After almost 100 days on his feet trekking the length of New Zealand, Daniel Sanson treasures the little things, like discovering running water, sitting on a chair or sleeping under a roof.

The Massey university student is walking 3,000 kilometres between Cape Reinga, at the top of the North Island, and Bluff at the bottom of the South Island.

“It’s a life of very little. The excitement of being able to camp near a picnic table is amazing,” Daniel says.

Te Araroa is one of New Zealand’s greatest adventures, spanning spectacular landscapes and breathtaking views. Daniel has trekked across beaches, volcanoes, native bush and cities, which at times has presented some hairy moments.

“Walking in the Tararua Forest was a bit scary. The cloud cover was really dense with low visibility so getting lost or falling off a cliff was a real possibility!”

New challenge every day

“Some days I’ll walk for 13 hours if I can’t find a campsite. Think blisters, aches and pains, everything is wet, and it can be very lonely."

He says it can be difficult to always be positive but he’s found ways to work through tougher times.

“During the day, it's often just you and your thoughts, but it becomes meditative, and I break up what lies ahead into days, and each day gets broken into smaller achievable goals.”

Daniel’s approach has worked. At the half-way point in Wellington, Daniel had already reached his fundraising target of $3,000. He set the bar higher to $10,000, grabbed an extra stash of chocolate, and a fresh MHF fundraising t-shirt to replace his worn out one, and got on his way.

The 26-year-old was inspired to take on the challenge after he rediscovered his passion for hiking.

“I reached a point in my life where the opportunity to temporarily drop everything, including an income, my family and friends, wasn’t likely to come again for a while, so it seemed like the right time.”

Daniel had a plan but he knew he would need more motivation to complete his adventure.

“I’m notorious for big plans that I drop as soon as the real work appears. It made sense to align with a charity so I would know that other people are watching and cheering for me to get up in the morning and put my wet clothes back on.”

Personal experience of mental health issues

For Daniel, it was clear what cause he wanted to back.

“My mum experienced chronic depression for a long time before she passed away, and in his grief-stricken state I watched anxiety tear at my dad.

“A few years on it affects me – anxiety and depressive episodes caused me to drop out of university twice, and greatly harmed my grades. I then entered the hospitality industry, where drug and alcohol abuse is the norm, with high stress levels and anti-social hours, I saw how many people are struggling.”

Daniel hopes that opening up conversations with people about mental health, and sharing his story, will encourage people to reach out for help.