So no pictures yet.
It occurs to me that I mentioned sleeping in a minivan, but our vehicle is so! much! more! than just a minivan. It's a Spaceship! During the day it drives like a typical minivan, except that it still feels totally wrong to be sitting in the driver's seat and finding that there's no steering wheel in front of me. When I get in the car I find myself trying to put my foot on the brake pedal as I do up my seatbelt. Weird. Anyway, the back seat faces forward during the day, but at night it rotates 180 degrees and the bed is set up inside. We have a tiny fridge and a pretty big food-and-storage area underneath the bed area. There's a light in the back so we can see and there's a DVD player and tiny screen so we can watch old episodes of "The Office" before we go to sleep. There's a small gas-powered stove for making quick meals, and it's fully stocked with all of the cooking and eating gear we would need.
Right now, during the New Zealand winter, it's a bit chilly to be sleeping in the van, but we rented the "winter warmer kit" which includes an extra duvet, a hot water bottle, Thermos, and an electric heater, so all we have to do is plug into a powered campsite and we're good to go. The camping parks here are beautifully laid out, with big clean kitchens and bathrooms. Some of them have heated lounges, TVs, laundry, and fireplaces, so the only time we've spent in the car is driving from point A to point B and sleeping. We've only had to use the gas stove once, and I have never been so happy in my life to cook! After eight months of ordering from menus, I am taking extreme pleasure in going to the grocery store, planning dishes, and cooking simple and innovatively tasty meals from familiar ingredients. Last week we ate an incredible salmon dinner after splurging on fresh fillets from the salmon farm, and I recently also did some pretty cool things with chick peas.
Right now we're in Milford Sound, and as we were approaching the area, BG was heard to exclaim, "I love fiords!" We drove up the steep, deeply curing alpine road amongst towering granite walls that were dusted with snow on top and yet also carpeted with moss and ferns at the bottom, waterfalls cascading down the sheer sides of them like a million glacial rivers. Last night we experienced our first New Zealand winter storm [EEK! A MOUSE JUST RAN BETWEEN BG'S FEET] complete with icy rain and gusts of wind that blew the raindrops sideways into the car door. Sleeping in a van which nearly got blown on its side (slight exaggeration, maybe) through the night was an interesting experience.
Photo Credit goes to Jack Chi, of Arcadia University in Auckland -- Milford Sound, Dwarfed by the Mitre Peak
Today we did a cruise of the Sound and saw fur seals lounging on a rock -- seals are weird looking creatures, have you ever noticed? We also stopped at the Milford Sound Deep Water Observatory and learned some pretty cool things about fiords and about Milford in particular. Because this is one of the rainiest, wettest places on earth, the fiords above Milford Sound almost always have waterfalls that run into the sound. These are obviously freshwater, which is lighter than seawater, and so there's almost always a layer of fresh water lying on top of the seawater. This fresh water acts as a sort of "filter", making the seawater darker and warmer than it would be at such a shallow depth. As a result, all softs of critters live at shallow depths in Milford Sound when they would normally be found much deeper. We actually could see the division between the layers of fresh water and sea water, like an oil and vinegar salad dressing in a glass jar. We saw different kinds of starfish, coral, fish, anemones, sea cucumbers, and shellfish. It was cool -- and cold.
We had back down the coast tomorrow with warnings of an impending snowstorm on our heels, but as cocky Canadians feel that it won't be as bad as they're making it out to be. We'll be careful until we get back to Queenstown, where we may or may not throw ourselves off a cliff. Wait for it!