Island 'hermit' finds love in Auckland

Last updated 05:00 04/12/2012
Ross Webber
REMOTE EXISTANCE: Ross Webber, pictured with wife Jean, spent 46 years on Puangiangi Island.

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Ross Webber spent 46 years living a hermit-like existence on remote Puangiangi Island in the Marlborough Sounds.

Now aged 82, Ross has finally settled down in the North Shore suburb of Torbay with wife Jean, 45 years his junior.

In 1957 the then 27-year-old Nelson native bought the narrow, hilly island which sits 45 minutes by boat from the nearest settlement of French Pass.

He cleared the scrub, built up a sheep farm and eventually - starting with a corrugated iron shed - built a two-bedroom house.

But in 2004, at the age of 73, he decided he was too old to be running the farm alone and put the island on the market.

After a multimillion-dollar sale that attracted national and international media interest, Webber flew to Auckland and boarded the Discovery, the first of three cruise ships he would sail on for a year.

He became a talking point among guests, with a documentary on his life on the island being screened at the on-board movie theatre.

"I visited 43 different countries. Some I didn't like very much, some I did."

Samoa was one destination that impressed him and after returning to Auckland, Webber flew back there to spend nearly a month on the Pacific island.

But a chance remark by the owner of a Nelson guest house where he was staying led him to romance and a new home.

The owner told him he should meet her cousin Jean in the Philippines.

"I'd spoken to Jean on the phone a few times. I went over, and we decided to get married."

They have been happy together ever since.

The couple returned to New Zealand in 2007 but, because of a protracted dispute over the sale of the island, were only able to buy their first home together about six months ago, in Torbay.

Webber said he might like to move back to Nelson but says Jean prefers Auckland.

"I've never liked it here, dreadful weather," Webber said.

He was finally able to resell the island in June this year to Wellington-based charitable trust Fauna Recovery New Zealand, which plans to turn it into a reserve.

Webber said he and Jean went back to the island once but it was a sad experience.

"It was very depressing to see it. It was all over-run, the fruit trees I had planted were dead. We couldn't get in [to the house] because it was all locked up."

The island's new owners, Sue Freitag and Barry Dent, have suggested that once they had everything fixed up he might like to visit again.

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These days Webber enjoys watching cricket and working in his garden. He has no regrets about leaving his island.
"I was too old to stay there. I needed a change."

- Auckland Now

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