Almost 50 years ago, with £25 in his back pocket, John Anderson packed a mini bus with keen tourists and hit the road to explore Europe.

That spur-of-the-moment trip has since turned into the Contiki Travel empire and Mr Anderson has today been made a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit for his efforts.

"I'm chuffed, I really am, and the fact it coincides with the50th anniversary of Contiki is an amazing coincidence.

"When I look back at everything, I'm pretty excited about this, actually," he said.


Mr Anderson made that first trip when he was 23 and broke but with a burning desire to travel in Europe, although he had no means to do so.

Then an idea struck him - if he was able to get a group of like-minded travellers together in a mini-bus, he could drive them around while they paid for him to see the sights.

Mr Anderson is now 73, and more than 2.5 million people have taken Contiki tours through Europe, Asia, South America, North America, Australia, Egypt, Mexico and New Zealand.

Today, he is recognised in the New Year's honours list for his services to tourism.

"I know you're supposed to stay humble and so on, but I'm just so pleased," he said.

But he didn't stop with Contiki - as Mr Anderson said: "Once an entrepreneur, always an entrepreneur."

After selling Contiki in 1989, Mr Anderson and his wife, Alison, moved back to New Zealand and he became involved with the Auckland Rotary Club.

"Every year to raise funds, we've been selling Christmas cards, bottles of wine and Christmas cake. And they said, 'We need a big idea'."

And so Mr Anderson established the Ellerslie Flower Show, which has since become the largest gardening and outdoor event of its kind in the Southern Hemisphere.

He has written a book, Only Two Seats Left!, about the success of Contiki and his experiences during his years with the company.

He has also forged a successful career as a celebrity speaker telling his life story.

Mr Anderson now lives in Warkworth and has started a company catering for baby boomers with an itch to travel to South America.

"So those who had a good time with me when they were in their 20s, and who are now, of course, in their 40s or 50s, are travelling with me once again."