At 109 Ruby Billings still has a voracious appetite but really likes the sweeter things in life - like pavlova or cake.

"She's got a real sweet tooth, she loves anything that's sweet and just loves her desserts," said one of her caregivers, enrolled nurse Jenny Cosford.

Mrs Billings (nee Haliday) turned 109 years old yesterday, making her possibly the oldest woman in New Zealand.

While she has maintained good health, her hearing has long faded and her sight has all but vanished.

It is unlikely she could see the cards or flowers from well-wishers on a nearby table or the congratulatory message she received from the Queen on turning 100, which hangs on a wall near her bed.

But yesterday, Mrs Billings enjoyed a sponge cake with a few family members and staff at Hamilton's Maeroa Lodge Private Hospital to mark the occasion.

Unable to attend, however, was her daughter-in-law, an ill Mary Russell-Bethune, who for more than 20 years took Mrs Billings a cake and had her picture taken with her on her birthday.

Mrs Russell-Bethune said her mother-in-law had not been able to converse for more than four years.

"It's getting harder ... A lady rang me and said she blew out three candles," said Mrs Russell-Bethune.

"Blowing out 109 candles would be pretty hard for her, wouldn't it?"

Born in Mangere on April 27 in 1900, Mrs Billings turned 15 just two days after Anzac forces landed at Gallipoli in 1915.

She was brought up around Karaka and Papakura, where her father owned a dairy farm, and spent most of her adult life living in Pukekohe.

Mrs Billings lived through the transition from horses and carts in her younger days to space travel, but it wasn't until she was in her 50s that she learned how to drive a car, Mrs Russell-Bethune recalled.

"I actually took her out in a paddock to give her a driving lesson way back in the 1950s," said Mrs Russell-Bethune.

The secret to Mrs Billings' longevity could be that she walked everywhere and never smoked.

She always tended her vegetable garden and was fond of the occasional beer after a day's work.

"She used to make home brew and passed the recipe on to my husband. He and his mother often used to enjoy a glass of home brew in the evening," said Mrs Russell-Bethune.

Neither the Department of Internal Affairs nor Statistics NZ could say whether Mrs Billings is the oldest living New Zealander.

*Do you know of any living New Zealander who is older than 109 years?
*Let us know at newsdesk@nzherald.co.nz.