The Swim

In 1955 Margaret Sweeney from Auckland became the first person to swim across Lake Taupo. This still stands as a huge achievement as only a relatively small number of other swimmers over the next 66 years have completed the swim.
There are now (as at 13 May 2021) 67 swimmers who have completed the big Lake Taupo swim.  74 successful swims in all.  9 of these swims were with wetsuits, so they have been split out into their own section (as in the marathon swimming world wearing a wetsuit voids the swim from a records perspective).

5 people have swum the lake on more than one occasion (John Coutts, Sandra Blewett, Phil Rush, Ben Campbell-Macdonald and Paul Feltoe). Only two people have been crazy enough to complete a double crossing (Sandra Blewett and Phil Rush).

The fastest male and overall crossing (long course) was in 1985 by the legendary Kiwi distance swimmer Phil Rush (10hrs 14min). He also holds the record for the fastest double crossing (23hrs 05min).

The fastest female crossing (long course) was in 2008 by Anna Marshall (11hrs 26min).

The youngest person to complete the challenge is Kaine Thompson – he had just turned 14 when he took on the big lake.

The oldest person to complete the challenge is Gabrielle Gunn at 61 years young.

Here’s the full honour roll for the Lake Taupo Marathon Swim:

Date Name Time Direction Comments Gender
1955 Margaret Sweeney (Auckland) 13:29:00 s-n First crossing (started at Stump Bay
pine tree and swam to steps
along from Yacht club)
Jan 1977 Patrick Cox (Taupo) 12:54:00 s-n   M
1977 Bill Rout (Cambridge) 11:31:00 s-n   M
25 Feb 1978 John Coutts (Napier) 10:47:00 s-n All swam “short course” in first NZ
Marathon swim series
25 Feb 1978 Chris Hurdley (Auckland) 10:47:00 s-n M
25 Feb 1978 Sandra Blewett (Auckland) 10:47:00 s-n F
25 Feb 1978 Patrick Benson (Hastings) 10:47:00 s-n M
16 Feb 1980 Mohammed El Meseery (Egypt) 12:43:00 s-n Second NZ Marathon swim series in
30-35 knot SE winds – “short course”
16 Feb 1980 Philip Rush (Dunedin) 12:52:00 s-n M
16 Feb 1980 John Coutts (Napier) 12:55:00 s-n M
16 Feb 1980 Carolyn Wordsworth (Dunedin) 14:08:00 s-n F
16 Feb 1980 Rhonda Smidt (Napier) 15:18:00 s-n F
8 Mar 1980 Belinda Shields (Auckland) 15:58:00 s-n   F
1981 John Coutts (Napier) 11:39:00 n-s First double attempt, first n-s M
12 Feb 1983 Sheryl McLay (Wellington) 11:58:00 s-n   F
1984 Karen Bisley (Wellington) 10:40:00 s-n Short course (Stump Bay) F
Feb 1984 Michael Quinlivan (Christchurch) ??:??:?? ?? Stump bay ? M
14 Jan 1985 Philip Rush (Lower Hutt) 23:05:00 n-s-n Double crossing M
10 Mar 1985 Philip Rush (Lower Hutt) 10:14:58 s-n Long course Little Waihi to Yacht club M
27 Feb 1986 Sandra Blewett (Auckland) 33:21:00 n-s-n Double crossing F
14 Jan 1987 Ingrid Greenslade (Wellington) 11:52:00 s-n   F
20 Mar 1988 Stephen Rainbow (Auckland) 11:42:00 s-n   M
15 Mar 1990 Kaine Thompson (Lower Hutt) 11:13:58 s-n (DOB 26/02/1976) M
8 Feb 2002 Trish Coley (Wellington) 18:39:51 s-n   F
9 Feb 2002 Corry Decker (Taupo) 13:19:25 s-n   F
Jan 2007 Blain Cox (Taupo) 16:01:00 s-n Stump bay M
24 Feb 2008 Jason Papps (Wellington) 12:38:10 n-s Long course M
11 Mar 2008 Anna Marshall (Wellington) 11:26:58 s-n Long course F
?? Mar 2009 Ben Campbell-Macdonald (Wellington) 11:45:?? s-n Long course M
2 Apr 2010 Stephanie Bennington (Wellington) 11:54:00 s-n Long course F
2 Mar 2011 Pam Dickson (Rotorua) 13:54:00 s-n Long course F
25 Feb 2013 Casey Glover (Wellington) 10:52:48 s-n Long course M
16 Feb 2014 Katrina Price (Thames) 14:45:46 s-n Long course F
22 Feb 2015 Simon Olliver (Christchurch) 14:50:00 s-n Long course M
21 Mar 2015 Heather Osborne (Tauranga) 15:37:45 s-n Long course F
8 Feb 2016 Holly Cassin (Christchurch) 15:51:15 s-n Long course F
22 Feb 2016 Mike Cochrane (Auckland) 14:29:53 s-n Long course M
15 Feb 2017 Kim Sherwen (Christchurch) 12:31:21 s-n Long course F
26 Feb 2017 Samuel Muir-James (Auckland) 14:58:03 s-n Long course M
22 Dec 2017 Chloe Harris (Christchurch) 13:49:?? s-n Long course F
20 Jan 2018 Hannah Drury (Christchurch) 14:19:?? s-n Long course F
30 Jan 2018 Gabrielle Gunn (Wellington) 16:31:59 s-n Long course F
4 Feb 2018 Alice Sagar (Wellington) 12:35:51 s-n Long course F
15 Feb 2018 Hayley Underwood (Palmerston North) 14:13:?? s-n Long course F
18 Feb 2018 Angela Moir (Christchurch) 15:38:08 s-n Long course F
6 Mar 2018 Vicky Tate (Wellington) 15:04:?? s-n Long course F
4 Feb 2019 Helen Conway (Australia) 14:43:00 n-s Long course F
9 Feb 2019 Steve Mckain (Clive, Hawke’s Bay) 13:00:53 s-n Long course M
14 Feb 2019 Caitlin O’Reilly (Auckland) 13:27:40 s-n Long course F
19 Feb 2019 Andrew Powell (Australia) 16:30:38 s-n Long course M
27 Feb 2019 Bronwyn Copeland (Tauranga) 11:59:05 s-n Long course F
6 Mar 2019 Jacquelyn Schirmer (Mangawhai, Northland) 15:18:?? s-n Long course F
12 Mar 2019 David Edgar (??) 14:59:?? s-n Long course M
18 Mar 2019 Eliza Cummings (??) 11:??:?? n-s Long course (double attempt) F
17 Jan 2020 Royce Evans (Wellington) 13:10:55 s-n Long course M
27 Jan 2020 Rebecca Hollingsworth (Wellington) 14:09:03 s-n Long course F
27 Jan 2020 Breanna Ward (Wellington) 14:09:03 s-n Long course F
11 Feb 2020 Tom Cunningham (Wellington) 13:12:48 s-n Long course M
29 Feb 2020 Jono Ridler (??) 12:22:22 s-n Long course M
3 Mar 2020 Peter Cosseboom (??) 13:08:53 s-n Long course M
8 Mar 2020 Susan Sherwen (??) 14:40:?? s-n Long course F
27 Jan 2021 Quinn Boyle (Waikato) 13:46:11 s-n Long course M
1 Feb 2021 Jeremy White (??) 14:31:16 s-n Long course M
13 Feb 2021 Neven Fisher (??) 14:05:32 s-n Long course M
27 Feb 2021 Paul Feltoe (New Plymouth) 12:45:?? s-n Long course M
14 Mar 2021 John Hancock (Wellington) 14:05:05 s-n Long course M
1 Apr 2021 Grainne Moss (Wellington) 14:49:19 s-n Long course F
23 Apr 2021 Liana Smith (Auckland) 12:29:11 s-n Long course F

Note: Blain Cox made his crossing on the 30th anniversary of his father Patrick’s swim.

As this is the first time a full list has been compiled there may be errors or omissions. Thanks to those that have contributed to it, and for everyone else out there, if you have more information about these swimmers and their Taupo swim experiences – please leave a comment on one of my posts and I’ll be able to get back to you.

Check out:
This site has a great picture of Margaret Sweeney at the end of her marathon swim across the lake, showing just how tough this challenge is.

The Course: (note that this map now does match a long swim course…from Little Waihi to the Taupo Yacht club beach)

the big swim

And here is our list of swimmers that wore wetsuits to complete their challenge:

Date Name Time Direction Comments Gender
9 Feb 2001 Derek Smith (Masterton) 14:12:47 s-n Wetsuit long course M
10 Feb 2001 Peter Cook (Taupo) 13:12:19 s-n Wetsuit long course M
8 Feb 2002 Harvey Steffens (Wellington) 18:34:45 s-n Wetsuit M
13 Feb 2004 Mike Moggridge (Wellington) 12:41:02 s-n Wetsuit M
13 Feb 2004 Richard Jongens (Lower Hutt) 12:41:02 s-n Wetsuit M
10 Apr 2008 Ben Campbell-Macdonald (Wellington) 9:43:00 s-n Wetsuit Long course M
1 Mar 2011 Greg Sharp (Auckland) 13:19:45 s-n Wetsuit Long Course M
27 Jan 2013 Paul Feltoe (New Plymouth) 13:30:?? s-n Wetsuit Long Course M
9 Feb 2020 Michael Wells (Australia) 20:10:41 s-n Wetsuit Long Course, Breaststroke M

11 responses to “The Swim

  1. Was there a marathon swimming race over Lake Taupo? Dawn to Dusk?
    Any chance of it returning?

    • Hi there,
      Yes indeed the ‘Dawn to Dusk’ event did exist across Lake Taupo. This was before my time on the lake – but my coach Ali Dennis knows a lot more about it than I do. There are still a few boat skippers on the lake that remember it too. I’m not sure when the last event was held, but it can’t have been long into the 2000’s. The main focus of the Dawn to Dusk event was relays – and I think there were some speedy teams over the years.
      I doubt it will ever be back – the logistics would be pretty full on, and it would take an organiser with a great deal of passion for it to fly.

      Only option at the moment is to go it alone.


  2. Hello in 1984 Michael Quinlivan of Christchurch conquered the lake end to end also. It was in February, he had also conquered Fouveax and Cook Strait as well as Wakatipu.

  3. I swam that Dawn to Dusk as part of one of Ali Dennis’ teams in 2000 (I think). Took our team of 6 about 14+ hours. The winners were a lot quicker.

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  5. Great job organizing these records! What a valuable resource. Question: for swims where the ‘Comment’ column doesn’t indicate short course or long course, does that mean the swimmer’s specific route is unknown (aside from N-S or S-N) ? Was the 2nd NZ marathon swim series also short course (like the 1st), or is that also unknown? Thanks for any info.

    • Hi Evan,
      Thanks for your kind words – and to answer your question, if that comment column is blank then we don’t know for sure whether they did the short course (starting at Stump Bay) or the long course (starting from the DOC beach near Little Waihi). I am not sure about the 2nd NZ marathon swim series, but I could ask Phil Rush whether he can remember.

      There are a few people lined up to give the long course, or 40.2 challenge a go this season, so I’ll be hoping to keep the records going.


      • Thanks, Anna. We have a similar situation in California, with Lake Tahoe (the lengthwise swim is the same distance as the Lake Taupo “short course”, albeit at 1900m elevation). The first known crossing was in 1955, with 40-or-so successful swims since then. Unfortunately, until recently the record-keeping has been spotty, with several different routes and lots of hazy memories. So I understand the challenge!

        Just a couple small things I noticed on your list —

        – Sandra Blewett (not Blewitt)
        – Heather Osborne (not Osbourne)
        – Sheryl McLay (not McClay)

        cheers, evan

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  7. Hi Anna, I’m not particularly tech-savvy, so I wasn’t too sure of the best way to contact you to hopefully find out how one goes about doing this swim! I’m a Brisbane based swimmer (having done a few open water marathon swims) and I’m very interested in doing this swim as a tandem solo with another Brisbane based swimmer. Any info or suggestions you can share to point us in the right direction would be greatly appreciated. Cheers Britt

    • Hi Britt,
      This season will be the first time we’ll see 2 tandem swims. Two ladies completed their tandem swim about 10 days ago and we’ve got two blokes from Wellington taking on a tandem swim soon.

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