A Whangarei woman who donated a kidney to her husband has begun walking the length of New Zealand to encourage others to donate their organs.

Dialysis is currently helping to keep 170 Northlanders alive. Thirty-six of them are medically suitable to be added to the national kidney transplant list, and are waiting for suitable donors.

The main cause of kidney failure in New Zealand is diabetes, Northland statistics from 2011 showing that 32.2 per cent of Maori, 1.7 per cent of Pacific Islanders and 66.2 per cent of other nationalities were affected by diabetes.

Currently 71 Northlanders have had a functioning kidney transplant, Hugh Cole-Baker being one of these, thanks to the generosity of his wife.

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Hugh said he had struggled with kidney disease for 10 years, resulting in renal failure and the need for dialysis, before his wife donated one of her kidneys last year. The transplant was a success, and with Hugh's new lease on life the couple have developed a passion for reducing the waiting list of 600 New Zealanders in need of transplants.

"The only way to avoid dialysis is to have a kidney transplant from a deceased donor or a living person," Ros said.

"Donating a kidney will make a real difference to the life of a person with kidney disease. In the words of one donor, you'll never do anything better than donate a kidney."

The couple, who run a Whangarei Heads-based bed and breakfast, set off from Cape Reinga to follow Te Araroa Trail, Ros walking and mountain biking and Hugh arriving at each destination in a camper van. At each stop they share the facts about live kidney donation and the benefits of a healthy lifestyle, conducting talks and handing out brochures

They aim to be in Wellington by Christmas, and are allowing up to five months to reach Bluff.

The couple were familiar faces at Whangarei Hospital's renal unit, and the team there fully supported their endeavour, clinical nurse specialist Tafale Maddren said.

"We applaud them for their efforts to promote awareness for organ donation. There are so many people dependant on dialysis Hugh was one of them. His life was limited while on dialysis, and now he has a new lease on life," she added.

Renal nurse manager Cheryle Kiwi said the majority of transplants were from deceased donors, and there was a need for more live donors. It was important to discuss organ/tissue donation with family members before choosing to donate organs after death, she added.

The Ministry of Health is making funding available to selected DHBs to recruit donor liaison co-ordinators to support donor recruitment and co-ordinate services for donors and patients requiring renal transplantation. This will help the National Renal Transplant Service to achieve its aim of increasing the number of renal transplants by approximately 10 per annum by 2018/19.

There was a robust system to ensure donating a kidney was not going to be detrimental to a donor's health, Ms Kiwi said. On average, a donor would require a recovery period of around two months.

A national database in Auckland tracks all patients listed and awaiting transplant. As soon as a kidney becomes available, a matching recipient is identified. However, with the low donor rate in New Zealand, the shortage is such that one Whangarei woman has been on dialysis for 12 years.

"Dialysis can be for a lifetime," Ms Kiwi added.

"Dialysis gives people a life, but it is a hard life."

Leading up to the awareness campaign, Ros had been improving her fitness by taking part in walks of various lengths and carrying different pack loads. Prior to setting off, she admitted to feeling "slightly overwhelmed at times when I realise the enormity of the journey."

"I'm a bit scared about getting lost in some of the wilder sections. But when we receive letters of encouragement and shared experience from strangers we feel positive, and that it's worthwhile doing this. That's very satisfying," she said.

"Mostly I'm pretty excited."

Wild weather had slowed progress a little, Ros said from Ahipara on Tuesday, but there was no rush. She was planning to rejoin Te Araroa at the top of the Herekino Gorge yesterday.

To discuss donating a kidney, contact the transplant co-ordinator service on (09) 430-4100 extension 8508.