Lena Walker has had more practice at birthdays than any other woman alive in New Zealand yet her latest party still took her by surprise.
''I didn't expect anything like this. I had no idea. It's wonderful,'' she said.
Lena celebrated her 108th birthday on Thursday with staff and residents at Radius Baycare in Haruru Falls, Bay of Islands, her home of the past five years.
As far as we know that makes Lena the oldest woman in New Zealand. She is beaten to the title of New Zealand's oldest person only by a Cantabrian man about eight months her senior.
Lena's hearing isn't the best and her short-term memory is poor, but she still gets around with the help of a walker and she can still tell you about growing up in Shannon, in Manawatū, more than a century ago.
She also recalls landing a job in Wellington as a seamstress at the age of 17 and moving to Tauranga to help her older sister raise her children. She met Vincent Walker at a dance in Mount Maunganui; later, around 1970, the couple moved to Paihia and built a house on Kings Rd.
Most extraordinarily, however, Lena remembers well the end of World War I.
She recalls travelling to Wellington with her parents to watch a parade of returning troops, and a party celebrating her uncles' homecoming from ''the war to end all wars''.
Lena said she'd never drunk alcohol or smoked — except for the odd glass at Christmas — and had always kept good health. Apart from that, however, she didn't know the secret to longevity.
Paul Eley, of Whangārei, put his grandmother's long life down to simple living.
She had always grown her own vegetables, made her own clothes, and never wanted a fuss.
''They lived comfortably but they never wanted expensive things.''
His grandmother was also determined to look after herself, only giving up her own home and her driver's licence at the age of 103.
Longtime neighbour Garth Craig said Lena had often told him her long life was due to fish oil and the exercise that came with a steep driveway.
He suspected, however, that her positive attitude to life played an important part.
Garth may have a point. Often the first thing visitors hear as they arrive at Baycare is Lena's laughter echoing down the corridors.
''I've had a marvellous life really. I've enjoyed it,'' Lena said.
Lena's party included a dress-up by the residents, music from every decade of her life, a cake and a stack of cards from the Queen and other well-known figures. Governor-General Dame Patsy Reddy noted in her message that ''these cards are becoming quite a habit''.
The party doubled as a farewell to facility manager Pam Hughes who has retired after 15 years at Baycare.
Pam said the home's oldest resident was an inspiration who had ''brightened up everyone's lives''.
''It's been a pleasure looking after her,'' she said.
In November last year, Lena was a guest of honour when Prince Charles and Camilla were welcomed at the Waitangi Treaty Grounds. The then 107-year-old was given a seat on the porch of the Whare Rūnanga (carved meeting house) behind the royal couple.
Lena was born Evelyn Wilkinson on June 11, 1912. She is listed as New Zealand's oldest woman by Gerontology Wiki, an online database of the country's oldest residents.
The list names Ronald Hermanns of Canterbury, born on September 25, 1911, as the oldest living Kiwi. The former RNZAF aircraft fitter is also NZ's oldest war veteran.
The oldest verified New Zealander of all time was Florence Finch, who was born in England in 1893 and died in Hawke's Bay in 2007, aged 113 years and 109 days.
■ Lena's was not the only significant birthday in the Far North this week. Doris Robertson, who lives at Kerikeri Retirement Village, turned 105 on Friday.