Research/Conference trip to New Zealand: Christchurch

One of the best things about being a palaeontologist (even a student one) is getting to travel around the world to visit other museums, fossil sites and to attend conferences. At the moment I’m attending the 7th Southern Connections Congress 2013 in Dunedin on the South Island of New Zealand (planning to post about this at the end of the week). But since I was coming to New Zealand I thought I would include a trip to the Canterbury Museum in Christchurch to visit their collections and have a look around.

I’ve already mentioned in a previous post that the fossil record of penguins in Australia is somewhat fragmentary. There’s very few complete elements, let alone complete skeletons. New Zealand does not suffer this affliction too however, with some absolutely amazing specimens that I would kill for to have in Australia!

The image on the left shows the holotype of Pachydyptes simpsoni, these few, poorly preserved elements constitute the most complete fossil penguin found in Australia to date. The image on the right however shows the what can be found in New Zealand, this is the holotype specimen of Pygoscelis tyreei and is a almost complete post-cranial skeleton. Photos by E.M.G. Fitgerald (L) and the author (R).
The image on the left shows the holotype of Pachydyptes simpsoni, these few, poorly preserved elements constitute the most complete fossil penguin found in Australia to date. The image on the right however shows the what can be found in New Zealand, this is the holotype specimen of Pygoscelis tyreei and is an almost complete post-cranial skeleton. Photos by E.M.G. Fitzgerald (L) and the author (R).

So when I spent two days last week in the collections of the Canterbury Museum, I was like the proverbial kid in the candy shop. There were some amazing penguin specimens and some very interesting cetacean specimens too. I took as many photographs as possible in the short time I had to build up my reference collection. It’s a lovely museum with beautiful botanical gardens and park right beside it, well worth a visit if you’re ever in that part of the world.

I couldn’t write something about Christchurch without mentioning the earthquake that struck on the 23rd February 2011, killing almost 200 people and destroying most of the CBD. When you see things like that on the news it’s almost impossible to comprehend the extent of the devastation of an event of that magnitude. But it was certainly brought home to me during my few days in Christchurch, even nearly two years after the earthquake. The CBD is still fenced off and out-of-bounds to the public and the city itself is effectively one big construction site, I’ve never experienced anything quite like it.

This the CBD of Christchurch, fenced off to the public. It rea;;y is like something from a movie. Photo by the author.
This the CBD of Christchurch, fenced off to the public. It really is like something from a movie. Photo by the author.

I was even given a brief reminder that the tectonic activity underneath Christchurch continues unabated. I was sitting in my room at the hostel I was staying in on Saturday night (I’m a party animal, I know) when the whole building began to shake! Fortunately it was a relatively weak quake and only lasted for around 10 seconds, but for those 10 seconds my heart rate increased rather rapidly!

But the city is rebuilding, and the feeling I got from the people I spoke to in Christchurch is that it will be stronger than ever when it is rebuilt. It is certainly worth visiting.

A big thanks goes to Dr. Paul Scofield for granting me access to the collections in Canterbury Museum and for the lunchtime beers!

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