There's no secret to a long life, but for Atawhai's eldest resident, Eleanor Kinnaird, a bright smile and sweet tooth may just be it.

Known to her friends as Nell, the sprightly 104-year-old is never without a stash of chocolate fish or biscuits and was so eager to cut her birthday cake she couldn't resist dipping a finger in the icing first.

The special event was celebrated at Atawhai Lifestyle Care and Retirement Village with cake and flowers yesterday.

An independent woman, she lived on her own in a flat on Howard Road, up until eight years ago.

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Nell started life in the South Island town of Riverton, where her father, an enterprising blacksmith owned an implement and shoeing forge business.

She was the seventh sibling born to a family of 13.

As she got older, Nell found work in various roles at Hotels throughout the country including Riverton, Dunedin Christchurch and Wellington as well as a position at the Newmarket Workingmans Club in Auckland, where she met her husband to be, Alec, whom she married in February 1949.

Nell adopted his two young sons as her own and went on to lease a hotel with her husband once they had left home.

In 1976, the couple settled in sunny Hawke's Bay and became active member of the Taradale Bowling Club and the church.