It was love at first site for Mel John and Gary Pepperell, who married soon after. So then how did this inseparable couple reunite over an internet site only to remarry 23 years later? Mel shares her story with Jodi Bryant.
"Gary was in the RNZAF as an aircraft engineer and I was teaching in Glen Eden. One night, a couple of my girlfriends took me out to Whenuapai Airman's Club and it was love at first sight. We were inseparable after that," explains Mel.
Gary was 22 and Mel, 24 and they married at Titirangi War Memorial Church in 1989 in what Mel describes as a 'full-on 80s wedding'.
"There was pink and green eye shadow, big hair, big sleeves, big smell – Opium perfume, a big crowd and a big bill."
"I remember being totally caught up in the drama of the wedding. I was so nervous about all the arrangements – for example, the wedding jag broke down and my dad had to drive me to the church in his red Honda Civic - that I didn't feel the moment."
However, Mel says the couple led an adventurous life in the following two years. They left New Zealand and Gary took up a contract to work on an aircraft in Belgium. The aircraft turned out to be owned by the Libyan Air Force so, when it was complete, the couple went with it to Libya.
"Our time in Libya in the 90s was amazing. They were beautiful people and it was a beautiful culture," she recalls. "We worked there for a few months, which were during the first Gulf War – needless to say, our parents were a bit worried."
They then headed to Paris, followed by a stint in Istanbul, where Gary worked at the airport and Mel taught. However, during that time, Mel's father died young so they returned to New Zealand to be with family.
"We returned to Istanbul following my dad's death but I became quite down and things went wrong between us. Grief is a terrible thing. It affects everyone so differently. I left Istanbul and went to the UK."
The couple divorced in 1991 and tried to unsuccessfully reconcile a year later. Deciding to carry on with separate lives, they both travelled the world working, and kept in touch for a couple of years until 1994 when Gary told Mel he was about to become a father. She then pulled away so he could concentrate on his new family.
They both remarried. However, their subsequent marriages didn't last. It wasn't until 2010 that Mel re-found Gary through an internet seeking site.
"As far as I knew, he was still married so I wanted to check in with him to hopefully hear his life was great. I was surprised to hear it hadn't been as straight-forward as I had hoped. We wrote to each other and, at this stage, we were just two old and dear friends who were catching up."
To reunite, Gary drove across England into Wales to take her out for dinner, before returning the same night. Mel recalls the moment of their reunion:
"I waited on the seafront for him and could see him in the distance - it was amazing, just like time stood still. His first line was: 'I could tell it was you from miles away'. I told him: 'And I could tell it was you.'
"The funny thing was I had been befriended whilst waiting on the seafront by a drunk old man who I couldn't shake off. When I saw Gary, I got up and walked towards him and the old guy came with me! He was standing there when Gary and I hugged... it was hilarious. It took a couple of minutes to recover from that before we started talking."
Mel says the huge connection between them was still there and they realised they should never have been apart.
"We talked for hours over the next week or so. We had so much to talk about, so much of our lives to fill in. During this time, my grief poured out of me again - grief over my dad and losing Gary. In retrospect, we were too young to address the issues we had when dad died. Being older, it was easier to understand what had happened to me and us. We talked and talked for a while and decided we had to be together.
"Everything between us was easy - all the best relationships should be 'easy'. We saw the history we had and the things we had in common. There was definite love there over all the years we'd been apart. It was now difficult to be apart as there was a sense of belonging."
Mel says their close family were surprised at the reunion, yet supportive. And both Mel and Gary's girls, from their subsequent marriages, got on very well. Ironically, it was through the same website, that Gary's other daughter, adopted-out at birth, tracked her father down after 26 years. After living in various countries overseas, they decided to return to New Zealand together – 'just as we had left together in the 80s'.
Their second wedding, in January 2012 – 23 years after their first, was in stark contrast; it was in a registry office in England. "It was no-fuss, no party, no car. We just walked there and it was so emotional, just as you might hope your wedding would be. It was quiet, but beautiful, with just our children and a few close friends."
Today the couple have settled in Whangarei, where Mel spent the first year of her teaching career, and has wonderful memories of Northland.
"We bought a lifestyle block and started running our business from there and enjoy every minute of life in Northland. Our girls are here with us and we are well-settled after dashing around the world for a couple of decades."
Reflecting on their journey Mel says: "I don't regret any of the past happening. If it hadn't, we might not be where we are today ... happy in Whangarei!"
She adds with a twinkle: "Gary was and still is my toy boy."