$1000 Uber ride from Auckland to Wellingron saves the day
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An American couple's business trip to New Zealand was saved by a "hero" Uber driver who drove them more than 650km from Auckland to Wellington.
Their trip across the country in the midst of Cyclone Debbie's havoc cost $1033, but Lisa Kottke said the driver earned every cent by driving nine hours straight, to an appointment they couldn't miss.
Lisa and her husband Matt had flown 20 hours to reach New Zealand from Minneapolis, for a business meeting in Wellington.
She sells software for medical and dental businesses.
The meeting could only be held within a specific three-hour window, because several people needed to be at the meeting.
But when the Kottkes landed in Auckland on March 29, they discovered the rain and fog from Cyclone Debbie had grounded all Wellington flights.
Distraught, they began to check buses, trains, taxis, or flights to other airports.
Nothing would work, until they tried Uber about midnight.
That was when they met Harpal Kang, who agreed to drive them all the way to Wellington despite the continuing fierce weather conditions.
Matt Kottke sat in the front to try to help navigate.
Medical and dental software vendor Lisa Kottke, her husband Matt, and "hero" Uber driver Harpal Kang who drove them from Auckland to Wellington over nine and a half hours for an urgent meeting after flights were cancelled due to Cyclone Debbie on March 29. Photo / Supplied
"It was still raining," Lisa Kottke said.
"Some of the roads were flooded and closed to one lane, which we had to navigate through.
"In order to get me to my meeting on time he was trying to go as fast as he safely could, but the weather was not behaving.
"I wouldn't say scary, but it was a challenging environment for him to drive."
It took nine and a half hours, but they eventually made it safe and sound.
Kottke said she was "giddy" to have made it into the capital city with 30 minutes to spare before the meeting.
"I don't even know if I can have words for how grateful I was. After travelling that far, and being in such a panic about whether I'd even make it to this appointment.
"It really speaks to this young man and his character.
"All New Zealanders as well, the rest of the time I was there I was treated with such kindness, it was amazing."
Kottke said it was particularly amazing that Kang took the job knowing he couldn't pick up any passengers in Wellington, as his contract with Uber only applied to the Auckland area.
In the end, Kang took a nap, then drove back.
It cost the Kottkes $1033, but Lisa said it was worth every cent.
"The cost for this was actually half what it would have cost me for a taxi or a car service, and I couldn't even find somebody willing to take me at that time of the day."
Harpal Kang said he was stunned to receive the unusual request when he was already at the end of his shift, but he knew he needed to help.
"I thought I would take one last job. But when I talked to them, they said, 'We need to go to Wellington, can you drive all night?'
"I was just shocked."
Wind and rain hammered the car throughout the entire journey.
"All the way it was raining, and roads were being closed due to flooding.
"It was also really windy, so a battle the whole way."
Before this, his longest trip as an Uber driver had been 60km.
"This was unbelievable. I've worked in this industry 15 years, nothing like this."
Kang and the Kottkes' are now friends on Facebook.
Lisa's Kottkes promised that the next time the Kottkes' are in Auckland, they'd take Kang out for dinner.