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I used Connections to see New Zealand because I didn't have very long in the country and wanted to fit in as much as possible and because I wanted a tour that didn't involve camping.
**What is Connections?**
Connections runs trips all across Australia and New Zealand. These vary in length and often the company has several shorter trips which they combine to make up one long trip. The problem with this is that you could join a tour where everyone already knows each other or find that the people you get on with best leave half way through your tour.
Travel is by coach which means that the group size can be very big, and therefore it is difficult to get to know everyone.
Connections doesn't charge a supplement for travelling on your own which is great which means that many people are solo travellers. The age range is 18 to 35 but most people tend to be in their early 20s I found. This does create a slightly party atmosphere but unlike Contiki (from what I've been told I've never used them), the tour didn't seem to revolve around drinking until all hours and then staggering back to the hotel/hostel.
** How does it work?**
Each tour is run by a driver/guide and a guide/cook. The driver will give you information and tips throughout the tour and be responsible for all the driving. The guide/cook also is a good source of information and does all the cooking at dinner time. The two I had were good fun and got on really well with each other but they were quite elusive and you didn't see much of them once you got to your destination each night.
The tours can cater up to about 40 people or as many a coach can seat. This in my view is far too many people to try and please. It also means that little groups form and you only really get to know the people that you hang about with it. It seems quite impersonal at times and is a bit like going on a school trip. The groups can be international but most seemed to be Brits.
Foodwise - breakfast and dinner is provided. Breakfast is set out for you each morning but it's self service (a mix of cereals and rolls). Dinner is a three course meal that is cooked by your guide/cook. You have to wash up and clean up afterwards. If you have any dietary requirements let Connections know before you travel and remind your guide/cook once the tour starts. They do their best to cater to different diets (within reason obviously). Lunch you buy yourself from wherever you happen to be at the time.
Accommodation is normally in hostels/budget hotels with four to a room. The rooms are single sex unless you specifically state that you're travelling with a partner etc. You can choose your own group to share a room with and generally everyone sticks to the same groups throughout the tour which means you get to know 3 other people very well. The standard of accommodation was generally good. We even had our own hot tub in one place!
You travel around by coach and there is a fixed timescale which does not vary. The driver makes it very clear that if you're not where you're meant to be at a certain time, then you're responsible for getting yourself to the next destination. As New Zealand is a small country, none of the days consisted of very long drives, but most people read, slept, chatted etc for entertainment on the coach.
** How organised is organised?**
Connections is an organised tour as the name suggests. Before you leave, you'll receive an itinerary of the places where you'll be staying and all contact details for these places (something my parents loved!). It means that you know where you'll be staying each night before you even leave the UK.
A normal day would consist of some driving and then there would be the opportunity to do a range of activities depending on the location. There was a folder that contained all the possible activities that you could sign yourself up for and this would be passed around the coach and you could sign yourself up to those you liked. These all cost extra. However, if you did not want to do any of the activities, you were often stuck having to wait for the rest of the group wherever it may be. I didn't really like this. For example, a lot of people went whale watching and I didn't so I had to spend 3 hrs entertaining myself in a very small town.
There isn't the opportunity to suggest ideas or do your own thing really, but then again, it is an organised tour. I did feel that it was a little too strict and that the guides were in robot mode of what needed to be done when.
**Where did I go?**
I travelled from Auckland to Christchurch with Connections. Personally, I much preferred the south island to the north. We had 4 nights in Queenstown which for me was fantastic because I had been travelling for about 5 weeks by that point (not all in New Zealand) and was in need of a longer stay somewhere.
Queenstown is absolutely wonderful. The scenery, the pace of life, everything. But I'll save that for another review.
An absolute highlight for me was the glacier hike of Fox Glacier. I had opted to do the heli-hike where you get flown to the top of the glacier and walk back down, but due to weather conditions the helicopter part of this was cancelled. Despite this, it was excellent.
**Things to note**
The schedule is very set and you do need to listen to what you're told.
You will need extra money for lunch and any activites which you do (they do try and sell these to you as well).
Overall, I would recommend Connections if you wanted to see a lot in a short space of time and if you were travelling on your own. But I would say to bear in mind that it is a tour, it is led (not in the style of someone waving an umbrella in front of you that you all walk behind) and that the group size can be large.
It is also pretty expensive but comparable to other tour prices. Mine was about £1000 for 13 days.
Connections are one of the many tour companies dealing with tours for those travelling and/or on gap years.
I travelled with Connections in Australia in April/May this year. My tour was the Beach and Bush tour taking us from Sydney to Cairns with an internal flight (at extra cost) to Alice Springs. The whole trip was 19 days.
Connections have several starting points that they pick up from. There tends to be two, one budget and one a big higher range, for our tour one was a hostel and the other a travel lodge. The pick up was all one time and we were greated by the tour guide before all getting on board for the journey.
We had a tour guide and a driver and this worked well - although I'm not going to say much on either of these. The first journey was a very long one so we all had to do introductions - great and worth doing with a huge coach of people as you'll then remember at least some of the names. We then played some team games up and down the coach, passed the time and were fun too.
The accommodation was all in hotels on the East Coast the only downside to this was that it was single sex. I thought it was as stated in the brochure but at one point myself and my boyfriend were thinking of travelling with another couple and were told we'd be able to all 4 of us stop together, this wouldn't have been the case. The rooms worked well though and you tended to stay with the same people so build up good friendships with them. The accommodation in the outback was tents - but with no electricity (as we'd had on the coast) here our tour guide let us have mixed sex tents. This view on sharing with opposite sex depends on the tour guide (I must admit our guide in the outback was sooo much better).
There weren't many included activities but plenty that you could opt to do. There wasn't any food included really, most of it was to be bought yourself, can work out well but at times it's nice to spend time with the group.
As the group was quite large it contained a wide age range of people, the youngest being 18 and the oldest late 30's. You could clearly see the immaturity in the 18 year olds - very annoying!
The connections tour that I did was one part of a very long tour around the whole of Australia. As such, some people only did the Sydney to Cairns part, some picked the tour up in Alice Springs and just did that part, some were travelling from Sydney all the way to Darwin etc.
This certainly wasn't one of the best companies that I've travelled with but a large part of it was due to the tour guide on the coast but I enjoyed it all the same and would consider going with them again.