Canadian Dave Gibson walks the trail - 2004

Dave Gibson walked a continuous route from Ship Cove in the Marlborough Sounds to Bluff, mainly following Te Araroa's suggested track and covering 1,300 kilometres in 64 hiking days.


Dave (left) and a German hiker, Daniel, at the start of his trek Dave at Bluff, April 16, 2004.

Some days he walked 35 km, others just 10 or 15 km, and the daily average came out at 20 km. The 46 year-old Canadian detoured occasionally - Te Araroa's route in the South Island is just a suggested joining of tracks at present, open for testing and revision.

He had one scare - crossing the Otehake River, hip-deep, he briefly lost his footing.

But to take it from the top: Dave started at The Ship Cove monument to Captain James Cook, marking the place where the English explorer careened his ship the Endeavour in 1770 and came down the Queen Charlotte walkway - a trail where hiker number are up around 18,000 a year, and there’s plenty of company.

Coming up to the formidable Richmond Range, the route calls for an eight-day hike in jumbled mountains where trampers are comparatively scarce, and where a mountain radio and tramping companions are pretty much de rigeuer. Solo hiker Dave listened to his "guardian angel" and by-passed the range, walking around to St Arnaud by road.

From St Arnaud he came through the Nelson Lakes National Park, over Travers Saddle and up the Sabine River to Blue Lake Hut, then over Waiau Pass.

"No-one was around and I went across alone. I had good weather and had a pretty easy time going over. Not too bad at all. I’ve done spookier sections in the Rockies at home."

Dave - misty weather on the Queen Charlotte

Then on down the Waiau River valley to connect with the St James walkway. The tramp from St Arnaud through to Lewis Pass took him six days. He holed up for a time at Hamner, the hot-springs township then picked up the route again at Windy Point.

"Like everybody in New Zealand at that time, I had to endure February’s erratic weather. At the time it was a drag, but it made for a more exciting tale later. "

In short - it rained. The main hazards on the four-day hike via Hope Kiwi Lodge, the Hurunui River, and Harper Pass are the three rivers on the western side of the pass - the Taramakau, Otehake and Otira. If it rains heavily en route, those rivers can become uncrossable and block your exit - only the Otira has a footbridge some kilometres upriver from the route for use in time of flood.

After crossing Harper Pass at 900 metres, heavy rain bailed up the Canadian at Locke Stream Hut for an afternoon. Next day, the rain had swelled the Taramakau River but Dave forded a number of times before coming up to the Otehake. Unlike the flat-bedded Taramakau, its single channel, has carved a u-shaped bed, and it was running high. Using a hiking pole to steady himself, Dave waded in:
"I got up to my hips, and the water was rushing. I got swept off both feet, but I was lucky. My left boot came down on a foothold, and right at that point I moved out of the main current. That was the scariest moment of the whole walk."

Dave on the Otira River floodbridge afer crossing the Otehake.

He called in at Arthurs Pass, then tramped on down the Harper River and Lake Coleridge, crossed the Rakaia as the route plan advises on the road bridge, and set off along the westward margin of the Canterbury Plains.

"I appreciated the fact that the trail touches on the plains as there’s plenty of mountains either side of it, and I’d recommend Methven as an important stop for food. Les and Francis, owners of the Methven Bunkhouse really looked after me." He skipped the Mt Somers walkway as the rain had set in solidly, and walked on by road to Mt Potts and the northern side of the Rangitata River.

The wide braided Rangitata is a good four kilometres across with deepish water channels on both the northern and southern sides and it was running high. Dave decided to backtrack and come around to Mesopotamia on the southern side by road - "My earlier experience on the Otehake might have scared me a little when I came up to the Rangitata."

He came up Forest Creek and tramped into the Two Thumb Range.

Looking south to the pass over the Two Thumb Range

He went over the 1,900 pass above Neutral Creek and camped the night in the Coal River Valley. In the morning he awoke to a white world - a late February snowfall had turned the valley white.

Descending to Lake Tekapo Lake and walking in to Tekapo township along the Lilybank Road, he met a Te Araroa tramper coming the other way - Matthias Mard from Berlin - who’d followed the trail route from Invercargill and was just then coming up to his crossing of the Two Thumb Range, south to north this time.

He walked the canal then followed the road round to Twizel, to Lindis Pass and on to Lake Hawea, with some cross country tramping along the way, and on to Wanaka where he took a break. Then on by road to Queenstown - Te Araroa’s projected route goes across two big leasehold properties at this point but Te Araroa Trust has yet to finalise any access negotiation with the owners, and this section may not finally be possible.

From Queenstown, Dave linked to the Greenstone River and Mavora Lakes walk, overnighting with a big crew at the big new Greenstone Hut that's replaced Slyburn, and going on alone along the new poled route via Taipo and mid-Mavora huts to the lakes.

Dave with Meg Bowers (USA), Stu Wilson (Tauranga), Linda and Robert Morris (Scotland) David Swift (England), and Ian Bowie (Scotland)

Mavora Lakes Walkway.

From there he hit Highway 34, walked to Mossburn, and came on down to Riverton - staying at the Globe and discovering Te Araroa walker Eric Martinot had been through just a week before. Then along Oreti beach for the final leg through Invercargill and out to Bluff on April 16.

"I had my photo taken 14 years ago at the signpost at Bluff that points to the distant world cities. This time the signpost meant mission completed, and a satisfying end to one of the more fulfilling things I’ve done with my life. Maybe I was even bit sad to be ending it. I had a daily routine and I was getting pretty used to it by then."

With a mate from Gore, Dion Maddock, he celebrated the 1,300-kilometre walk with a meal at the restaurant overlooking the signpost, and a coffee.

Why do I do this ? "For me travel, especially challenging walks and biking through remote beautiful regions is a spiritual experience, where I can be closer to God and his unspoiled creation. My freedom from debt, and freedom of thought and movement is important to me. The wonderful people I meet along the way was a bonus."