Instead of celebrating her 21st birthday with the traditional party, Jessica Rose Collins set out to walk 668km over 21 days, to honour the 668 people who took their lives in New Zealand last year.

The 668km took her from her hometown of Raglan to Kapowairua (Spirits Bay), via "a few significant places".

The idea came to her while she was studying Māori visual arts at Massey University in Palmerston North, and after several friends had taken their lives in recent years.

Northland recorded 41 suicides in 2016/2017.


"The kaupapa for this semester [at uni] is mana whenua and what this means to you. I took the perspective that the land has the ability to give and receive strength," she said.

"Over this past year I feel I have lost some of my own mana, therefore, throughout this journey, I hope to reclaim it."

She completed her odyssey on time, 21 (non-consecutive) days after setting off, carrying a ko (a traditional Māori gardening tool) with her, planting 100 kawakawa seeds, wherever there was blessing to do so, and practising romiromi (traditional Māori massage).

Most days she was accompanied by close friend Ash Hemi, from Tauranga. The pair attempted to cover between 20km and 40km a day. Their mettle was well and truly tested by the weather in the very Far North.

The first stage from Ahipara to Waipapakauri Ramp was easy enough, but the weather became more severe on the afternoon stage to Hukatere.

"It was just gnarly," Jess said of the gale-force winds that buffeted them, making for a particularly "tough day in the office".

The decision not to wear footwear that day hadn't helped, although she and Ash were not unaccustomed to blisters, and had metres of bandages and ice footbaths to help them.

Jess' family and friends travelled from as far as Hamilton and Wellington to help her celebrate her 21st birthday in Kaitaia, and she proudly wore the korowai her mother made as a 21st birthday gift on Ninety Mile beach.

The walk was also aimed at raising awareness of and funds for Lifeline, which was no longer eligible for government funding. The organisation received more than 10,000 calls a month, she said, some of them made when suicide was imminent.

"Without any government funding, Lifeline will struggle to keep up with demand," she said.

She has set up a Givealittle page through which people can donate in recognition of her journey.

Where to get help:

Lifeline: 0800 543 354 (available 24/7)
Suicide Crisis Helpline: 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO) (available 24/7)
Youthline: 0800 376 633
Kidsline: 0800 543 754 (available 24/7)
Whatsup: 0800 942 8787 (1pm to 11pm)
Depression helpline: 0800 111 757 (available 24/7)
Rainbow Youth: (09) 376 4155
Samaritans 0800 726 666
If it is an emergency and you feel like you or someone else is at risk, call 111.