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Master bushman Joe Gibbs.

Joe Gibbs at old Smiths creek Hut, 1958. Photo credit; Selwyn Pawson.

Joe was a well known hunter who lived in the Tauherenikau valley for many years serving as the unofficial Sheriff and caretaker of the valley.

Joe Gibbs 1879-1969:
Joe was born near Murchison on the Buller River. Growing up in this isolated area, he learnt to be an expert bushman in its remote valleys. A horseman and accurate shot, he served in the Boer war. In 1908 he went to the western US and Canada, worked as a sawyer-axeman on the great Californian redwoods, panned gold and worked silver mines.

Back in New Zealand, he handled packhorses and sheep on Molesworth, then worked on the Wellington wharves. He joined the Tararua Tramping Club in 1921, leading a number of packhorse trips to new territory.

Never at home in the city, the Tararua Ranges became Joe’s patch. In 1923 he cut the first Marchant Track, and in 1928, cleared the route from the Tauherenikau to Totara Flats.

But it was in hut building that he made his biggest mark. He helped extend the first Alpha Hut (1923), then built Field Hut for the Tararua Tramping Club (1924), pit sawing the framing timber onsite. Then came the first Kime Hut (1930), and the first Tauherenikau Hut, where he often stayed. He was the Club’s most experienced bushman, and also a great deerstalker. For these services he was made a Club life member in 1944.

From “Memories of Joe Gibbs”, by Frank Fitzgerald. Tararua Annual, 1990.

The historic Field Hut is on Judd Ridge, part of the Southern Crossing route and sits just below the bush line. Joe, most likely using skills learnt in California, and his co-worker pit-sawed the timber on site. The man at the top hauling up on the long saw, with his mate down in the pit, aided by gravity in his saw stroke but fighting a facefull of sawdust with every stroke. Over the years the hut has been updated a few times and even had an emergency fire exit put in. The great folks at the Tararua Tramping Club have maintained the hut over its nine decades of use. No doubt saving the lives of many caught out over the years and now it’s the Tararua’s most venerable hut and the oldest purpose-built tramping hut in the country.

There is also a hidden memorial hut dedicated to Joe in the Tauherenikau valley. It is about 1 hour down-stream from Tutuwai Hut on the left bank side of Rogers Stream.


  • I met Joe Gibbs several times in the Tauherenikau Valley in the 1950’s. There was some talk that he was one of the last to see the Huia, in the upper Waiohine valley from memory. He always said they were still there. Does anyone know anything about Joe and Huias?

    David Butcher
  • He visited a few times i think the only time my dad had possum stew was at his plasce not sure that the old man was imprest

    ian gibbs known to our family as tom

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