While her onscreen marriage is falling apart, Shortland Street star Ngahuia Piripi's real-life romance couldn't be better. But as the beauty cuddles up to her boyfriend and former co-star Teone Kahu at our Woman's Day photo shoot, she confesses there was once a time when the pair couldn't stand each other.
"We're not the typical fairytale," laughs 27-year-old Ngahuia, who plays Doctor Esther Samuels on the beloved Kiwi soap. "We met while working on a play three years ago, but it wasn't till he started the show in 2016 that we got together."
Yet even after Teone, 25, started on Shorty, the blossoming romance had a rocky start. "We clashed immediately," confesses Ngahuia, laughing. "After our very first scene that we shot together, I wanted to murder him! He was telling me what to do and I was like, 'Don't tell me what to do – you just started and I've been here for much longer!'"
Teone, 25, recalls, "We didn't plan for it to happen, but for some reason, we just kept bumping into each other – at the supermarket, at the same party, then work. That's what made us think maybe we should give this a shot."
In Ngahuia's words, they "were like magnets" and despite the initial conflict, they couldn't stay away from each other. The couple kept their relationship secret at first, only telling close friends, but Teone's onscreen antics as Doctor Logan Hawks certainly made things difficult, with his character the love interest of Sass Warner, played by Ngahuia's best friend Lucy Lovegrove, who left the show earlier this year.
"We were together, but no-one knew at that early stage," explains Ngahuia. "That was us just trying to keep things professional – we didn't want it to blow up. Lucy knew right from the get-go, but I also didn't want to make it too awkward for her by telling everyone."
Nodding, Teone adds, "Working together on Shorty was a good test. It really showed us how much we cared about each other."
While Teone has now left the show, Ngahuia is facing a difficult storyline, a violent romance with her onscreen husband Finn Warner, played by Lukas Whiting.
"Everything is starting to unravel for them and it's been hard to film those scenes," she says. "But this is a great story and I'm glad that I can do justice to something that does exist in the real world. It also makes me thankful for Teone. When you play the other side, you appreciate the good in your life and are a lot more aware of it."
For Ngahuia, one of the biggest things Teone has done for her is bond with her eight-year-old daughter Owairea. She smiles, "It's not easy blending families, but if you work at it, you can make progress. He does school drop-offs and pick-ups and now they have a great relationship too, which makes me love him even more."
Teone says, "I used to go out and have as much fun as I wanted without ever having to think about the consequences. Then I met Nga and she showed me that I'm capable of a lot more.
"Compared to where I was a year ago with family, friends and my mindset, I've grown. She's turned me from a boy into a man."
When asked about the possibility of expanding their family and tying the knot, Ngahuia throws Teone a cheeky grin and asks, "I don't know. Is there?"
Teasing her right back, he quips, "She said she won't marry me unless I buy her a really expensive ring."
Ngahuia starts to protest then cracks a smile. "True story," she says. "I like pretty, shiny things. There's nothing wrong with that."
But on a more serious note, the happy couple are looking towards a bright future together.
Teone smiles, "It's definitely a possibility in the future, but at the moment, it's about growing a foundation. That will happen when the time is right, like lots of things between us."