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Charlie Douglas (Douglas Walk)

Charlie Douglas was a well educated explorer and surveyor. He trained as an accountant in Scotland before immigrating to New Zealand. Douglas spent much of his life adventuring in Glacier Country and South Westland. His surveying achievements are well documented and a mountain, glacier, rock bivouac, river, creek and hut are named after him.

Douglas worked under the direction of George J Roberts, Chief Surveyor and Commissioner of Crown Lands for the Westland District. Roberts was based in Hokitika from the 1870s and helped establish trig points for triangulation throughout the region. Douglas also worked with other famous surveyors such as Gerhard Mueller and A. P Harper. His map making and report writing skills were excellent and his simple sketches of the countryside were drawn to an exact scale.

When in the bush, Charlie Douglas lived under a stark canvas batwing tent, often with only his dog for company. He wrote detailed letters of his adventures that show his philosophical and sometimes whimsical sense of humour. He was especially interested in the West Coast’s flora and fauna and wrote amusing descriptions of kea, kaka and weka and the wild West Coast forests. His acerbic wit also provided some intriguing insights into the locals at Ōkārito and Haast.

Douglas was not able to swim. It was probably his cautionary approach to water that saved his life many times, as he never “chanced his life” when crossing swollen rivers.

In later life, arthritis curtailed his wilderness adventures. Charlie spent the rest of his years in Hokitika working on maps for the Hokitika surveying office until 1916 when he died of a stroke. Charlie’s letters and reports were compiled into a book ‘Mr Explorer Douglas’ by John Pascoe. The latest version includes updates edited by Graham Langton in 2000; you can buy this at the book shop in the Franz Josef village.

See also:
Copland Track history

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