In 2013, my husband Richard landed a PhD position with a leading Auckland university. All I knew about New Zealand then was Anchor butter and the sprawling landscapes in The Lord of the Rings.
While I loved living in Manila and its creature comforts – dining in fancy restaurants, on-demand massages and a helper who did our chores at home – I was keen to move.
I was a full-time photographer who spent half the day in traffic getting to jobs: from shooting portraits of socialites, tobacco farmers and Imelda Marcos’ shoes to covering weddings, baptisms and funerals.
Life was hectic, and I prayed for circumstances to change. Besides, I thought I’d easily get into photography when we got there.
The struggle is real
But reality hit us hard when we got to Auckland. We arrived during one of its coldest winters. The skies were gray. Richard was studying a field he wasn’t adept at yet, and I found it hard to market myself as a photographer.
We were fish out of water, and I absolutely hated it. But I loved how locals – even strangers – were so warm and welcoming.
Eventually, a Filipino friend hired me to help out in her after-school care program in the North Shore.
Soon after, I was promoted to program manager – a fancy title considering I still did the dirty work. I washed dishes, cleaned toilets and managed kids’ tantrums.
I was earning my own income again, but more importantly, the stint taught me patience, tenacity and tact.
Back to my first love: photography
The following year, I got a job as a graphic designer in a boutique design studio in Milford, a leafy upscale neighborhood with at least five cafés within each 300m block.
I forced myself to develop new creative skills that allowed me to build websites as well as design print ads and electronic direct mailers for clients.
I enjoyed the 15-minute commute to work, with scenic views of the city skyline and majestic Rangitoto Island. Best of all, I was back to doing what I loved: photography.
Choosing to stay in Auckland
We had planned to return to Manila after Richard’s stint was up. But in 2015, we chose to stay – for good.
This was home now.
On weekends, when we’re done with chores, we’ll list down fun things to do in Auckland and follow them: hiking, tramping or cycling. Our newest hobby is snowboarding – something we never dreamed we’d do.
Uprooting myself from my comfy middle-class lifestyle in Manila opened my eyes to a few realizations: Life wasn’t all about my job, and when things didn’t go as planned, I could do what terrified me.
And I could be resourceful. When we couldn’t afford to eat out, I taught myself how to whip up three-course meals in our little flat.
Capturing New Zealand’s beauty
Now I volunteer my kitchen and camera skills for Bellyful, a charity that cooks and delivers frozen meals to families with newborn babies and children struggling with illness.
That’s how I got to photograph Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall, when she visited Bellyful in 2015.
These days, I’m happy to say I shoot not just for work but for the sheer joy of it.
I’ve taken an interest in landscape photography and astrophotography (where we shoot the night skies), which I never had the patience for until we moved to New Zealand.
But when you’re presented with such beauty, you feel it’s your duty to at least try and capture it.
I pop into Best Ugly Bagels at the City Works Depot and watch my brekkie baked fresh before my very eyes.
I love coming in early (doors open at 7am) and hearing the team call out my order (usually a sesame bagel with a cream cheese schmear) while I sip my freshly brewed cup of Havana coffee – a delicious local blend.
Al Brown, one of New Zealand’s leading chefs, learned how to make these Montreal-style bagels in Canada.
Each one is hand-rolled into a wonky circle (hence the name) and then baked in a wood-fired oven until they’re golden. Sometimes, I order a couple more to go (they keep for up to four days).
I stroll towards the Ferry Building on Quay Street. Built in 1912, this gorgeous Edwardian Baroque-style ferry terminal connects the CBD to the North Shore, West Auckland and South Auckland as well as to islands in the Waitemata Harbour and Hauraki Gulf.
Just next door is Auckland Adventure Jet, where I sign up for a jet boat ride across the water, a fun thing to do in Auckland. Think of it as a turbo-charged tour of the city, with spins and hair-raising tricks on the harbor, at speeds of more than 50 knots (93km/h).
I never tire of visiting the most iconic landmark of the Auckland skyline, the Sky Tower. I am a fan of the 360˚ panoramic views from Orbit, the brasserie on the top floor.