In March this year twenty-something couple Robbie Shields and Sarah Lawlor set off from their home in Birmingham, England, for a year-long adventure on the opposite side of the world.

Two weeks later in New Zealand their rental camper van had been recalled and they were facing lockdown in a country where they hardly knew a soul.

But they had made a few acquaintances and swapped a couple of numbers, so faced with uncertainty they made a call to seek advice.

That call was to Te Awamutu man George Brooks.

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Robbie and Sarah had been in the Waikato to take in the tourist sights.

The self-confessed mad keen Lord of the Rings and Hobbit fans had been to Hobbiton, across to Raglan and down to Waitomo Caves before heading to the snow at National Park. And while they come from Birmingham, they both have Irish ancestry and were keen to enjoy a great craic for St Patrick's Day.

Asking around Waitomo they were told the best bar in the region to celebrate was Te Awamutu's Redoubt Bar & Eatery — which is where they spent the evening after making the trip back from national Park. It is where they met George.

"We hit it off and George told us about lots of other interesting things to do in the district," says Robbie.

"He had suggested we stay around the Waikato and get to know it."

But the couple were only expecting to be in New Zealand for four weeks and headed north.

It was then that Covid-19 hit New Zealand and things changed quickly.

Robbie and Sarah admitted they suddenly felt quite helpless.

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They had saved for a year after both completing their BA degrees in psychology to travel on an open ticket through 10 countries around the Pacific — starting in New Zealand.

Travelling home didn't feel like a safe option, plus it was suddenly an expensive option and would have blown their travel budget.

"We just couldn't afford the fares home," says Sarah.

"Our family at home was obviously concerned for us, but could also see New Zealand was probably safer than the UK.

"We thought we would have to go into lockdown in a cabin or some other budget accommodation because we couldn't afford a hotel, but wanted a word of friendly advice, so made the call to George."

"What eventuated was humbling," she says.

George took the call and said he would ring the couple back.

He says it only took a short conversation with his partner Jane Coles and their son Bryn-Louis to agree to take the couple in.

"We had the room and were only too pleased to help a young couple out," says George.

"Jane's response had been that if Bryn-Louis had been in a similar situation in another country she hoped someone would take him in and help him out."

The Te Awamutu family converted a craft room into a bedroom, complete with a TV and PlayStation for entertainment, a utility room into a makeshift kitchen and gave over the family bathroom — all which could be shut off from the other end of the home.

Robbie and Sarah also had use of the barbecue area.

The hosts and their guests could safely socialise at a distance between the kitchen and outdoor area.

"We thought it was an amazing offer," says Robbie.

"And they had no idea how long it might last."

Robbie Shields and Sarah Lawlor at Cathedral Cove.
Robbie Shields and Sarah Lawlor at Cathedral Cove.

The young couple say George and Jane's hospitality during a difficult time was incredible.
"We were spoiled as well," they say.

While they took care of their own meals, Jane provided the odd treat.

"Her baking is amazing," they agreed.

As the lockdown levels changed from 3, and then to 2, the couple were able to get out and do some of the sightseeing around Waipa and Waikatothat George had first talked about.

And now, with borders to other countries still closed and travel still unsafe, the couple have applied to have their tourist visas amended to allow them to work in New Zealand temporarily so they can stay until it is safe to move on.

It has been a slow process, but they are hoping Level 1 will speed things up.

"We had hoped to go fruit picking, but that opportunity has gone," says Robbie.

"We'll give anything a try."

They hope to still be able to undertake as much of their original trip as possible, although some of the East is off the agenda.

All going well they will spend summer working in Australia before heading home to the UK in March next year.

Their year of travel and adventure won't have gone as planned — but it will surely be memorable, especially being in lockdown in a Waikato town called Te Awamutu.