By Eugene Bingham and Alison Horwood

Summer love blossomed between Olivia Hope and Ben Smart at Furneaux Lodge in the Marlborough Sounds a year before they died.

It was New Year's Eve, 1996, and flaxen-haired Olivia was just 16 years old.

That afternoon, as the crowds began to gather, Jan and Gerald Hope anchored their yacht in the quiet shallows of Endeavour Inlet, and rowed Olivia and her older sister, Amelia, ashore.


Urging them to take care, they arranged to pick the pair up at 9 the next morning. It was not until the following year, after Olivia's 17th birthday and graduation from Marlborough Girls College, that they would decide the girls were old enough to charter a yacht, Tamarack, and return alone.

For Ben, the summer of 1996 was his first trip to Furneaux. His mates from Blenheim and Christchurch had holidayed at a bach in the inlet for years, but in the height of summer, Ben's band was fully booked for gigs.

Ben told his Dad that he called his band EXIT because it was a name always up in bright lights, and he was serious about music.

That summer he slung his guitar over his shoulder and took a break before his final year at Christchurch Polytech.

Olivia and Ben met in the historic grounds of Furneaux, and a short-lived and innocent relationship ensued.

Streetwise Ben had spent time in Saudi Arabia and the Maldive Islands where his father was posted, and lived away from home for several years while at boarding school and the polytech. An all-round sportsman, he loved a prank, was popular with the girls and enjoyed a beer.

Olivia was a high-achieving and talented student who rang home every night when she travelled to Hawaii with the Marlborough Girls choir the year before. A gifted pianist who practised daily, she had just passed the Trinity College of London performers exam.

The small white scroll from Trinity in London would arrive at the Hope family home several weeks after she disappeared and her parents would hang it in her bedroom.

Olivia planned to study law and music at Otago University, but confided in her mother that she was worried about getting homesick.

Gerald Hope, now Mayor of Marlborough, says Ben and Olivia met through mutual friends and shared a love of music.

"After the wine and food festival in February 1997 it all clicked ... It was a typical scenario of a younger girl being attracted to someone older."

That summer, Ben and Olivia often went into Blenheim, alone or in a group, to shop or catch a movie. They visited friends and spent time at each other's homes.

The relationship continued until Ben returned to polytech at the end of summer, but they remained friends.

The following year Olivia and Ben returned to Furneaux independently, but as fate would have it they would come together in what was to be their last night.

Early that evening, Olivia met up with Hamish Rose, whose parents owned Wairau River Wines, where she worked part-time. They spent several hours together, and kissed on the jetty before Hamish parted ways to catch up with mates.

Ben was fresh from a breakup with Sally Ingram, but while her friends were steering her away from him so she would not get upset, he was seen kissing Georgina Studholme on the dance floor.

As the party wore on and the drinks flowed, Olivia and Ben gravitated towards each other. Ben and his mates had been drinking beer and gin steadily since 10 am, but Olivia, after several warnings from her father, had paced herself.

The couple were seen on the jetty with their arms around each other just after the midnight countdown. About 1.30 am, near the garden bar, they shared a kiss, and made the decision to find a place to sleep together.

They boarded a yacht with Scott Watson, and have not been seen since.

As their tearful friends and families said on the witness stand during the double murder trial, Olivia and Ben were two bright, beautiful young people who had a lot to look forward to.

Five months to the day before they disappeared, Ben's family and friends gathered under a marquee in the grounds of the Smart property in Blenheim to celebrate his 21st.

After the dinner on August 30, 1997, Ben's proud father, John Smart, raised his glass and spoke of how his eldest child - and only son - had achieved a lot in life and had even more to look forward to.

"He was in the prime of his life," Ben's older sister, Rebecca, would remark later about his graduation and plans to start work with his father's engineering firm.

Ben's best mate and fellow band member, Gareth Vincent, amused the crowd with stories about the high-spirited former prefect at the elite Christ's College. Scrapes with the law, boys' weekends and an over-indulgence in alcohol were central themes.

EXIT performed and Ben upheld the Kiwi tradition of downing a yard-glass of beer.

Standing among the 80-strong crowd was Olivia, who received an invitation to the party and rang to see if she could bring Amelia.

A photo of the blond sisters smiling directly into the camera was taken that night by a friend. It now takes pride of place in Olivia's parents' house, as a reminder of the daughter they saw leave for a summer holiday and never come home.

The Christmas before she disappeared, the sisters exchanged matching silver rings engraved with reciprocal messages. Olivia's vanished with her, but the band Amelia wears will always serve as a bond to her little sister. It says simply: To A Love O.