It started with an ice cream for a Whangarei couple.

Now seven decades and some 18,000km around the world from where they first met, Nick and Mara Milina have celebrated 65 years married.

The couple hail from Lumbarda in Croatia but met in nearby Korcula where they were both working in the late 1940s.

Mr Milina knew of the soon-to-be Mrs Milina, but she did not know of him. One day, he saw her and thought "I'll buy her an ice cream".

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Mrs Milina, 85,said the rest is, as they say "happily ever after".

"And she still loves icecream," Mr Milina said, from the living room of their Kensington home.

While Mrs Milina technically can't have icecream anymore, as she is a diabetic, she admits to occasionally breaking the rules.

After Mr Milina's compulsory service in the Croatian Army, the couple married on February 15, 1953.

Three years later they emigrated to Whangarei with their two daughters, Verina who was 3 at the time, and Mary who was 3-months-old.

Son Gordon was born three years later.

As well as three children, they have six grandchildren and "nearly" five great-grandchildren. The fifth is due in the middle of next month.

The couple offer up their secret to such a long marriage.

"One needs to be tolerant to one another, you give and take or it won't work," 87-year-old Mr Milina said.

"If you put your sweetheart first and your sweetheart puts you first, you will be all right," Mrs Milina said.

The couple celebrated with a small, family-only gathering at A'Fare on February 17.

Family is one of the most important things to the Milinas - their house is adorned with photos of their family - both those gone before and those who have come since.

The couple lived in Maunu for 40 years before moving to Kensington and have always believed in working hard.

Mr Milina worked for NZ Railways, then later for the Maunu Health Camp. Mrs Milina worked in a factory as a meat packer and at Woolworths.

The couple also owned a vineyard in Maungatapere for almost 17 years. They made seven types of wines and four liqueurs.

New Zealand is very much their home - both said they have never felt homesick.

"We always felt we've been loved and been welcomed."