PLENTY of fresh sea air and time in nature is the secret to a long life, says Tauranga resident Peter Densem, who turns 100 today.
Not smoking and the odd brandy also helped, the retired Tauranga principal said yesterday at an early birthday celebration.
It was held at Althorp Village, where he moved in 2003 with his tabby cat, Katie, who has also reached a very respectable age of 19.
The village is also home to at least one of Mr Densem's former school students.
He was born and bred in Tauranga and has lived and worked in the area most of his life - first as a teacher, then principal, then as an environmental ranger.
Mr Densem spent five years overseas in World War II and had a few jobs in other areas of New Zealand during his long career in the education sector, but "always came back to Tauranga".
A living witness to the history of the town, he remembers when there was no road to Auckland and visitors had to come by boat.
From there it was a horse and carriage ride to Rotorua to sit in the hot springs.
"The boat, Matangi, went twice a week and it was a big occasion for us.
Everyone would turn out to see the boat and wave streamers."
When the Kaimai road was first built it would take all day to get to Matamata from Tauranga, he said.
Travellers would frequently have to get out and dig rocks out to keep transport moving.
Land reclamations had "spoiled" Tauranga, he said, spelling the end for some of the quiet beaches and estuaries of his childhood.
"My old Tauranga was a lovely place. The new one with all the motor cars is a bit scary."
When he retired from teaching as principal of Otumoetai Intermediate in 1975, he became a ranger, caring for remote island sanctuaries around the Bay of Plenty.
A keen yachtsman and boatie, Mr Densem enjoyed the time on the water and the bird watching opportunities.
"The sea is in my DNA," he said. "Get a boat; it will add 10 years to your life."
Niece Judy Jones attributed her uncle's long life to his positive outlook on life, and the enjoyment he took from meeting and talking to people.
Her children were always enthralled by his stories, she said.
A particular story Mrs Jones remembered, was how Mr Densem met then-Princess Elizabeth on D-Day in London, where he was stationed towards the end of the war.
He was on the steps of the Victoria Memorial outside Buckingham Palace in London, watching King George VI speak.
He turned around and saw the young princess beside him with a couple of minders.
He asked her why she wasn't up with her father, and she told him she would rather be amongst the people, Mrs Jones said.
This week, Mr Densem received the traditional card from now-Queen Elizabeth II, congratulating him on his 100th birthday.