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The 21-year-old’s determination to take on the challenge developed when he returned from a visit to Mexico last year and learned of this country’s high suicide rate. The statistics were "so terrible" because of the numbers of young people represented, he said. New Zealand recorded 606 suicide deaths in 2016-17, the highest number since provisional statistics were first recorded 11 years ago. There had been a suicide in his extended family when he was younger and he often spoke to other students about depression and suicide while helping run the halls of residence during his time at Waikato University in Hamilton, so "that gave reason to my resolve", Mr Winiata said.
He left Wanaka earlier this week, arriving in Dunedin in time for a suicide prevention workshop organised by the Life Matters Suicide Prevention Trust, one of the charities for whom Mr Winiata is walking.
He expected what he learned from the workshop would help him in talks to pupils at his old school, Palmerston North Boys’ High, on his return to the North Island.
His country-long walk was aimed at raising as much money as possible for several charities, including the Dunedin-based Life Matters Suicide Prevention Trust, Life House in Palmerston North, Youthline and Key to Life.
But more important for him than fundraising was "raising as much awareness as possible" around mental health issues such as depression and suicide.
His journey could involve daily walks as short as 10km or as long as 40km to 50km, "depending where I am" — all with his 25kg pack on his shoulders.
Although now more than 2500km into the 3000km journey, he was still using the one pair of boots and one pair of shoes he started with, Mr Winiata said.
"I take care of them," he said.
Since arriving in the South Island, he had experienced not only extreme heat but also floods, and was stuck at Fox Glacier for two days due to a cyclone-related storm. And in Nelson he was run over by a tourist, the man somehow reversing over his tent, destroying most of his possessions but causing him no major physical injury. The owner of the Manawatu Hunting and Fishing Store learned of the incident and told him to go to the Nelson store and "help himself" to what he needed.
So far his Givealittle page had raised $2000 and he was hoping to reach $10,000 once people had seen he had completed his self-imposed challenge next month.