Author: marina

New Zealand – 2 weeks on the South Island (Part II)

New Zealand – 2 weeks on the South Island (Part II)

And finally, the last part of our New Zealand trip: week 3.

Day 15: On the way to Milford Sound

On our first day in Fjordland National park, we drove to Milford Sound, with many beautiful spots on the way. We stopped at a mirror lake, walked through an enchanted forest, hiked up Key Summit, saw another waterfall … and all of that before getting to the main attraction.

Milford Sound was stunning as well with its tall cliffs and peaks, waterfalls and just beautiful scenery. We even saw some seals!

Day 16: Beautiful Doubtful Sound

The next day, we had booked another boat trip to Doubtful Sound. Just getting there was again really beautiful. We first took a boat over a lake, then a bus over a pass and then finally the boat trip through the sound. It was raining a bit and the low clouds and mist just made the place more mysterious. I’m really glad we did both sounds, the experiences were different and both so stunning. Pictures (at least my phone pictures) really don’t do it justice.

Day 17: Hello again, Queenstown

On our way to Twizel, we stopped in Queenstown again. That gave us the chance to go to a restaurant which was fully booked the week before (and lunch was so good!), buy some chocolate and get more lake views. The next stop was in a cute little tourist town called Arrowtown, where we walked around for a bit.

Day 18: Why so shy, Mount Cook?

Day 18 was another day of hiking. We did both the Kea Point Track and the Hooker Valley track close to Mount Cook. We got some stunning views again, only the peak of Mount Cook was hiding in the clouds.

On the way back, the clouds cleared up and we stopped at a viewpoint with fantastic views over Lake Pukaki.

To make the most out of the beautiful summer weather, Thorben made us some awesome burgers on the grill.

Day 19: Around Lake Tekapo

The second lake close to Mount Cook is Lake Tekapo and it has the same stunning color as Lake Pukaki. We saw it from a view point we drove to, again from above when we hiked to Mount John Observatory and up close from the Church of the Good Shepard.

On the way back to the Airbnb, we picked up some local salmon which Thorben grilled – it was delicious with a sour cream dip, mashed potatoes and tomato salad 🙂

Day 20: An afternoon in Christchurch

Before catching our evening flight to Auckland, we spend a few hours in Christchurch. We wandered around the Botanical Garden and stopped to smell the roses in their beautiful rose garden.

After checking out the Canterbury museum, we walked around downtown. The cathedral gave us a pretty good idea how devastating the earthquake must have been 10 years ago.

Day 21: Back to the North

Our final day in New Zealand was spent in the North again. In the morning, we did a cool walking tour with Liz from Aucky Walky and learned about Auckland, its history and people. After a fish and chips lunch, we walked along the harbor front before headed to Giapo, an ice cream store invented to be instagrammed.

Sadly, we had to fly back to Shanghai that night. What an epic trip – I think New Zealand is of the best places we’ve ever visited. I hope we can make it back again, I need at least another 3 weeks!

New Zealand – 2 weeks on the South Island (Part I)

New Zealand – 2 weeks on the South Island (Part I)

Here is the next part of our New Zealand adventure. This was the first out of 2 weeks on the South Island:

Day 7: A ferry ride and some scenic lookouts

After 3 and a half hours on the ferry, we arrived on the South Island. The drive to our next stop Marahau at the edge of Abel Tasman National Park gave us a preview of how beautiful it was going to be. We had some amazing views on the way and also hiked up Cullen Point Lookout.

Day 8: The Abel Tasman Coastal Track

Another day of hiking, but thankfully it wasn’t so steep today. After checking out Split Apple Rock in the morning, we took a water taxi to Anchorage Bay and hiked the last/first part of the Abel Tasman Coastal Track. Rain forest, beaches, bays, the views were so beautiful!

Day 9: Exploring Golden Bay

We spent our second day in Abel Tasman driving further north to explore the Golden Bay Area. We first hiked to Wainui falls, another beautiful waterfall, and then drove all the way up to Wharariki Beach. The hike to the beach was beautiful, as was the beach itself. We saw some cool rock formations similar to the ones at Australia’s Great Ocean Road and a couple young seals.

We finished the day with a barbecue on the deck of our AirBnB, overlooking the ocean. Summer is the best.

Day 10: Down the West Coast

On day 10 we did our longest drive, from Marahau all the way to Franz Joseph. One great sight on the way are the Pancake Rocks and Blowholes. Nature is really incredible.

Our Airbnb was half an hour away from Franz Joseph in the middle of nowhere. I’ve never seen so many stars in my whole life! The Milky Way is really beautiful. Pictures from Thorben’s star photo shoot will follow 🙂

Day 11: Glacier Country

In the morning, we did a short hike to see Franz Joseph Glacier. It was pretty shocking seeing all the signs with “in 1950 the glacier ended here” when you could barely make out the glacier in the distance … This is the closest we could get to it, anything else needs to be done by helicopter.

After a short detour to a lookout at Fox glacier, we wanted to go see the glacier from above and then jump towards it. Sadly, our skydive was cancelled due to bad weather (read: clouds).

Day 12: Road to Wanaka

During the drive to Wanaka, we got some rain for the first time. After lunch, Tammy and Felix did a brewery tour, while Thorben and I braved the drizzle to go see the Wanaka tree, New Zealand’s most photographed tree. It’s quite cool, just a pretty tree growing in a lake.

In the evening, the weather got better, so Thorben and I could sit outside for our Valentine’s Day dinner and stroll along the lake afterwards.

Day 13: My favorite hike of the trip

The weather was great again the next day … so we hiked! Tammy and Felix chose Roy’s Peak, but after my knee stopped cooperating earlier in the trip, Thorben and I opted for a less steep hike. We did the diamond lake trail up Rocky Mountain. It’s a beautiful loop trail with around 500m altitude change. I think we made the right choice because it was really quiet, the views were amazing …

… and we even had the peak all to ourselves (after the people, who took this picture left).

Afterwards, we went to see the Wanaka tree again, in much better weather.  We stopped for some ice cream and drinks in town and then drove to Queenstown, our next stop.

Day 14: Kiwis! And Burgers! And Skydiving!

We only had a day in Queenstown, but definitely made the most of it. In the morning, Thorben and I went to the Kiwi Birdlife Park. It was a really cool experience! We watched the conservation show with some native and introduces species and then got to see many native birds, including 2 kiwis. They are really cool and much bigger than I imagined.

For lunch, we went to the famous Fergburger to see what the hype is all about. The wait to order was about 10 minutes, plus another 15 minutes for our food. The burger was really good, I thought (maybe not good enough to wait any longer), and the lake view we chose for our to-go lunch made it even better.

In the afternoon, we jumped out of a plane. Have I mentioned it was insane?

… and that was week 2 of our trip! Tammy had to fly back to Shanghai that day, so for the drive to Manapouri, there were only 3 of us left.

New Zealand – 1 week on the North Island

New Zealand – 1 week on the North Island

It’s about time to start recounting our amazing trip to New Zealand! In total, we spent 3 weeks, drove around 4,300 km and saw a lot of both islands. This is how we spent our first week in the north.

Day 1: Looking for Hobbits

Since we arrived at Auckland in the evening on Saturday, I’m counting Sunday as our first day in New Zealand. On day 0 we met our travel buddies Felix and Tammy at the airport, picked up our rental – Tom, the Toyota – and just drove to our hotel close by.

In the morning, we stopped for a relaxed brunch in a lovely garden cafe on our way to Hobbiton. We did a tour there at noon, since you can only visit with a guided tour. I was afraid it would be super overrun with people and all my pictures would have other tourists in it. They did a good job of organizing it and it didn’t feel rushed. We had plenty of time to wander around and take lots of tourist-free pictures – well, one still snuck in there 😉 Hobbiton is super cute, they put so much attention into the little details that make it look like someone will come out of the hobbit holes at any minute.

After Hobbiton, we stopped at Sanctuary Mountain, wandered through the forest, and saw some native birds. From here, we continued on to our next destination Waitomo.

Day 2: Exploring caves and chasing waterfalls

Waitomo is famous for the caves they have and the caves are famous for the glowworms. Thorben and I opted to do a package with 3 caves and saw the Waitomo glowworm cave, Aranui cave and Ruakuri cave.

We learned a lot about the glowworms, for example they aren’t actually worms but maggots and it’s their poop that is fluorescent to attract insects they can eat. When they catch something in the long sticky lines, they reel it up, bite it in the head, vomit inside and when everything has turned to mush, they drink it up like a smoothie. Lovely little creatures 😉 but still very pretty to see! The caves were really cool as well, with lots of different types of formations and colors.

After the caves, we took a little detour to see the Marokopa Falls, which some say is the most beautiful waterfall in New Zealand. It definitely is amazing!

And here is a picture with the whole crew:

After that we drove to Rotorua and had a great dinner in Eat Street.

Day 3: Thermal Wonders

The main thing on my list for Rotorua was Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland. The geyser they have, Lady Knox, erupts every day at 10, or is tricked into erupting by putting a bit of soap in it to break the surface tension.

After seeing the erruption, we headed into the main part and walked all the trails they had inside. The place is really insane, there are so many colors and just as many bad smells 😉 It really doesn’t look like something out of this world!

Our final stop was at the mud pools, where lots of mud is bubbling and forming little and big bubbles and splatters. I found it quite entertaining to watch.

In the evening, we did a treetop walk in the redwood forest. They have 22 suspension bridges between the trees and everything is illuminated by beautiful light installations. It’s pretty magical.

Day 4: Driving to Tongariro

On our fourth day, we drove from Rotorua to Tongariro National Park. The trip was broken up by a few stops in and around Taupo. We had a look at the Huka Falls and then enjoyed the honey tastings and ice cream at the Huka Honey Hive. In Taupo, we almost got blown away by the wind at the lake and then ended up buying some hiking gear for the next day. And of course there are always pretty view points on the way.

Day 5: Conquering Mount Doom

19.4 kilometers and an altitude change of almost 1000 meters – that’s the Tongariro Alpine Crossing. The hike is super popular, maybe because Mt Tongariro is also knows as Mount Doom from Lord of the Rings. The hike is supposed to be one of the best day hikes in New Zealand.

The landscape during the hike was very diverse: Volcanic landscape and soil, craters, emerald lakes, rock formations and then on the other side you look down over fields and a lake and finally end up hiking the last few kilometers through a rainforest. Coming down the mountain, my knee was not happy with me. The last part of the hike I was limping like a 80 year old (that might be a lie – the 80 year olds we saw during the hike looked quite fit). But I made it!

Day 6: An afternoon in Wellington

The next day, my sore muscles got a few hours recovery time while driving from Tongariro to Wellington. In Wellington, we went straight up Mount Victoria to enjoy the sweeping views over the city.

We spent most of the afternoon at Te Papa, a really great museum. They had a fantastic exhibition on New Zealand involvement in World War I and also many more interesting ones on the history of settlement, the Pacific Islanders journeys, immigration, women’s rights, and also modern art.

Thorben and I then took the cable car up to the Botanic Garden and spent some time at the planetarium learning about the beginnings of the universe and the Southern night skies. Every Friday night there’s a night market in Wellington so we wandered around there and had Moroccan and Syrian food for dinner.

And that’s it! The next morning we got on a ferry and continued our New Zealand adventures on the South Island.

Skydiving in New Zealand: That time we jumped out of a perfectly good airplane

Skydiving in New Zealand: That time we jumped out of a perfectly good airplane

We got back from New Zealand on Sunday and there is so much to tell, pictures to be uploaded, memories to be shared … but first things first: We jumped out of a plane! Voluntarily! And we lived to tell about it 🙂

Originally, we wanted to jump over Fox Glacier about half way into our trip. After getting all suited up, doing the security briefing, practicing the right body shape for the jump – the banana – it got cancelled because it was too cloudy.

We didn’t take that as a bad sign and booked again a few days later in Queenstown. After signing all the documents and a 20 minute ride to the drop zone, I realized there were no clouds to take mercy on me that day 😉 My instructor introduced himself like this “Hi, I’m Paul and I’ll be throwing you out of an airplane today.” Words I like to hear … He was really great and reassuring, I never really felt like I might die, even though I have to admit I was a teeny tiny bit scared.

We booked the 12,000 feet jump, but because some people on our plane were doing a 4-way jump at 15,000, all of us got to go from there. Paul kept showing me the altitude on his watch and at 3,000 ft I felt like we should start already because it looked so high! The last few thousand feet we even used oxygen masks. Moving to the open door of a plane and leaning out is slightly terrifying. Did I mentioned that 4.5 KILOMETERS is really high? But since we’d already paid, there was no going back at that point 😉

The free fall took about a minute (or so they said – it felt like we were falling for a long time!) and after Paul opened the parachute I even got to steer it by myself for a bit. Overall, it was a really cool experience and I’m glad we got to tick it off the bucket list in such a beautiful place.

And here is the whole thing in pictures, including the amazing 360 degree views over Queenstown and the not so amazing views of me in my fetching skydiving outfit:

New Zealand bound

New Zealand bound

Chinese New Year is just around the corner – the year of the pig will start next week – and so is our next trip. We have 3 weeks off and together with 2 of our Shanghai friends we’ll rent a car and drive more than 3,000 km across NEW ZEALAND!

After landing in Auckland, we have 1 week on the North Island. Our plan is to do the following:

  • A tour of the Hobbiton Movie Set
  • See the glowworm caves in Waitomo
  • Explore Rotorua
  • Hike the Tongariro Crossing (if weather permits)
  • Visit Wellington

From Wellington we’ll take the ferry over to the South Island and there we’ll have another 2 weeks to …

  • Spend 2 days in Abel Tasman National Park
  • Drive down to Fox and Franz Joseph Glacier via the Pancake Rocks
  • Spend a day in Wanaka/Mt. Aspiring National Park
  • See Queenstown
  • Cruise both Milford and Doubtful Sound
  • Hike at Mount Cook, Lake Pukaki and Lake Tekapo
  • Drive to Christchurch to fly back to Auckland and spend 1 day there

We leave tomorrow night. I. Can’t. Wait.

Good bye Germany – Hello again Shanghai!

Good bye Germany – Hello again Shanghai!

After 5 weeks in Germany, I got back to Shanghai on Saturday. It was a crazy mix of work, vacation, friends & family visits and more work.

Let’s start at the beginning: The day I landed, I hosted a mini bachelorette party for my sister, we attended her wedding the next day and then 5 days later Thorben’s sister got married. We visited 2 new babies, had the first snow of the season, went to the office for a week, had 2 birthdays in our families, met friends for dinner, at the Christmas Market or for brunch, got out of an Escape room (my team was a minute faster then Thorben’s … just saying), had awesome breakfasts and meals with our families, celebrated Christmas, went to see Bohemian Rhapsody and a musical … and that was only during the 2 weeks in December.

In January, Thorben drove up to the North Sea to visit family for a few days, while I went to the office and hung out more with friends and family in the evenings. After catching up with some work at the office, I started an 8 day training course. We escaped from a Harry Potter themed escape room, just in time for Thorben to catch his flight to Shanghai the next day. Actually, we escaped after only 37 minutes, like the amazing wizards and witches we are 😉 LUMOS!

In the evenings, I took it a little easier in my final 2 weeks: My sister and I had a spa day and went to an ice hockey game (Mannheim won!), I met a few friends and former colleagues and finally had a good bye dinner with my family followed with a good bye Brezel breakfast with my mom.

And this is the trip in pictures. As always, I didn’t take enough because I was too busy having fun … and eating … and somehow acquiring so much stuff I needed 3 suitcases to fit everything. Oops.

See you soon, Germany!