The following article appeared in The Newcastle Herald on Tuesday March 30 2020:

Coronavirus forces wedding postponements in Wollombi but COVID-19 can’t derail one Sydney couple’s honeymoon

Krista Nicholas and Michael Kreltszheim had big plans for their May 2 wedding. There would be a church service, with up to 400 guests, and a reception, hosting 200 family and friends, before Mr and Mrs Kreltszheim jetted off to Europe on their honeymoon.

Then an uninvited guest gatecrashed their wedding dreams. Coronavirus.

As concerns about the COVID-19 pandemic spread and restrictions were put in place, the couple repeatedly reviewed their plans, culling their guest list and moving their wedding date forward.

Only coronavirus stayed one step ahead, trampling those plans, until finally the Sydney couple were worried that they would not be able to get married at this time.

“We were not going to get to do Plan D, so we came up with Plan E,” Krista Kreltszheim said.

The couple married on Saturday with just the pastor before them, and one friend each by their side.

The honeymoon also had to be drastically reconfigured at the last moment. The Kreltszheims booked into a cabin at Somewhere Unique, an accommodation venue on the fringe of Wollombi, for a three-night stay.

The married couple are in a luxurious cabin surrounded by bushland, with a sense of being removed from the cares of the world.

“We haven’t looked at the news in the past 24 hours, and we’re not planning to,” said Mrs Kreltszheim, after their first night at Somewhere Unique.

“It’s offering freedom,” her new husband added. “And it’s really good to know that after what Wollombi has gone through, we’re able to contribute to the local community.”

The Kreltszheims are bringing in money to a village that relies on tourists but has seen comparatively few visitors in recent times.

In late 2019 and into the new year, the threat of bushfires kept tourists away. As that threat subsided, Wollombi’s traders were hopeful of a rosier autumn. But coronavirus has dashed those hopes.

“It’s been a really tricky few weeks,” said Lieneka Cranch, the owner of one of the area’s popular wedding and accommodation venues, Mystwood Retreats. “We’re coming into our busiest wedding time.”

Having lost thousands of dollars in business due to the recent bushfires, Lienaka Cranch and her husband Simon Cranch are dealing with an even bigger financial blow. As we talked, she counted the list of weddings that had been postponed.

“I’m looking at 40 weddings we’ve had to postpone,” Lieneka Cranch said.

“We’re flailing, we’re just scrambling.

“We know we’re not alone, we’re one of many.”

Lieneka Cranch is hoping the business is eligible for a government stimulus package, but the Cranches are also desperately trying to help themselves. Mystwood Retreats is offering “isolation” accommodation packages.

On the weekend, four of the five self-contained cabins were occupied, with all the guests from Sydney, “wanting to come to a quiet place and bunker down”.

At Somewhere Unique, owners David Allwood and Murray Groves were looking forward to guest numbers climbing after the bushfires. Bookings had been above average for January and February, then, as Mr Allwood said, “we hit this wall”.

“I imagine April will be a disaster,” he said.

David Allwood said for his business, “all options are on the table at the moment”, including the possibility of renting out the two cabins, but “top of the list is to remain open”. Mr Allwood said as the Kreltszheims’ booking indicated, tourism and keeping a safe distance from others could coexist at Somewhere Unique.

“Wollombi is the home of social distancing and self-isolation,” he said.

But the village’s key attractions of restaurants and cafes are either shut or operating on reduced hours, offering a takeaway service.

“It’s amazing to drive down the main street; it’s a ghost town,” Mr Allwood said.

At the end of that street is a local institution, the Wollombi Tavern.

“It’s pretty devastating, I must admit,” said publican Chris Books.

Its bar has been shut since last Monday, with a little bit of takeaway trade.

“It was probably about 20 per cent of normal sales on the weekend, maybe less,” Mr Books said. The hardest aspect for Mr Books was the loss of work for his 15 staff members. “I just hope the government is as quick to open things as to close them,” he said.

In the main street is Noyce Brothers Wines’ cellar door. But with no one walking through those doors, Michael Noyce said the business would be relying on social media and telemarketing.

“We’ll get through this, but it’s going to be a long while,” Mr Noyce said, who was in self-isolation after an overseas holiday.

That is the refrain of local businesses; that they, and the village, “will get through this” – somehow.

But unlike other hard times, such as droughts and bushfires, David Allwood said, “with this, no one knows anything”.

“We’re making it up as we go along,” he said.

For the Kreltszheims, they will have a story to share at future wedding anniversaries, about how they got away from it all, with a honeymoon at Wollombi.

“I think we’ll be grateful that we were able to do this,” Krista Kreltszheim said.

“We know it’s a hard time for everyone.”

By Newcastle Herald reporter, Scott Bevan

For original article please click here.