A transplanted, middle-aged Englishman hitchhikes the length and breadth of his adopted country.
Bennett wanted serendipity to guide his ramble about the two big islands that make up New Zealand, thus his decision to become a pilgrim of the thumb. “I’ve seen much of this country over the years, but I have never traveled merely to observe it,” he writes, so on this trip he worked hard at the exigent art of seeing: everything from muttering magpies, glow-worm caves and bad hotels to high-country sheep stations, trout streams and a sky the color of a thrush egg. With an unselfconscious, wry tone, that carries the clarity of the plainspoken, Bennett neatly delineates landscapes: the feral indifference of the wild West Coast of South Island; the dwarfing, wordless northernmost outpost, where two oceans clash. The drivers who picked him up gave Bennett insights into the towns and countryside he would never have been able to discern otherwise. But what really got to him was the fleeting intimacy they shared; each of his hitches was like a confessional on wheels, a psychiatric couch barreling through the landscape. He learned things about his traveling companions that they likely never shared with their mates, and if they turned creepy sometimes, at least he knew that soon he would never see them again. No national character emerges in his narrative, but readers do get a good, long look through the eyes of working-class New Zealanders, as truck drivers were Bennett’s most common tour guides. As they got on with their work, he was “swanning, going where I wish at the pace that I wish, and exploiting their goodwill to travel for free.”