You know you've reached a significant birthday milestone when the fire brigade is on standby in case the 109 candles on your cake cause an inferno.
That will be the case at Radius Baycare in Haruru today, when Lena Walker – the oldest New Zealand-born woman - celebrates her 109th birthday with family, staff, residents and school children.
Rest home staff will present Walker with a large cake surrounded by 109 candles and, as a precaution, have also invited the local fire brigade along to help put them out if needed.
The rest home has also invited 109 local children to sing Happy Birthday to Walker.
Walker appeared less than excited about the prospect of turning 109 when the Northern Advocate visited yesterday.
"Oh, surely not... 109, oh heavens, that's awful."
Rest home activities manager Pauline Ferris says Walker will switch gear when the youngsters from Paihia Primary, Paihia Early Childhood Centre, Oromahoe School and Pakaraka School arrive to sing songs.
They'll also help her blow out the candles, which will be secured to the outer rim of a round piece of plywood placed on top of a sturdy tractor tyre, with the 500x300mm carrot cake in the middle.
"She adores children, even though she didn't have any of her own," Ferris said. "When children are around, she lights up."
Walker has already received flowers from Governor-General Dame Patsy Reddy and a card from the Queen.
The rest home has also made a history timeline, highlighting world events Walker has lived through, decade by decade starting with the sinking of the Titanic in 1912, the year she was born.
This is followed by two world wars, the 1969 moon landing and many other events.
Grandson Paul Eley from Whangārei, who will be attending the party with his wife, said Walker was a strong woman who didn't like to be fussed over.
"But when she sees everyone and the kids, she'll get excited about that."
Walker 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.
She grew up in Shannon, Manawatū, and worked in Wellington as a seamstress at the age of 17, later moving to Tauranga to help her older sister raise her children.
She met Vincent Walker at a dance in Mt Maunganui and the couple moved to Paihia around 1970 and built a house on Kings Rd.
Eley said his grandmother grew fruit and vegetables on the property, where she and Vince lived for 40 odd years.
"She's looked after herself a lot of the time," he said.
"She lived up a steep driveway, which kept her fit and healthy up until the age of 100 and was driving until she was about 102.
"She never had any health issues; she walked everywhere and kept fit pottering around keeping things simple."
Nurse Carol Lawson, who has looked after Walker for the six years she's been at the rest home, said she is "quite amazing".
Though she has dementia and is a little deaf, Walker was still mobile, getting around with help from a walker and going to the dining room for all her meals.
"She's amazing for her age," Lawson said. "Each year she turns over 100 she's in her limelight when she's attending the party. She's quite lucid.
"She doesn't look her age and her needs aren't high...she's obviously got good bones and longevity."
Ferris said the secret to Walker's long life was happiness. "She's so delightfully happy."