GOLOCAL

An Austrian couple unable to fly home due to the Covid-19 pandemic were the only guests at a Rotorua motor inn hit by cancellations when the country moved into level 4.

Elisabeth and Alfred Schlieber-Jernek spent lockdown at the Asure Palm Court Motor Inn in Glenholme after borders and airports closed in the wake of the coronavirus.

The pair arrived in New Zealand in October and spent the first 33 days in the South Island, before flying to Australia and returning to New Zealand on February 10. Their flight was due to depart from the North Island on May 7 but due to Covid-19, the couple had to stay put.

But it meant the husband and wife had to find somewhere to spend lockdown.

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"It made us feel a little anxious," Elisabeth said. They had been to New Zealand twice before and phoned a friend who lived in Rotorua for help.

Unfortunately, he could not accommodate them so Elisabeth phoned Mike and Anja Raynes at the Asure Palm Court Motor Inn, where they had stayed two years ago.

"When I called him I was in desperation about where we could stay," Elisabeth said. "All other places had cancelled on us and Mike assured us he and Anja would take good care of us."

Mike and Anja Raynes from Asure Palm Court Motor Inn and their visitors Elisabeth and Alfred Schlieber-Jernek. Photo / Andrew Warner
Mike and Anja Raynes from Asure Palm Court Motor Inn and their visitors Elisabeth and Alfred Schlieber-Jernek. Photo / Andrew Warner

Elisabeth and her husband could have chosen to fly home on the only repatriation flight to Austria in early April but they decided to stay a little longer.

"We did not want to risk anyone on the flight becoming ill," she said. "Plus New Zealand is such a safe and beautiful place."

The pair spent their 29th wedding anniversary with Mike and Anja, who celebrated the occasion with a famous Viennese culinary speciality called sachertorte - which is chocolate cake with apricot jam.

Elisabeth and Alfred were also treated to an Easter egg hunt on Easter weekend.

It made spending lockdown far from home that much more bearable for Elisabeth, who said it did not matter where she was as long as she was with her husband.

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"We are not in a vast country, we are in a very good country with all of these nice people and everybody is so kind.

"Sometimes it is a bit unreal but we had fun together."

The pair have booked a flight home on July 9 but in the meantime level 2 had meant Elisabeth and Alfred can continue exploring the North Island.

However, Elisabeth said it will be hard to say goodbye to her new friends Mike and Anja when the time came.

"I think there will be some tears but we will stay in contact."

Mike Raynes said Elisabeth and Alfred were their only guests during the lockdown apart from a French couple who stayed briefly while in transit to Auckland Airport, and one other person who also stayed briefly.

It meant the four of them remained in the same bubble.

"It was nice to talk to people, especially from a different part of the world," Mike said.

"They aren't guests anymore, they have become friends."

Mike said he and wife Anja offered the couple a larger room for a "substantially" reduced rate and tried to make them feel comfortable and at ease during their stay.

He said the hotel had struggled during the lockdown, going from about a 90 per cent occupancy during summer to "zero" after level 4 was announced.

"But it is not about the money, it is about looking after people," he said.

"We are all feeling it, every single hotelier in Rotorua. It has certainly done some damage like it has for everyone."

Mike said the future was still uncertain and he was optimistic things would improve, with accommodation bookings already looking promising in level 2.

"We are almost completely full for Saturday night and people are looking forward to Labour weekend. It all looks promising."

He said some bookings were for the corporate business sector needing somewhere to stay for work, but the majority were Kiwis from all parts of the country.

"A lot of people from Auckland are coming down for the weekend.

"It is looking good. It has relieved a lot of pressure."

Going forward, Mike said it was important for people to support local businesses.

"It is the only way a lot of these businesses will survive. Without these people, a lot of places are going to close."