Tourists' Huka Lodge horror ride

By Andrew Koubaridis

The Danish family says Huka Lodge offered them a 50 per cent refund, only to withdraw the offer the next day and promise a lesser amount. Photo / Jim Eagles.
The Danish family says Huka Lodge offered them a 50 per cent refund, only to withdraw the offer the next day and promise a lesser amount. Photo / Jim Eagles.

A Danish family who have spent thousands of dollars visiting exclusive Huka Lodge were horrified the driver organised by the resort was arrested on the way back to Auckland - leaving the family stranded at a McDonald's.

Kare Schultz, his girlfriend Marianne Schnor and her four children, had spent four days at Huka Lodge in Taupo and were about halfway between Taupo and Hamilton when their driver was pulled over by police on Thursday.

The driver was arrested for giving false details and the family were told by an officer he had no driver's licence and was known to them.

Appalled, they contacted Huka Lodge and were told they could have a 50 per cent refund, only to have the offer withdrawn by the general manager the next day and a lesser amount promised.

Mr Schultz told the Weekend Herald the lodge's response was not what you would expect for such a high-end resort and left a bad impression on Kiwi tourism.

The resort's general manager last night said they were reviewing their links with the transport company and the driver involved refused to comment.

Mr Schultz and his family arrived in Auckland on July 15 and met the driver who would take them to Taupo at the airport. The transport had been arranged by the resort when they booked and cost $1000 each way.

"He was a jolly man, round 60 years old. ... My girlfriend thought he smelled of alcohol and he was driving quite fast. Sometimes he was hitting the white markings on the side of the road that make a noise. He was hitting them a lot."

They asked him to slow down because they were worried, particularly since it was the middle of the night.

After their stay they left the resort - after activities that included bungy jumping, sky diving and mountainbiking - and were picked up by the same driver who dropped them off.

"Everything was going well [until] a police car came past us. Then two minutes later the police officer waved us on to the side of the road. One of the officers came to talk to our driver and asked him for his licence and he said he had forgotten it."

They asked for his name and date of birth, and he told police a different name than the one he'd given the tourists.

"He must have tried to pretend he was someone he wasn't. Then one of the police came to us and we said, 'why have you stopped us?' and they said they recognised him."

The man was taken away by police and the vehicle seized, Mr Shultz said. A police officer took the family to Tokoroa where they waited at McDonald's for another driver.

Mr Schultz said they were told their driver had been "in trouble with the law" and had a history of driving offences.

He called Huka Lodge. "I said, 'Jesus what's going on, how could you employ a driver like this who doesn't have a licence and [has] been convicted for drink driving and God knows what?"'

They said they were sorry and, in an email exchange seen by the Weekend Herald , offered a 50 per cent reduction of their stay and all of the transfer costs, a total of $9597.

"Then comes the sorry part. [Yesterday] morning I get this other email ... He said, no they decided they would give $2000 [refund]. I thought it was crazy because it was a straightforward discussion we had and I thought 'these things happen' but you should check your drivers carefully because it's your responsibility and we booked it with you."

He plans to seek legal advice because he wants them to honour their original agreement. "I didn't say I wanted 50 per cent, that was the amount they came up with because what happened was terrible and wanted to make it up to us."

It spoilt the last day of their holiday and left him feeling cheated.

"If they were serious they would have serious drivers and nice cars. It was all run down despite the fact it cost $1000 each way and they send some guy without a licence."

When the second car arrived they understood it to be the driver's daughter - who did not impress them because she looked "punkish" with red black hair, piercings and tattoos.

"What I mind is the Huka Lodge promotes itself to be top end quality and charges $800 a night and they don't have their transportation under control. That's why we complained. It gives a bad impression on New Zealand that top end places will promise something then go back on it - it's plain dishonesty."

Huka Lodge general manager Louis de Bievre last night said he was aware there had been some "unpleasantness", but was seeking more details. He said it was a "hugely regrettable situation".

"I think their car was pulled over. It's a company that we use locally, because it's an outside contractor and we use quite a few companies for these type of transfers ..."

He said he had a number of transport companies on his books. "These are people who are in a position of trust I guess because we use them regularly over a number of years."

Asked if he would use them again he said: "I'm doing my research into the situation."

Mr de Bievre blamed miscommunication between a staff member and Mr Schultz for the disagreement. "I wasn't here ... Maybe one of the staff gave a full impression, think there was miscommunication ... We are trying to get to the bottom of what happened."

- NZ Herald

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