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Ross finds love after 46 years on island

Last updated 05:00 04/12/2012
Ross Webber
NELSON MAIL
HAPPY TOGETHER: Ross and Jean Webber are now happily settled in Torbay on the North Shore.
Ross Webber
MARLBOROUGH EXPRESS
ISLAND MAN: Ross Webber on Puangiangi in 2004 with the splendid Marlborough Sounds as a backdrop.

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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 suburban Torbay with wife Jean, 45 years his junior.

In 1957 as a 27-year-old from Nelson, Ross 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, aged 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, Mr Webber flew to Auckland and boarded the Discovery, the first of three cruise ships he would sail on for a year.

"It was very nice," Mr Webber says matter-of-factly from his current home in Torbay.

Despite having lived alone for nearly half a century, Mr Webber says it did not take much to get used to being on a boat surrounded by thousands.

"They're [the boats] very big, there's a lot of room on them. There's 10 decks, it's not at all crowded."

He became a talking point among guests, with a documentary on his life on the island being screened in 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, Mr Webber flew back there to spend nearly a month on the Pacific island.

But for all his travels Mr Webber still says Nelson, to which he moved as a teenager, was one of the best.

"Nelson stacks up pretty nice. I'd sooner live there than anywhere else."

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."

His wife is 45 years his junior he says they have been happy together ever since.

They 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.

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

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

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 and restore its ecology.

Mr Webber says 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.

These days Mr Webber enjoys watching cricket and working in his garden. He says he has no regrets about leaving his island.

"I was too old to stay there. I needed a change."

- North Shore Times

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