Why film producer Dave Gibson is officially an e-bike convert — and believes all Kiwis should be too
A television and film producer moves south to be with his partner and practises semi-retirement by starting an e-bike festival.
Words: Claire Finlayson Photos: Rachael McKenna
A man who spent who spent more than three decades producing some of the country’s most popular television programmes can be found these days tootling around Arrowtown on his beloved e-bike, espousing the life-changing magic of power-assisted pedaling. Meet Dave Gibson 2.0 — the slowed-down (sort of) southern version of the fast-paced man who led Wellington production powerhouse, Gibson Group. He’s now the architect of Cyclorama, New Zealand’s first e-bike festival.
Dave was supposed to move south to be with his Arrowtown-based partner Iris Weber in 2014, but the lure of a shiny new job (CEO of the New Zealand Film Commission) scuppered that plan. Four years of long-distance love followed: “We were massive fans of FaceTime,” he says. “Rather than sitting down to talk to each other seriously in the evening, we got into this habit where we’d just FaceTime while we were cooking or having dinner or breakfast, so it was a much more organic thing.” (Iris grins at this positive “organic” spin. “I think it was probably because you had to fit me into your full day.”)
When Dave finished up those full days at the Film Commission in 2018, it was time for geography and romance to align. Iris had fallen for the Queenstown region 25 years earlier after traveling to the area from her native Austria to work on a film shoot. She’d grown Batch Film from there, too (offering production services to international filmmakers and photographers), so the prospect of relocating to Dave’s inner-city Wellington apartment held little appeal.
“I always said I didn’t move to the other side of the world to live close to neighbours. Down here, the neighbours are all cows and sheep.” (If they had known about Dave’s equine-unfriendly urban digs, Iris’ horses, who reside in a paddock next to the couple’s one-hectare property just outside Arrowtown, would have been similarly unenthused.)
The move south wasn’t without trepidation. “I was a little nervous that I might get down here and, apart from hanging out with Iris and digging in the garden and riding a bike, it might get a bit thin on the ground. But it turned out that she had some lovely friends down here. We have a great social circle, which has been a hugely pleasant surprise to me.”
Iris adds: “The beauty of Queenstown is not just the landscapes — the diversity of people is quite extraordinary. It’s not one-dimensional — not all golf courses, fancy cars, and people with lots of money. There are a lot of other things going on. I like to demystify that image.”
So how does new southern Dave compare with northern urban Dave? “I’m certainly more active than I was in Wellington. My exercise there was pretty much walking from my apartment to the Gibson Group or Film Commission office. Iris is good at saying, ‘It’s a great day. Let’s go for a bike ride or climb a mountain or go for a swim.’ She’s a lot more attuned to the outdoors. I wouldn’t say she drags me along, but she prods me, and that’s great.”
It was this prodding that gave rise to Dave’s two-wheeled adventuring. “I didn’t really bike until I met Iris — she’s the bike influencer. There’s that thing in relationships where one person influences the other and encourages them into something they might be a bit lazy about.”
After initially exploring the trails around his newly adopted region on a regular bike, Dave decided a spot of electrical assistance might be the thing for Arrowtown’s more vertiginous slopes. He purchased an e-bike and was soon thoroughly smitten with its puff-reducing ways. Dave and Iris began using their electric wheels to get to meetings and social events as well as for recreation. “We take our e-bikes to dinner at friends’ places and ride home at midnight. I don’t think we would’ve done that on the acoustic bikes. On an e-bike, you can arrive in a gentle way with a bottle of wine and be pretty relaxed. And less sweaty.”
Iris would love cycling to be as ubiquitous in Aotearoa as it is in Europe. “In New Zealand, biking is still seen more as a sport, whereas everyone bikes for transportation in Europe. If you go to the opera or theatre there, it’s tradition to go by bike. You frock up, put all your glam on, and figure out how to get your skirt over your bike.”
It’s cheer-inducing, too. “Biking home with the wind in your hair is the biggest fun, and it’s that joy that we’d love to see in New Zealand — the realization that if you leave your car behind and bike home after your day in the office, you’re going to be a much happier person.”
A desire to help spread some of that good cycle cheer got Dave thinking about the merits of an e-bike festival. He’d spied one in the Swiss town of Verbier while ogling e-bikes online and could see the potential of marrying low-oomph cycling with compelling activities in the scenery-splendid Arrowtown/Gibbston Valley region.
If Cyclorama helps reconnect people with that childhood thrill of two-wheeled bliss, then mission accomplished. (Or, in Dave’s case, improve on those first youthful bicycle memories. His earliest wheeled excursions around Pahiatua were more style-compromised than he would’ve liked. “My first bike was a second-hand girl’s one that my mum bought. My uncle welded a bar on it and painted it so that I wouldn’t feel like I was riding a girl’s bike.”)
The festival’s target audience? “We’re aiming at a demographic that’s basically me — people who want to have some weekend fun. It’s as much about getting off the bike and doing interesting things as the actual bike riding. The idea was to be very inclusive and not competitive.”
This recalibrated, bike-embracing, nature-chasing Dave owes much to The Iris Factor, but the herculean task of nudging him towards a more moderate pace is still a work in progress. Dave’s notion of semi-retirement equates to a regular person’s full-time schedule. Not that he seems to clock this fact.
“When you’ve worked 60 hours a week for so long, it’s good to be able to ease that back a bit. The drop in hours is just great. But after a while, you start thinking, ‘Oh, maybe I could create a bike festival.’ Something always fills that hole.”
Iris is mystified at this mention of a yawning gulf in Dave’s days. “There was no hole. He’s eased off a bit, but there was never a hole to fill. The reason Dave thinks he’s only giving a small part of his life to work is that he’s just unbelievably smart and fast. He sucks up a script that would take the average person a few hours and can turn it around really quickly.” Besides screen consultancy and executive producing and organizing an e-bike festival, he also coaches the junior A basketball team at Wakatipu High School.
“I was a basketball tragic,” says Dave. “I went to a very rugby-oriented school [St Patrick’s College, Silverstream] and wanted to play basketball more than anything else. I refused to play for the first XV because they said I’d have to give up basketball.”
Dave has coached the sport on and off over the years. “Unfortunately, it got to the stage where coaching was starting to get in the way of the Gibson Group, so I had to give it up.” When he moved south, he offered himself up for teen basketball wrangling at Wakatipu High School. “We drive three hours to Invercargill on a Friday night, play a game, then drive three hours back. We get home about midnight with six hours of rap music in our ears and an hour of basketball under our belt. It’s fun and very rewarding.”
Between basketballs and bikes, southern Dave has plenty to fill that mythical gaping hole — the one only he can see.
AND NOW BACK TO WELLINGTON…
Dave would have been a teacher if a Bolex 16mm movie camera hadn’t got in the way. Lured by the alchemy of documentary-making, he set up Gibson Film Productions in 1977 (later Gibson Group). Over the following decades, he produced feature films and television programmes that aired in more than 80 countries.
Shows ranged across all manner of dramatic, comedic, documentary and children’s territory, including the satirical puppet show Public Eye Series (1988-89), New Zealand’s first urban cop show Shark in the Park (1989-91), police drama series Duggan (1997-99) arts and issues show Backch@t (1998-2000), and drama series The Strip (2002-03) and The Insider’s Guide to Happiness (2004).
But that’s a mere smidgen of Dave’s output and industry reach. So significant was his contribution to the screen that when he left Gibson Group in excellent hands and health in 2012, Dave was made an officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit (ONZM) for services to the film and television industry.
Over Labour Weekend, Cyclorama will offer e-bike enthusiasts a selection of convivial adventures. With extensive local knowledge gleaned from location shoots, Iris curated six trails that cater to the gastronomy-inclined, the tipple-keen, the nature-hungry and the bird-curious.
There’s Tour de Gourmet (a progressive dégustation affair around Arrowtown, Lake Hayes and Dalefield); Pedaling Pinot (including a tasting, lunch and terroir talk with Valli Wines’ Grant Taylor); Ginology (a gin tasting/making session with distiller and raconteur Stuart Greenhill); The Hop Trail (a tour of local craft breweries); Awake with the Birds (a gentle avian-spotting jaunt around Lake Hayes with nature guide Petrina Duncan); and Ride to the Sky (a cycle up Mount Rosa with local mountain guide Shay Muddle).
The general festival vibe? One of the questions on the Cyclorama FAQs page sums it up perfectly: “What happens halfway through a ride if I get tired or have a sip too much?” Find the answer at