60-year-old walks NZ to fundraise for heart disease

Meet a man who's walking 3000km to raise money for Kiwis affected by heart disease. 

Walking the length of New Zealand solo isn’t the traditional way to celebrate a 60th birthday.

But Canada-based Kiwi Neil Jefferson was inspired to ring in his sixth decade by taking on the iconic 3000km Te Araroa trail – and raise money for the Heart Foundation at the same time.

He has allowed six months to walk the track, which stretches in a continuous line from Cape Reinga to the Bluff.

“I wasn’t sure how well I’d cope with it, being 60 years old – but I’m in pretty good shape for my age,” says Neil, who is a self-employed house painter and also an active runner.  

So far, the Hamilton-born adventurer has trekked 760km of the trail and is averaging a lengthy 24km each day, taking a rest day each week or so. 

Though fit and healthy himself, Neil has a family history of heart disease and has seen the impact it has had on relatives, including his father. He has dedicated his walk to raising money to help others affected by the disease. 

Having spent more than two years planning the trip, Neil is determined to complete every step of the trail. 

“That’s just the way I’m wired – I’m obsessive enough to have to walk every inch.”

Most nights see Neil sleeping in a tent, though occasionally he’ll stay in a cabin at a holiday park, “if I want a change – and a shower”. 

He carries a pack that weighs around 10kg. On top of that, he carries 2-4 litres of water and 2-4kg of food, topping up his supplies at various points along the track.  

He says the best part of his journey is meeting other Kiwis along the way, from fellow walkers to those he meets when passing through towns.

“There are days I don’t see anybody, but when I do meet people it’s a highlight.”

Neil, who moved from New Zealand when he was 25 years old, has two adult children and two grandchildren who are following his journey from Canada, thanks to a Personal Locator Beacon device. This marks his course for the day and uses satellite images to show the terrain he is taking on.