Category: Travel

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!

A little 2018 review

A little 2018 review

Happy New Year! Before kicking off the 2019 adventures, I thought I’d look back on 2018 a little.

The start of last year’s review also fits here really well: 2018, it’s been a crazy year!


We started the year in Germany with our first home trip. Back in Shanghai, I was pleasantly surprised by the arrival of strawberry season. We also experienced our first Shanghai winter and Thorben volunteered for a crochet charity. Our first trip of 2018 took us to cold and beautiful Harbin, where we almost froze but were amazed by the incredible snow and ice sculptures.


For our first Chinese New Year we took a much anticipated trip to Australia! It was a fantastic vacation, I can’t really decide which part was my favorite: Snuggling a koala, exploring Kangaroo Island or maybe the outback?


At the beginning of March we returned from Australia, me with a little souvenir: pneumonia. I spent most of the month at home on the couch recovering.


Thankfully, I recovered in time for spring and got to see many beautiful flowers and blossoms in Shanghai. For Thorben’s birthday, we took a trip to Tokyo. We’d missed most of the cherry blossoms there but took comfort in the awesome food. The eating continued throughout the month at our first Shanghai Restaurant Week. I also got a little crafty at a screen printing class hosted by GGI, while Thorben visited Vietnam for his department outing.


Our second trip within China that year was to Nanjing over Labor day. In May, we also celebrated my birthday together with our first visitors, Thorben’s parents, with whom we also took a bike tour around Shanghai. Thorben started a new hobby in 2018 – archery tag – and played in a league in May.


In June, my parents came to visit and we checked out a few of the Shanghai sights: M50, Jing’An Temple, Yu Garden and some parks. I also visited another new place in China, Moganshan, with my department for our team outing. My sisters had a joint birthday party in the middle of the month, so I took a trip to Germany to surprise them.


The next trip to Germany, this time a business trip, was just a few weeks later. 10 days for me, 2 weeks for Thorben, who also went to Inner Mongolia for work that month.


Our summer 2018 was filled with friends and food. The China explorations continued with a group trip to Moganshan, where Thorben and many of our friends competed in an obstacle race (I was only along for the ride).


Basically, the whole month of September was about food and travel. It started with a weekend in Taipei, where Jana, Ellie and I ate our way through the city. Back in Shanghai, it was restaurant week again and we got 2 more visitors, my little sister and her boyfriend. Together, we went to Luoyang, Xi’An, Chengdu and Leshan. Besides two great food tours, seeing the pandas was definitely a highlight of the trip!


In October, we used Golden Week to travel some more: Thorben went to Tibet and hiked all the way to the Everest base camp, while I went to visit my American family in Utah, Arizona and California. The US marked my 4th continent visited that year (and gave me gold status for flying way too much). After a few weeks back in Shanghai, I took another trip to Taipei to celebrate Pride.


After my third Germany trip at the beginning of the month, the rest of the month was spent in Shanghai. I got a beautiful view of Shanghai from above, we went to a great event called Chi Fan for Charity and celebrated Thanksgiving. Thorben grew a (truly terrible) mustache for Movember and played in another archery league.


Ellie came to visit from Taipei for a long weekend at the end of November/beginning of December and helped me finish baking the final batch of Christmas Cookies. To get even more into the Christmas spirit, a friend and I made our own Christmas sweaters! Finally, Thorben and I spent the last 2 weeks of 2018 in Germany and were pretty busy with 2 weddings, 2 birthdays, visiting friends and family and celebrating Christmas!

And that was 2018! I can’t wait for more trips, Shanghai adventures, visitors and dinner parties in 2019 🙂