Mike Wellington would always get a twinkle in his eyes when he was about to tell you something.

Whether he was relaying his adventures driving across Canada, guiding his grandsons with their woodwork projects or offering tips to perfect a recipe, Mike loved imparting his knowledge.

If, on the rare occasion, you knew more on a topic than he, his mouth would curve at the corner and he'd chuckle, acknowledging you had bested him - this time.

That twinkle in his eye and fire in his belly carried Mike through the 77 years of his life.

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The father of three and grandfather to many died on December 30 at Waikato Hospital, surrounded by family, after succumbing to injuries sustained in a car crash in Acacia Bay, Taupō, on December 27.

His death, which has been referred to the coroner, was one of nine counted in the 2018/19 holiday road toll.

Mike's family remember the patriarch as having a strong personality and a no-nonsense, get-on-with-life practicality.

Mike Wellington was a passionate cook and loved working with his hands. Photo / Supplied
Mike Wellington was a passionate cook and loved working with his hands. Photo / Supplied

Born in Manley, Australia on September 1, 1941, Michael (Mike) John Wellington came to New Zealand as a 6-week-old, making him the youngest person to travel on a sea plane at the time.

The elder of two children, Mike grew up in Auckland, going to Grafton Rd Primary School and becoming a foundation day boy at St Kentigern College.

In 1963 he met his future wife, Sue Pacey, at a nursing flat party.

"We had just started chatting and I guess he didn't put me off," Sue laughed. "He had a bit of a James Dean look. He was a cool, motorbike-type."

Sue finished her nursing training and she and Mike married on March 13, 1965.

In between having their three children - Paul, Kim and Kristen - the Wellingtons went farming, with Mike starting out as a shepherd and working his way up to manager at a farm in Horahora.

"He was a hard worker, he never shied away from physical work. After the Horahora farm sold we spent 18 months at a ghastly peat farm in Gordonton, then we bought a greenhouse property in Bombay."

But it was in 1991 that Mike discovered his true calling was truck driving and he spent the next 23 years behind the wheel, retiring at 73.

"He loved machinery and driving. Those truck-driving days were his happiest. He was very good at spreading metal and backing the trucks.

"His boss was always really impressed with Mike and would have him show the others how it was done but Mike wasn't the showboaty type."

Sue and Mike moved to Taupō three years ago to be closer to family.

"He loved having his family around him. He wasn't very sociable and wasn't the best at showing affection but he was always proud of his family and showed them in his own way."

Grandson Carl Bennett remembers Mike as a force to be reckoned with in the kitchen.

"He would always add a little something extra to a recipe to make it his own. He was passionate about food and took great pride in feeding his family.

"The hard part is realising when I visit Nan now, I won't see Pop in the kitchen cooking dinner and listening to Dr John or Eva Cassidy."

A service will be held at the Founders Chapel of Remembrance in Taupo on Monday.

- The author has a personal relationship with Mike and his family.
Winning over the tough food critic

I was lucky enough to know Mike for the past eight years.

From day one he brought me into the folds of his family and treated me as one of his own.

We bonded over a shared love of literature and cooking and I spent many hours at the dining table with him, going through his dozens of cookbooks, him pointing out all the recipes he was going to make for us.

The first time I cooked for him I was 19 and eager to impress so I made my family's traditional Italian spaghetti pomodoro.

He hovered over my shoulder trying to add extra spices until I shooed him out of the kitchen and told him he'd have to try it my way first.

At the dinner table he took a bite and, raising his eyebrows, I got my first Mike accolade - "It's not too bad, though I would have added more chilli."

The last time I saw Mike well was just before Christmas. I was making a halloumi salad and he was sitting at the bench watching.

He asked what recipe I was using and I said I'd made it up. He then asked what I was frying the halloumi in and I told him just a little olive oil, as I didn't want to mask the flavour of the cheese.

He didn't say anything else but the corner of his mouth twitched into a half smile and I knew I'd done him proud.