Ian Hamilton is inviting rowers to get behind his ocean-going cause.

This is how the whole crazy thing started.

“My son Richard started rowing and I started coaching and taking kids right up through the second bridge on the Oreti River. When you go up through the second bridge, Stewart Island comes into view, and I was thinking, ‘I wonder what it’d be like to row over there one day...’”

That’s Invercargill Rowing Club’s Ian Hamilton recalling the moment he looked out to the horizon in 2010 and saw no limits.

The club was fundraising for a new shed. One of the parents owned an oyster fishing boat, so they started selling tickets to take people out onto Foveaux Strait.

It raised $11,000.

That’s how Ian now finds himself riding out the swells 10km off the coast north  of Timaru, looking out over another disatnt horizon and wondering how in the heck he’s going to complete his latest fundraising project, rowing 3000km from Stewart Island to Cape Reinga in a coastal quad.


Ian Hamilton in the stroke seat of his coastal quad heading north on the 3000km journey to Cape Reinga. Rowers are invited to help get him there by joining the crew along the way.

It’s an ambitious idea, with an ambitious goal: to raise $5 million to support children with cancer.

It’s also personal.

“My sister lives in Karapiro and her two daughters used to come and visit me every year when I was coaching club teams and Maadi up there,” says Ian.

Then one year he received terrible news from one of the girls.

She was just 19.

“She had leukaemia and passed away at 20. I pretty much grew up with that girl. It bloody sucks.”

The journey’s evolving, the schedule’s ever-changing and the fishing boat connection’s proved just as invaluable now as it was 14 years ago dredging for those Bluff oysters.

For the leg up to Banks Peninsula they’ve been overnighting on the 18m FV Aorere, thanks to the generosity of skipper Danny Hyland.

Screenshot 2024-02-29 201251

The crews location as at the 29 February, 2024. 

“All these fishermen are hearing about it and putting their hand up to volunteer their time,” says Ian. “They just hear about these charities and the crazy idea that's put before them. They just can't believe this is happening out in their waters, you know, and they just want to be part of it.”

Progress is slightly haphazard because Ian’s also getting there with the help of volunteer rowers from all parts who are picking up legs as he moves north.

Cell phone reception’s as clear as the stars in the Southern sky. A quiet moment to reflect on progress and the help of friends and strangers.

It’s been a good day. 55km rowed. The quad tethered to a 40-foot rope behind the Aorere’s stern. There’s Matt and Kath Sutherland, Alanna Ross, Matt Spittle, Ross Ferguson and right-hand-man Kevin Duggan.

“I had to fight my way into the boat to get my wee piece today, so hopefully they give me another crack tomorrow,” says Kevin.

He reckons he’s clocked up 150km over five legs.

Lions Club of New Zealand is one of the charitable trusts benefitting and they’ve been leveraging their networks to keep things afloat.

“They're organising food, organising sleepovers and houses and friends and baches,” says Ian. “It's like one, one massive community of New Zealanders just coming together for this cause.”

They’re also setting up meet and greets onshore for Ian to keep the fundraising rolling.

A man in demand whose body’s under even bigger demands.

“Your body's twisting all the time with the motion of the rolls and going sideways,” says Ian. “But yeah, everything's sort of holding together. The butt's getting a bit tender in places. I just keep stretching and throwing the old Antiflamme and all that sort of stuff in places where you can't imagine.”

So how will this whole crazy thing end?

Well, Ian will probably spend his 68th birthday next month on the end of a couple of sculling blades, knocking out a 60-70km shift. He plans to be there in May. And June. And then July.

That really is rowing for life. But he won’t get there by himself.

Rowing For Life


Andy Hay

Andy Hay is a freelance producer, writer and rowing coach. He was cox of the world champion New Zealand eight of 1982 and '83. He is NZ Olympian #446.