Dorothy "Wild" West reckons she's been to more than 100 countries, that's more than one for every year of her life.

Mrs West, whose memory is as sharp as ever, celebrated her 100th birthday yesterday.

She was born on September 13, 1917, in Ohinewai, north of Hamilton.

Her family moved to Honikiwi, west of Otorohanga, where she went to school.


"Can you imagine a 5-year-old girl riding a horse five and a half miles to school and five and a half miles back home again? I can't imagine I did that. But I did."

She recalls Henry Ford's "Tin Lizzie", going for her first plane ride in a open cockpit Tiger Moth and seeing a computer for the first time - it took up a whole room - in New York in 1968.

After being an apprentice dressmaker in Auckland, she opened her own shop in Te Awamutu at 20.

At 25, she married Charles West. The couple have one son, Brian, and three grandchildren.

The family left Te Awamutu for Whangarei in 1953. Charles died in 1988 aged 72 of Parkinson's disease.

The couple went to the Tokyo and Mexico Olympic Games, and it was there she met American woman Ione Rice, who became her travelling friend for more than 20 years.

The pair nicknamed each other "Wild West" and "Wild Rice" and visited every continent.

They were almost on the fateful Erebus flight, but Ms Rice was due to fly home two days later, so the trip was moved forward a week.

Similarly, the pair were driving along the Baja Peninsula when they heard pings on their campervan which they thought were stones.

Later they saw they were bullets.

"We reckon by the speed we were driving, she [Ms Rice] was about one second from being shot in the head."

She's done 10 trips with Earthwatch, where volunteers carry out expeditions alongside scientists.

Antarctica, the Himalayas, Alaska and Africa are all favourite places.

She still cooks and cleans in the unit she has lived in for eight years at Jane Mander Retirement Village.

She takes the book she compiled last year of tales of her life to the hospital section. She has macular degeneration and can't read it but the patients can and the two discuss the stories. She said the patients love to talk about the 1920s and 1930s.

She has been involved in Girl Guides for 88 years - including as Northland area commissioner, was a founding member of the Onerahi Women's Bowling Club, volunteered with St John for 12 years and was on a school committee.

Unsurprisingly, she organised her own 100th birthday party - 160 people next weekend.

When asked what the secret to 100 is, she joked: "Wake up every morning."

"I think the secret is to eat properly, to exercise well and keep your brain working."