I've now bought it and am rereading it, with more pleasure than the first time. Because of the recognition.

I suppose Bennett is a cynic; he is also perceptive, and funny. To me, this is the best kind of travel writing: he's got an unerring eye for the countryside, puts real characters on the page, and enlivens it with interesting trivia and anecdotes.

One other thing: the first time I read the book, I didn't really appreciate what a fine writer he is, too. The prose is consistenly a pleasure to read. Which compares most favourably with the substandard dross that goes into 80% of travel writing!
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on 19 August 2005
This book certainly looks good... the idea of hitch-hiking as a way of exploring a country and its society is clever - you meet a lot of different people and get to see parts that are not always up there on the "must see" list of tourist destinations - and, on top of that, Joe Bennett is a skilled and entertaining writer. But despite such promising credentials, it really doesn't work in the way it should.
The problems start with the sequencing of his journey, which is very strange. The first half of the book finds him shooting off from his home in Christchurch to the increasingly bleak far south of the South Island, before heading up the island's equally remote West Coast. Hitch-hiking through these areas, which are notorious for their sparse habitation and bad weather, is a pretty daunting task and, not surprisingly, he gets fed-up with it two thirds of the way round and heads back home. Problem is that, by doing so, he misses out the whole of the north of the South Island which is not only stunningly pretty (with often glorious weather) but which is also one of the most interesting areas of the country. His journey round the North Island is at least more logical, taking in most of the "important" areas. But by now he's clearly getting very bored with hitching (so much so that he rents a car for large sections of the journey), a problem that's then compounded by his hitting some pretty appalling late Autumn weather, begging the obvious question of why choose to hitch at this time of year?
Next up, the people he chooses to meet are pretty strange. Not everyone picks up hitch-hikers and those who do are, as he finds, often slightly odd and usually want to talk a lot about their slightly odd lives. Off the road, he clearly likes a beer or two and, as a result, spends huge amounts of the journey chatting to bar-proppers in small pubs and hotels. Nothing wrong with either activity, but as an insight into New Zealand society it's a limited and far from representative cross-section of people.
Finally, Joe's either a pretty morose kind of guy or the boredom & banality of standing by endless roads for hours on end waiting for a lift, followed by a booze-up with some fairly lonely people in a small town pub gets to him. Whatever the reason, he spends increasing parts of the book reflecting on the less attractive aspects of New Zealand life while describing uninteresting parts of the country in bad weather. Not unexpectedly, by the end of it, his & your bottle are most definitely in "half empty" mode.
Which is all very unfair. I've visited New Zealand many times and lived in Christchurch. Sure, it's small country that's a long way from anywhere and its people are continually grappling with an inferiority complex that comes from being small and remote. But it's also stunningly beautiful with, at the right times of the year, quite excellent weather and a population that must rank amongst the most friendly and interesting anywhere. It's a superb holiday destination and, for the right type of person, a quite wonderful place to live. All aspects of New Zealand that our increasingly road-weary and often downright gloomy guide fails to capture and which, as a result, leads to a very unbalanced insight into both the country and its people.
Bad news then? Well not quite, because he can write and his stories are not only enjoyable and often quite funny, but his wet & windy journey becomes, in itself, an entertaining exercise in personal endurance. And, on the way, he experiences a side of New Zealand that most miss which, in turn, stimulates him to ruminate on a number of interesting and important social issues facing the country. Just don't get fooled into believing that it's really like this because, unless you too are mad enough to decide to hitch around the place at the wrong time of the year, it's most certainly not.
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on 12 April 2016
I enjoyed this book especially as i have been to NZ and wanted to know what he made of it. His style tries to be wry and dry but often ends up sounding a bit bored. I think he wants to be Bill Bryson but just does not have the warmth and wit. A good read though.
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on 12 March 2016
A very good read around NZ with a wise commentary from the writer. Good historic and geographical featrues in particular are described well. A very good read, one that parters Kiwis Might Fly by Polly Evans, as they do the same route in opposite directions.
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on 6 December 2011
This book, by UK-born NZ resident journalist Joe Bennett, is about a hitchhiking tour around both islands of New Zealand. Having recently spent a few months there myself, I looked forward to reading it. My overall impression, having done so, is that it was fun to re-imagine and remember many of the places we visited, sometimes with a wry comment from the author or a new perspective or piece of info which we missed - but overall, I found the book's relentless grumpy tone got me down.

There is an irony in the fact that Kiwis generally really are warm, friendly, open people. Bennett, who has made his home among them for I think nearly 20 years, comes across as a tired, slightly bitter old cynic, ready to laugh at the simpletons he meets along the way - and to rail in barely suppressed fury at, depending on where he is, people with nice cars, people with camper vans, people from the city, foreigners, and, worst of all, tourists (especially Japanese ones). He perhaps fails to reflect fully on the fact that, however pathetic and annoying he finds other people who also touring around NZ, tourism is massive for the local economy and most locals seem rather cheerful about the transitory populations passing through. He also, completely bafflingly, will refer to various wonderful panoramas (e.g. Lake Wanaka, Queenstown from the hills) and experiences (bird watching on the Otago peninsula) as, well, not very good - or, boring, or overrated. Odd.

It's lots of fun to read this book if you have recently been to NZ, or perhaps are planning a trip, as the route is fairly comprehensive, and the author is, at least, well informed. However, buy with caution - it's sometimes like taking a journey with a whining old uncle, angry at the world, and unable to appreciate how lucky he is to be where he is. It's by no means a one star, AVOID at all costs book - but it's not exactly Jan Morris or Paul Theroux either.
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on 10 March 2006
This is something of a caricature of NZ and I enjoyed reading it. If you don't mind the expletives it's a funny book which had me laughing out loud. Don't take it too seriously but do take it as reading material on your next flight, particularly if you're heading down under.
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on 16 March 2012
This book should have held my interest and been enjoyable - I also have visited New Zealand several times and lived there for a year, and seen a lot of the two islands, and I love the place. However, I have finally given up, just as he gets to the North Island; I have decided I cannot waste any more of my time with this. It's boring, repetitive and the more interesting aspects (NZ history, people etc.) are covered in a superficial way. He doesn't seem to capture the essence of many of the places he visits (and I've been to most of them so I know what they are like), although I suppose maybe he genuinely thinks quite a lot of them weren't particularly nice and he's entitled to his opinion. Some of the descriptions of his long waits by the road are reminiscent of a rather poor GCSE essay. As people have pointed out, it is an account of hitch-hiking so his meetings are probably skewed towards slightly oddball types and he was evidently doing it on a shoe-string as he seems to stay and eat in the grimmest of places!

Onto something more worthwhile I think.
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on 4 March 2015
One day, perhaps he will enjoy the same level of recognition as he does now is his adopted NZ. Bennett truly is one of the clearest, articulate and spot on voices out there in his field. If you have never read him then do yourself a favour and give yourself a treat.

Bennett decides to go for a wander outside his home in Canterbury in the South Island and hitch his way around NZ seeing the world and the nation through the eyes of his kind hosts and drivers. This was one of these books where I was laughing so long and hard that I started to attract strange looks from people passing by. He really captures the look and feel of the country and has his finger well on the pulse of the people too.
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on 8 January 2013
An insider's look at rural New Zealand and the people that inhabit it. True to character - and since I'm one of them I can comment accurately. A must-read for anyone intending to drive themselves around the country.
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on 9 May 2013
I bought this book for a friend who was visiting New Zealand. She read it on the plane! A fairly lighthearted and humourous look as the author's "walk-about" NZ. Gives you abit of the nitty gritty of life there too.
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