Off-Road Legend Passes Away

Colin Rolfe, his name crops up time and again, having held every race record at some point or another in the park (Tararua Forest Park), it seems the norm now to prefix with ‘legend’ … Tararua Speed Records website

The remarkable Colin Rolfe

By Roger Childs

Colin high up in the Holdsworth-Jumbo Trail Race (Credit: Jumbo-Holdsworth Race website)

Mention his name to any experienced tramper or ultra runner and you will get a respectful nod and a comment like great guy.

Colin was a larger than life individual who was always great company and had many a story to tell.

In his heyday he rewrote the record books for off-road events in New Zealand and was competitive on the road as well. His best marathon time was 2 hours 42 minutes

Most of his life, when he was in town, was spent in the Nelson area and on the Kapiti Coast.

Sadly he passed away last week at the age of 57.

Setting the bars very high

It was the ‘travel light, travel fast’ approach of Colin Rolfe and his 22 hours 59 minutes record traverse that enthused us most. Chris Swallow recounting breaking the record in 2013 for the Tararua north-south traverse, set by Colin in 1995.

That man Colin Rolfe holds the record for the race going the other way in a time of 4hrs 32 mins 20s, set in 2000. The Tararua Crossing from Otaki Forks to Kaitoke

On a Jumbo-Holdsworth ridge (Credit: Tararua Race Records website)

The rain gauge descent from Jumbo – Atiwhakatu has been completed in around 13 minutes by Colin Rolfe. (Part of the Jumbo- Holdsworth Trail Race)

Colin was never happier than being in the mountains of New Zealand. Although he was a truck driver for most of his working life, he also acted as a hut warden for the Department of Conservation in the Tararuas, Mt Aspiring National Park and elsewhere.

As well as being first in the Tararua races several times, he also won South Island classics like the Kepler, the Dun Run and the Abel Tasman.

Down the South Island

At a social occasion several years ago, Colin told his story of travelling down the South Island, the hard way.

We sat spell bound for over an hour as he recounted heading into the bush in Golden Bay and following the western ranges of the island to emerge on the coast in Fiordland. It would have made a great book!

Has anyone else ever done that?

Great guy, great company

Credit: Facebook

Colin seemed to live off the smell of an oily rag and once on a Kapiti Harrier Club trip down to the South Island he arrived very late for the ferry south with just a plastic bag full of gear. The next day he comfortably won the Abel Tasman Classic.

It was always great to be in his company, as he was a fascinating raconteur with a fund of interesting stories and jokes, and had an infectious sense of humour. He enjoyed socialising, especially with fellow runners, and was always happy to share his knowledge and experience.

Unlike some top performers, he was never arrogant and in fact was very modest about his achievements.

In the social situation he enjoyed a good yarn and a laugh, and happily put away a beer or two or three ….

Why was he so good?

He was superbly fit and supremely confident. If he didn’t know the event course, he would check it out before hand and he sussed out his opposition. His preparation was thorough and he ate carefully before competing: baked beans being a key component of his pre-race meal.


Competitors in off-road events are required to take certain basic items of gear: Colin always took the bare minimum and had the lightest possible clothing requirements. This was in line with his mantra: travel light, travel fast.

Because the back country was his natural environment, Colin was always at home on bush tracks and along mountain ridges. He had the experienced tramper’s instinct for where to put his feet and seemed to almost glide above the ground.

When I ran the Tararua Crossing event some years ago, I started two hours before Colin. I was negotiating a muddy section with a steep drop between two large rocks below Field Hut, when he caught me. With a Gidday Rog! he skipped from boulder to boulder and was off down the track like a robber’s dog.

Let’s leave the last word to Wellington off-road runner, Steve Full.

Rest in peace Colin, a mountain man, a true adventurer. May your journey continue.