Moy Kim Ng experienced demanding work in Cantonese rice paddies and raised eight children, but even in her last years, the 108-year-old was a swift hand at poker.

Mrs Ng, who may have been New Zealand's oldest person, died on January 9 at St Andrew's Home and Hospital in Dunedin.

Family celebrated her life at her funeral at Gillions Funeral Services in Dunedin yesterday with stories of her teaching grandchildren poker, blackjack and mahjong.

The games acted as communication between them and their grandmother, whose English was limited.

Advertisement

The family admired her cooking, including dim sims, pork buns, Chinese doughnuts and steamed sponge.

Mrs Ng was born on July 3, 1911, in a Cantonese village where there were no school or work opportunities.

She worked wherever she could to earn enough to feed herself, including toiling in rice paddies, working in gardens, cleaning and cooking.

She also raised chickens and kept pigs.

As a young woman, she wed Fook Ying Ng in an arranged marriage.

He immigrated to New Zealand in 1946 to work in market gardens, and three years later, Mrs Ng and their five children followed on a three-month boat journey.

The family settled in Ashburton and the couple had three more children.

However, life became a struggle when Mr Ng died of cancer in 1960.

Advertisement

Despite speaking little English, she worked at jobs including in a market garden, Chinese restaurant and a poultry farm while raising children, and was still able to send money to family in China.

She lived in Oamaru for a time when son Jack attended Waitaki Boys' High School and in Christchurch with son Tom to look after his children.

She settled in Dunedin with Jack and his children in 1988.

She has 25 grandchildren, but the number of great-grandchildren and great-great-grandchildren was difficult to count as families dispersed.

Until age 104, Mrs Ng could care for herself, but she eventually moved into St Andrew's Home.

Jack said there was never a dull moment for his mother, who worked hard and had a strong sense of family.

Son Fred said it mainly seemed to be luck which led to his mother's longevity.

"People talk today about healthy eating, but she always cooked with animal fat and a lot of salt. Without salt, there was no flavour, she'd say."

Mrs Ng was one of New Zealand's oldest people, but it is difficult to establish who holds the record.

In September, the Herald wrote of the death of Wairoa woman Martha Timoko, who it claimed was the country's oldest at age 107.