New Zealand is such a beautiful place! The people are very friendly. The entire country looks like Middle Earth.
I have been on other tours before, but this was my first Contiki tour, and it ran differently from other tour companies. There are different trips which overlap with each other on the tour; for example, the Big Tiki and Northern Explorer were on the tour first. I arrived two days later and joined everyone else then. Some people left in Christchurch while others joined the coach. In essence, the group you start with will not necessarily be the group you end with; people will leave and join throughout your time on tour.
Being from the US, I had a lot of sticker-shock while in New Zealand. Currently, the USD is stronger, but the prices are more expensive for what you get (e.g. food is about twice as much), so I felt that a lot of the optionals didn't have enough value for the money spent. With that said, the Me Times were still a lot of fun and absolutely made the trip.
Be prepared to spend a lot on the extras, however. I spent about $1400 for Me Times for 13 days.
One optional activity I would not at all recommend is the Milford Sound cruise. It was a 4 hour drive from Queenstown one way with only 1-2 hour cruise, and the scenery on the cruise is what you see on the coach riding around the island. Milford Sound is a pretty place, but I don't think it was worth the money to spend most of the day sitting on a bus. Other than that, the optionals were fantastic!
Overall, the accommodations were pretty nice. I had paid for a quad share, but most of the time there were 3 to a room. It felt pretty cramped because the rooms were made for 2 people, so having an extra bed meant shuffling sideways around some corners, but the beds were pretty comfortable, the rooms were clean, and there was adequate space for 3 girls getting ready in the morning.
The lodges on the other hand felt like I was back at summer camp. There were bunk beds and small showers, and there was no counter space at all. However, there was a total of 4 nights spent in lodges, so it wasn't a big deal overall.
In Franz Josef, the Rainforest Retreat was a major disappointment. The top bunk was pretty low, so I hit my head a couple times when I wasn't thinking about it. There was a lot of mold growing all over the bathroom, and the shower didn't have any temperature controls, you take whatever you get. There was an awesome spa pool there, so that was a plus!
Food-wise, I really enjoyed myself. I am a vegetarian, and I always had options at different places whether it was a vegetarian patty on a burger or a non-meat sauce on pasta, New Zealand is great at accommodating vegetarians without needing to eat salads the entire time.
I was lucky enough to have Soap and Ricky as my Contiki team. Soap worked very hard to make sure everyone had a good time and made everyone feel like a friend of his. There were a couple of times when Me Times were cancelled or room assignments got messed up, and Soap made sure everything worked out well in the end. He knows a lot of people around the country, and a lot of people know him, so he has ins to special requests and accommodations.
Ricky was a great driver. Never once did I feel uneasy about him being behind the wheel. I guess he was voted best New Zealand driver of 2014, and there was a reason he got that award.
I know this is cliché, but the best part about the trip was the group of people I went with. Everyone was very inviting and friendly and had a lot of fun. In the US, cliques are very popular and very strong, but on the tour, there were people who had groups of friends but never blocked anyone out. The majority of the group went out to clubs and bars each night, but never made others feel obligated to come if they didn't want to. I love the people I traveled with and I thank them for making my holiday absolutely unforgettable.
Even though there were some disappointing times on the trip and not everything ran perfectly smooth, the trip was still amazing and I whole-heartedly recommend it if you're up for a fast-paced, adventurous tour.