Don’t expect any grizzles about Auckland’s public transport system when you speak with Geoff and Val Herbert, residents of Hibiscus Coast Village in Red Beach.
The couple, both aged 85, still drive but are also regular and enthusiastic users of buses, ferries and trains.
They were concerned that others in the retirement village, who, like them, are getting older and may eventually have to stop driving, were not confident on public transport and didn’t know much about Auckland Transport’s HOP card.
Although public transport is free for the over 65s (after 9am weekdays and all day weekends and public holidays), a HOP card is still needed to get on and off, loaded with a SuperGold public transport concession.
“Starting up trips on public transport was a way to get people to come with us on our excursions, and get them used to it,” Geoff says. “We also help them get the card sorted if need be.”
A maximum of eight residents, mostly aged in their 80s, go with the couple –“so we can keep an eye on them”, Geoff says.
The tours have become known in the village as ‘Hobbit HOP tours’ – “because we’re both very short,” Val explains.
So far the monthly journeys, which all start and end at the bus stop right outside the village in Red Beach Road, have included visiting Warkworth, lunch in Omaha, and sightseeing in Snells Beach. They have been out to Pukekohe, to Pine Harbour on the ferry, and around Auckland city on the Link bus route.
Their next trip, this week, will see the group heading to New Lynn.
Geoff and Val did a practice run for this recently, to make sure there were no hitches. It involved getting the bus from Silverdale to Constellation Drive, then to Westgate in Henderson for coffee. From there, the bus took them to New Lynn for lunch and they returned via a train to Britomart and bus back to the Coast. It took all day (9am-5pm) and was a fair workout for the HOP card, involving six bus transfers and a train ride.
“It’s much more of an adventure than driving,” Geoff says. “There are still so many routes we can do!”
Val and Geoff describe the public transport service as “impressive”.
“We do have the luxury of time, so if there’s the odd hold up it doesn’t really matter,” Geoff says. “We’ve had a few cancelled buses lately but we just find another way to go when that happens.”
Val says the group enjoys seeing all sorts of back roads on their excursions, often in places they haven’t been for years.
“They are now coming more for the trip itself, than HOP card practice,” Val says. “But I’m going to start a mini HOP tour where we just go to Ōrewa or Silverdale, for those who want to get to know the local buses and use the card.”