Leaving was never going to be easy. Not for Dr Tori Morgan in Home And Away and definitely not for her portrayer, Penny McNamee.
There were tears, of course, as Tori drove off into the sunset with dream husband Christian (Ditch Davey). Lots of tears. Both Penny and Tori were saying goodbye to people they'd come to cherish.
But after five-and-a-half years in Summer Bay, Penny was ready to go.
"There was a great sense of relief," Penny, 38, tells TV WEEK of finishing up on the hit drama, her final scenes playing out on screen this week.
"It's a demanding job. And the immense pressure I was under, juggling the role and motherhood and bringing up kids … it felt like a load had been lifted off my shoulders."
Certainly, balancing her work and home life was a challenge for Penny, especially with a newborn and a toddler. She remembers there were days she'd have a 5.30am call time at Palm Beach, in Sydney's north. It meant getting up at 4am, when she'd already fed her baby at 3am and been up late learning lines.
"It was hard," she declares. "You'd get to work on four hours' sleep and have to do it again the next day," adding that it was "all worth it".
"I would do it all again, if I had my time over," she says with a smile. "I look back it at all and think, 'Wow, what a ride.' I'm so grateful for all of it. Even in my 30s, I still remember being that little girl who would have loved to have been on Home And Away."
In her very first scene, Penny was called to set at 1.30am, "put into heels and a formal dress in the middle of a caravan park explosion and it happened to be pouring with rain". But she loved playing the doctor and learning the complicated dialogue.
"That's what made me want to stay on the show longer," she says. "If I just showed up at the Diner and talked about my boyfriend, I would have been bored within a month."
On screen, Tori was thrown into all sorts of chaos (there was a plane crash, at one point), while privately, Penny faced her own struggles.
"Tori was trying to fall pregnant at the same time as I was trying to fall pregnant in real life," Penny says.
"She was having miscarriages and doing IVF and I was having infertility issues in real life and going to medical appointments. For a year-and-a-half there was a lot of crossover with the storylines and my life. It was a really emotional storyline."
In 2018, Penny opened up about her battle with endometriosis and her struggle to fall pregnant with her daughter Neve, now two. Penny and husband Matt Tooker also have a five-year-old son, Jack.
And for Tori, there was happiness, finally, when she gave birth to baby Grace, who she'd conceived through IVF with Robbo (Jake Ryan).
"I'm really proud of that storyline," Penny says. "I feel like we were telling a very true and honest story about fertility among women in their 30s."
Because Tori had been through so much, it was important for Penny that the character had a happy ending. Fans too wanted to see Tori in a happy, loving relationship living a "peaceful life", Penny says.
Enter Ditch's character, neurosurgeon Christian Green. The characters had a real spark, and Penny loved playing the "comedy" between them.
"Ditch and I share a wacky sense of humour," she says.
"Work is work, but you've got to have fun," Ditch, 45, says of working with Penny. "We had a great time. It was a brilliant pairing."
Christian had his own challenges, at one stage facing off with malevolent serial killer Lewis (Luke Arnold). That aftermath spurred the surgeon's search for adrenalin-charged adventure.
"You're not going to ask about the nude run, are you?" Ditch asks.
Actually, yes, we are. The moment saw Christian baring all for a skinny-dip as a mortified Tori looked on. Did Ditch really get his kit off on Palm Beach?
"Pretty much," he says with a laugh. "We had to get down to the beach before any of the photographers got there."
For Ditch, one of the joys of working on H&A was striking up a friendship with co-star James Stewart, who played Tori's brother Justin.
"Jimmy and I had never worked with each other, but probably within an hour I thought, 'Oh yeah, I like you'," he says. "He's a fabulous actor and very smart. We really pushed each other."
And fortunately, the two mates don't live very far from each other in Sydney – Ditch relocated from Melbourne for the show.
"We live within walking distance and we've got kids very close in age," Ditch says, referring to his son Taika and James' daughter, Scout.
"He [James] and [wife] Sarah [Roberts] have become dear friends. I'm very grateful for them."
As for what's next, Ditch says he's waiting to see what happens when lockdown is over. And while Penny would love a role on another Australian drama, she's relishing the chance to "catch her breath" while being a stay-at-home mum.