New Zealand's most notorious prison escaper is living a simple life in remote coastal Wairarapa, more than 40 years after his final escapade captivated the nation.

George Wilder, now in his 70s, is a member of the Cape Turnagain Golf Club in the small town of Weber, about 40km east of Pahiatua.

Despite his reputation as an elusive and extremely private man, he is a regular at regional golf tournaments and has gained a respectable handicap of 17.4.

Clubmates are tight-lipped about their playing partner, who has kept a low profile after being released from prison more than 30 years ago.

Wilder is believed to live and work at a farming station in Herbertville.

He has never spoken about his days on the run, during which he evaded police for almost eight months in three escapes.

And those who know him expect things to stay that way. Golfing pal Denzil Treacy said Wilder was a private man who was unlikely to tell anyone his story.

"He's the sort of guy who'd rather keep to himself. That's all you're going to get from me and anyone else who knows him."

Another friend, who didn't want to be named, said the people who knew him protected him from the public eye.

"He doesn't like attention or media and you'll find that no one is going to help you."

Wilder became a national folk hero in the 1960s when he escaped prison three times.

His love for cars, particularly Jaguars, led to his first arrest which saw him jailed for two years in a Taranaki prison.

He first escaped in 1962, spending 65 days on the run. During that time he evaded 30 policemen and a tracker dog for 8km, swimming across a river.

In 1963, he and three other prisoners escaped from Mt Eden Prison by scaling the walls with a rope made from sheets. While the other prisoners were soon caught, Wilder remained at large for almost six months.

His final escape was in 1965, when he and two others used a shotgun to take a prison guard hostage. They escaped to a Mt Eden house but the Armed Offenders Squad caught them soon after.

The trouble didn't end on his release. While on parole in 1969, Wilder got into trouble for stealing rifles and fled by rowing across the Firth of Thames. He was captured and served out the remainder of his sentence.

Despite his bad boy ways, the people of New Zealand loved Wilder, who left thank you notes and letters of apology in the homes he burgled while on the run - a trait copied by South Island fugitive William Stewart this year.

Wilder's exploits prompted the Howard Morrison Quartet to release a song called George the Wilder Colonial Boy.

In 1997, Kiwi actor and director Tim Balme based his play The Ballad of Jimmy Costello on Wilder, against the former prisoner's wishes.

"He did not want me to tour the country with The Ballad of George Wilder," Balme said at the time.