A group of German tourists has thanked the Te Kauwhata community for the support they received while waiting for their flights out of New Zealand.
Marlies and Michael Birnkammerer were on their honeymoon in New Zealand when borders around the world were closed due to Covid-19.
They were among 24 international visitors of various European nationalities who stayed at a safe site in Te Kauwhata, set up by the North Waikato Combined Emergency Operations Centre (NWCEOC).
The Civil Defence combined emergency operations centre operated jointly by Waikato District Council and Hamilton City Council, is providing support during the Covid-19 response.
This includes welfare support, such as delivering food parcels to those in need, logistics support for the establishment of community-based testing centres, communicating regional and local public safety messaging, while working closely with staff at both councils as they continue to deliver essential services.
The group of tourists had nowhere to stay while waiting to get flights back to Germany, France, Netherlands, Belgium and Denmark so they were registered with the NWCEOC and were looked after by Waikato District Council staff at the freedom camping site in Te Kauwhata.
Waikato District Council senior building inspector, Rob Koppers, who checked in on the freedom campers every second day, says he felt honoured to help out and that it was important to look after their wellbeing and welfare in whatever way possible.
Marlies and Michael have since returned to Germany but they wanted to "send a big thank you to the ones who gave us a smile in these days" and to show their gratitude for all the support they received.
"We've returned to Germany safe and sound and we wanted to thank you cordially.
"Our trip wasn't planned this way and it was quite a challenge for our mental resilience, but we could not have chosen a better place for the lockdown than yours. There is no friendlier and greater place than Te Kauwhata."
"The community supported us wherever and whenever possible. Thank you - especially to Rob – for caring for us. The way you supported us was incredibly kind.
"We got mobile showers and additional restrooms which were cleaned on a daily basis. The church supported us with food donations.
"The locals always gave us smiles and treated us lovely. We were allowed to use the rugby club rooms and print the documents we needed for our return flight."
The couple are from a little village close to Munich where everybody knows everybody and you are greeted by everyone.
"It felt like home when we were greeted warmly by Te Kauwhata locals."
Lina Ulrich, also from Germany, was one of the last to leave the site at Te Kauwhata. Rob helped jump-start their car for them to make sure they could get up to Auckland Airport without any problems.
Since arriving home, she has also been in contact with Rob to say thank you.
"We felt so safe in Te Kauwhata, being cared for by you guys checking in on us regularly.
We were so lucky having you around and, in a situation like this, it isn't something to be taken for granted. Thank you so much."
Lina hopes that in the future she can come back to "your beautiful country".
Marlies says several of the tourists were from Germany and they have all kept in touch. They call themselves 'the stranded ones' and plan to meet up next year to go camping somewhere in Germany.
They are also planning on making a small donation to the Te Kauwhata Rugby Club and church, as soon as they can