Dan Lake: My worst experience ever with a tour guide as travel editor

It was like an episode of Fawlty Towers.
It was like an episode of Fawlty Towers. Photo credit: Newshub

OPINION: It was only a few years ago when travel was not only frequent but accessible, encouraged and affordable.

How times have changed. Now getting to another city in Aotearoa feels like the equivalent to getting to London in 2019.

While international travel has stopped for now, I still have plenty of amazing memories from places I've been and things I've done as travel editor.

Most of the time trips go exactly to plan, but sometimes they don't, and it's often those stories you share with your friends when you arrive home.

This is one of those stories.  

I've never been a fan of writing about bad experiences. I understand that if something goes wrong it's often the fault of one or two people. Usually I'll just provide honest feedback and be on my way, knowing that soon after I'll be laughing about whatever unfortunate things had taken place.

This brings us to a chilly morning in late spring in a town that shall remain anonymous. It's a New Zealand town, but if I say which one, it wouldn't take someone long to work out who and where was involved and I don't want that.

I was visiting an area to write a feature article about a new attraction which had just opened up for tourists. I had brought along a friend and we were going to be in town for a couple of days.

Before visiting the new attraction, we joined a tour being run by a local operator.

After we got "comfortable" in their van, it was time to hit the road and see the amazing sights of this thriving rural settlement.

"Could we stop and get a coffee and some water?" my friend asked as we sped like a Concorde down the highway.

"I've never really understood people who drink coffee, I don't get the point. I mean, it doesn't taste nice," the driver responded.

"That's a no," I said under my breath.

We had dressed for the cold conditions and had a few layers on, not expecting to be driving in a mobile kiln. The tiny gaps in the windows became our lifeline and we were like dogs trying to get our heads out the window.

Tell me how I'm supposed to breathe with no air....
Tell me how I'm supposed to breathe with no air.... Photo credit: Getty Images

Our requests for the heating to be turned down or for some fresh air were just met with silence, a response which we became very familiar with by the end of the day.

It's worth also pointing out we didn't actually know where we were going, and when we got there (a very nice walking location), the doors to the van opened and our guide said they would see us soon.

So we did what we assumed we had been taken there to do, some walking.

As we departed attraction number one and reboarded the kiln, my friend asked how far we had to travel to our next destination as she was needing the bathroom.

"It's just up the road," our guide replied, so it was no big deal.

I took that as my cue to find out what the plans were for the rest of the morning, for example, how long the tour went for.

"However long it takes," our guide replied.

Forty-five minutes later we arrived at our second destination and my friend swiftly ran for the toilets.

The drive between locations, while long, did take us past some amazing photo opportunities. There were some outstanding historical buildings and sites. I say it took us past these photo opportunities intentionally, as we didn't stop.

There were three places however where the tour did slow down and photos were able to be taken. These appeared to be our guide's favourite spots in all of the district.

They were Bunnings Warehouse, the local RSA and a farm.

Dan Lake: My worst experience ever with a tour guide as travel editor
Photo credit: Newshub

As we moved on from the hardware section of the minitropolis, our guide informed us they were actually meant to be attending their best mate's funeral which was taking place at the same time as our tour.

It was because of our tour that the guide was not there to say farewell to their best mate.

"He was always there for me. Pity I can't be there for him," they said as we tried to work out what on earth was happening, or where Jono and Ben were going to pop up from.

As the guide finished their story, we turned at a set of traffic lights and the van slowed down. There it was, the funeral for our guide's best friend taking place right in front of our eyes. People cried and mourned. We just wanted the day to end.

"Yeah, pity I can't be there for him," they said again as the coffin was loaded into the hearse and we slowly drove off.

Finally, we turned around for the final stretch back to our accommodation.

Once we had pulled up at the hotel and got out of the van, its door slammed shut, and with that our tour had finally come to an end.  

My friend and I looked at each other in disbelief. There were no words.

We had no idea what had just happened, but we knew it would be an experience we would never forget.

Dan Lake is Newshub's Travel Editor.