An introduction to New Zealand biodiversity with Dr. Victoria Metcalf

In the fortnight that I’ve been back in Toronto, I’ve been catching up with my online work now that I’m back on the rapid & reliable download side of the digital divide, and also digesting and reflecting on my pretty epic four-month trip.

While visiting YorkU’s international partner,  Monash University, Melbourne, Australia, for four weeks, I took a three-day trip to New Zealand, to meet a colleague, Dr. Vic Metcalfe, who I first got to know through social media, as a fellow woman in STEM. I asked Vic if a weekend trip was a crazy idea, and she explained that lots of New Zealanders head to Melbourne and Sydney for a long weekend.

So, I headed to Christchurch, where the evidence of the recent deadly earthquakes could be seen in the condemned buildings & wide swathes of green space. I was very excited to be introduced to the amazing biodiversity of a very distant part of the world that I have read and written about, but never experienced in an immersive way by an expert scientist 👩🏼‍🔬 and science communicator. I also knew, from twitter, that  Vic’s dad, Lawrie, who, sadly, died last year, was one of New Zealand’s foremost botanists and horticulturalists. I was excited to learn more about his books.

I arrived in Christchurch with a list of species that I hoped to see, and I spent the entire time fangirling over the biodiversity. Here’s some of the highlights.

Birds - kea, takahe and kiwi

Yes, I was excited about the indigenous plants that are only found in New Zealand, but I was based in the EGI in Oxford, where I learned about the birds. Many of the flightless birds are extinct while others are rare and endangered, so I knew that I would be seeing some birds in captivity, in order to catch a glimpse. BUT, Vic took us to Arthur’s Pass to see the famous alpine parrot, the kea, star of many YouTube videos.


Vegetation - alpine meadows, Nothofagus and Tree Ferns

My next Wikipedia page — for Lawrie Metcalfe

Learning about Victoria’s father and his work was a real privilege.

Lawrie was an early advocate for the importance of indigenous flora. The herbarium at Christchurch Botanic Garden is named after him.