‘Hellbent for Paradise’ by Zoe Cano

It’s not easy to write a book about a trip that’s only a couple of months and 3,000 miles long, so Zoe Cano has adapted with this, her latest publication. It’s the story of her tour of New Zealand aboard a Triumph Bonneville with the ultimate aim of finding a place called Paradise, reportedly nestled amid the mountains on South Island.

She’s added a lot of info about the places she visits, even detailing her accommodation, and the people she meets. Indeed, she makes a point of tracking down those in charge wherever she is, to fully understand what might be going on in any given situation. This tack certainly brings some of the experiences alive, like the ‘Burt Munro Challenge’, five days of motorcycle racing and rallying in Invercargill which honours the land speed record holder and his bike, the ‘World’s Fastest Indian’.

Many budding travel writers find themselves wedded to Wikipedia for explanation, adapting info, or in the worse cases simply cutting and pasting. Zoe has done something interesting to get around this; she seems to have reproduced long conversations with people. The problem is that they are all written in the same voice and struggle to convince the reader that anyone would talk so factually, or that she could have recalled it all without a Dictaphone. Because so much of the descriptive prose is very well written and engaging, these ‘conversations’ jar a little.

Then there’s the character called ‘Ghost Rider’, her guardian who is the prosopopoeia, or imagined incarnation, of Sean the sub-editor of a local bike magazine. Occasionally she’s in conversation with him inside her helmet, which almost works, but then it appears that sometimes she sees a vision of him, which doesn’t. It’s not an easy trick to pull off at the best of times but is more suited to fiction than travel writing. Thankfully he fades as her confidence grows.

If you want entertainment and you’d like to discover things about New Zealand from the comfort of your armchair, this book will be really useful. It doesn’t contain ‘adventure riding’ in the conventional sense, although she did struggle with the conditions and repeatedly talks about how heavy and cumbersome the Triumph was to use, even on tarmac. Given that the bike was hired and pre-chosen it does beg the question why she might not have chosen something smaller and lighter.

Paperback 300pp B&W images throughout (£17.50)
Published by Road Dog Publications (2019)