Brant Robinson's response was swift when his birthday cake arrived with an apology for the lack of 102 candles.

"You should've got a bigger cake."

Sharp as a tack, the World War II veteran was in cheeky spirits as he celebrated at Moana House in Whangamata last week.

With 102 years of life to reflect on, Brant said the answer to the routine question asked of centenarians by reporters - namely, 'what's the secret to longevity?' - was just as sharp.

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"Luck," he replied.

His son John, daughter-in-law Lynne and his great grandchildren Jake and Zara spent much of the day with Brant, who spoke lucidly of some of the pivotal experiences in his long life, including his time overseas in wartime with the advance party of 'divvy sigs' - signal company - who were sent to Crete to prepare for allied troops.

Brant was taken in as a prisoner of war for four years.

"I was one of over 6000 that got left behind when the ships were supposed to pick us up stopped coming," he said.

He and fellow veterans Roy Brookes and Fred Amess - a D-Day veteran also of Whangamatā - are celebrated special guests at Anzac ceremonies locally and Brant enjoys being in the parade.

His mum lived until she was 97 and Uncle to nearly 100 but Brant says he is still surprised he's got to 102.

"I always wanted to get to 82 to see 2000."

He was married twice - outliving Betty who was his wife for 22 years before she died after an illness, and Brenda, his wife of 33 years who died unexpectedly in her sleep.

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"They were both good marriages. You just need to get on well together, that's the main thing," he says.

Brant's son John takes his father on drives regularly and Brant enjoys walks around the grounds of Moana House.

"It helps to keep me fit."

He's taken out the bowls championship at Moana House for two years running and walks unaided.

He likes to listen to the news on radio, but failing eyesight keeps him from reading the news much.

"The world changes and new things come in. It's hard to decide what's memorable," he says of events over the 100 years.

Brant was educated at Napier Boys High School which was a bus ride from his grandparents, because in North Canterbury there was no high school when he grew up.

His working career began in the Post Office where operators would have to put calls through for people.

Technology has changed and Brant doesn't care to keep up.

"Computers - I have no idea about those and I don't want to."

As for diet, Brant is known to family as having a sweet tooth.

Great grandchildren Jake and Zara say buying a gift for a man who's had 102 birthdays is easy.

"We just buy him candy floss, chocolate or lollies," says Zara, as their great grandfather picked himself a lolly from the box they'd just wrapped up for his birthday.