Geoff and Gerry McClure on the hiking track

Getting out in nature is a great way to ‘grow’ your health

Looking through Geoff and Gerry McClure’s photo albums is like flicking through a rack of brochures in a particularly adventurous travel agency. There’s Gerry hiking the Camino Trail in Spain; Geoff standing on top of Mount Kilimanjaro; and surrounded by prayer flags at Everest Base Camp. Here are the couple dwarfed by Argentina’s Iguazú Falls; on a month-long trek through the Yukon and Alaska; and jumping out of a rubber dinghy onto an ice shelf in Iceland. 

Does this couple ever slow down?  The short answer is no – especially now that Geoff has retired from his job at Victoria’s Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning, and Gerry has reduced her hours as a nurse at Alexandra Hospital. If anything, on the eve of their 70th birthdays, the McClures have become even more intrepid.

Their passion for an Indiana Jones-lifestyle, it seems, was born much closer to home – in the parks of northern Victoria.

No shortage of options

‘Living in Alexandra, we’ve been spoiled for choice with all the beautiful parks on our doorstep,’ says Gerry. ‘Plus having a husband who’s worked for more than 40 years in wildlife management – it’s like having my own wilderness guide!’

In fact, Geoff’s outdoors expertise has helped countless seniors to discover the parks of northern Victoria. As well as sharing his knowledge with other hikers in his community, he’s been approached by organised walking groups for advice on the Cathedral Ranges and Rubicon Valley.

The McClures’ love of parks has also rubbed off on their daughter, Tanya, who for the past 11 years has been working at Parks Victoria, which has pioneered several imaginative programs to make our parks more accessible for older Victorians.

Improving support for hikers

In recent years, Parks Victoria has developed a range of guided tours and ‘welcome walks’ for people, including less active seniors, who want to broaden their natural horizons. It has also developed some great innovations for people who can struggle to access more remote locations – including all-terrain wheelchairs and ‘Sherpa volunteers’ in the Grampians and Dandenongs; an accessible canoe ramp in Mildura; and a hoist to get wheelchairs into boats at Patterson River.

In the past year, Parks Victoria staff have run more than 100 guided nature walks for seniors from Melbourne and across Victoria, including in Lysterfield Park, Brimbank Park, the Grampians, and parks around Bendigo and Shepparton. Working with the Heart Foundation, Victoria Walks and local seniors’ groups, they’ve designed dozens of new experiences – including 32 heritage walks for the 2019 Australian Heritage Festival and over 50 tours of Mount Buffalo Chalet.

‘We all know that getting outdoors is good for us, but we’re also aware that many seniors aren’t comfortable heading off on their own,’ says Shauna Jones, Parks Victoria’s Manager of Health and Community Activation. ‘It’s important that people step into nature at the right level and slowly build their confidence and fitness to take on bigger challenges.

Walks for all ages

‘Our welcome walks provide a safe and enjoyable introduction for all ages. On one recent walk in Lysterfield Park, with members of the Southern Migrant and Refugee Centre, we had five ladies over 90!’

Back in Alexandra, it’s easy to imagine Geoff and Gerry McClure hiking into their 90s. As they gear up for their 70th birthdays, neither shows any sign of slowing down – with twice-weekly bush walks; regular fishing excursions for Geoff; and yoga, gym and cycling all on the agenda for Gerry.

‘People are always saying to us, “you’re so fit and healthy, how do you do it?”, but for us it’s a no-brainer,’ says Gerry. ‘Working as a nurse I see all the time what happens if you don’t stay active. I try and do yoga, gym, cycling and walking every week. I think a good variety of exercise is important for strength and balance. That’s my recipe for a long life!’

‘One of the things I love about hiking is that it gets me away from all the chatter, the traffic, the social media,’ adds Geoff. ‘I think it’s really good to spend some time in nature with your own thoughts. For me, nature really is the best medicine!’

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