Discovering Auckland's heritage and heart

A desire to preserve the past drew American Rebecca Fogel to Auckland – and the chance to live an active urban life has kept her here.
Discovering Auckland's heritage and heart

Los Angeles-born Rebecca Fogel has the best of both worlds – she lives in New Zealand’s biggest and busiest city, with all it has to offer, yet she can still walk to work every day.

Auckland’s reputation as a city of cars is  slowly changing and Rebecca says that’s due to improvements in public transport and a growing network of cycle lanes. “I think that’s going to make a huge difference in terms of getting people out of their cars and onto bikes and walking.”

Rebecca lives in the suburb of Eden Terrace in a small cottage she bought with partner Austin Fox in April 2016. “It’s super-walkable: we can walk to Ponsonby Road, walk to Kingsland, we’re right on the Northwestern Cycleway. It’s really close to the city but it is its own little neighbourhood,” she says.

Rebecca works at Auckland Council, leading the team responsible for ensuring Auckland’s historic buildings are preserved. It isn’t surprising she was drawn to living in an old house. “I really like the quirkiness of historic houses. Our house has a lot of charm – not all the walls are perfectly straight! – but it’s passed the test of time.”

Rebecca first came to New Zealand on holiday in 2010, happily exploring the mountains and hiking trails. Two years later, after finishing a study course in Croatia, she began looking for her next adventure.  With her background in urban history and historic preservation, Rebecca was well qualified for a job in Auckland Council’s heritage team. After a Skype interview and job offer, she landed here in January 2013. It was a pivotal time in the city’s history: Auckland’s first Unitary Plan, a blueprint for planning how the city will grow over the next 30 years, was being developed. 

She was part of the team surveying a large part of Auckland to discover heritage buildings and neighbourhoods that might not have been properly recognised and protected. “It was a great way  to get to know the city in a really short period  of time,” Rebecca says.

Working at the Council helped advance her  career: she was initially hired as a built heritage specialist, then was promoted to team leader this year. It hasn’t hurt her personal life either – Austin works for the Council as an urban planner and they became friends after talking in the staff kitchen. Originally from England, Austin decided to explore the world and ended up in New Zealand in December 2011.

On weekends, they like to head out for breakfast at one of Auckland’s many cafés. “We’ve made it a bit of a mission to try as many as possible. Then depending on the weather, we might go for a hike up one of Auckland’s volcanic cones, to the beach, or just walk around town,” says Rebecca.  “There’s so much going on in the city, there are restaurants everywhere, lots of shops and  it’s a really vibrant place. One thing I like about Auckland is that it is a city of neighbourhoods, and each neighbourhood has its own town centre.”

They only use their car to head out of the city  on adventures, or when Rebecca plays softball,  a popular American sport that’s been adopted here. “On the weekends I play for a competitive women’s team, and I also coach a kids’ team. That’s been a really great way to meet people,” she says. “People here spend a lot of time outdoors and with their families, and I think that’s really great.”

She misses the Mexican food that’s so common in California and was surprised to find shopping is more expensive here. “There are good clothes here, but there are more options, particularly more mid-range clothing, back in the States,”  she says. 
“Also, make sure you arrive at least a week or  two before you start your job. It takes a lot longer than you’d think to get your bank accounts, phone, housing, car and all that stuff set up.”

Rebecca and Austin have two quite different opinions on Kiwi culture, she adds. “When I first arrived, I felt that British influence: people have cups of tea, the Queen’s on the currency, driving on the left side of the road, using the metric system. It’s funny because Austin thinks it feels very American compared to England: all the pop culture, TV shows and movies, fast food and a bit of that car culture.”

When she arrived, Rebecca had no plan other than to stay for two years and see how she liked it. “I think it does a take couple of years to give  it a fair chance in a new place,” she says. Now, New Zealand feels like a second home. 

“Five years ago if you told me I’d be living in  New Zealand, I would have said that’s crazy. This experience has definitely taught me that you just never know where life is going to take you.”

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