Four special appointments have been made to the Order of New Zealand, the country's highest honour. See here who they are.

Key Points:

Sir Owen Woodhouse does not want others thinking he considers himself "the cat's pyjamas".

You'd think a little self-congratulation would be forgiveable in someone who has sat at the helm of the country's highest courts, pioneered far-reaching social reforms, been a war hero and lived to 90.

Sir Owen, however, is having none of that.

The former Appeal Court judge, Privy Councillor and Supreme Court supremo, today became an Additional Member of the Order of New Zealand.

Yet it is merely the latest in a mantelpiece-tipping line of appointments and awards, which began with a Distinguished Service Cross - awarded for Naval operations in the Adriatic - in 1944.

Sir Owen is perhaps best known as the man who designed accident compensation.

In two landmark reports, he introduced a "no-fault" compensation scheme and recommended an end to disparate treatment of the sick and diseased, compared with accident victims.

"New Zealanders like to think they are good practical people, as they are, but I think they are also a caring community, though they don't always say much about that.

"That scheme I tried to put together pulls those two qualities together."

The reports - begun in 1966 - are considered among the most important legal works of a generation, but Sir Owen considers work he carried out a decade earlier to be a career high.

He worked for a committee of inquiry in the 1950s exploring the benefits of fluoridated water.

"I think that was a very important attempt to look after the dental health of young children."

Sir Owen began life in Hawkes Bay and still has fond memories of Napier Boys' High School. He trained as a lawyer in Auckland, then saw active service as a torpedo boat captain in World War II.

Perhaps it was the influence of his "rather wonderful wife" Margaret, but as a judge in the 1960s Sir Owen worked to even up the division of matrimonial property.

"Practically everything" went to the man before the 1960s, he says.

Sir Owen was made a Knight Bachelor in 1974, and a Privy Councillor the same year. He became a Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 1981.

He holds honorary doctorates of law from Victoria University of Wellington, and York University in Toronto, Canada.

Sir Owen has written a book, A Personal Affair, which talked about - among other things - the problems faced by New Zealand women when their men were at war.

He is working on his memoirs.

Sir Owen was not sure what to make of his latest honour, and was anxious to mention the help he has received throughout his life from friends and family.

"My immediate feeling is what I owe to others. There's not many useful things you might achieve that are properly solo efforts."

And what does Sir Owen think of the modern New Zealand?

"It's certainly no worse. One has always got to be optimistic."