Whanganui import Peter Frost studies seabirds and misses the large skies of Africa. If he could travel, he tells Laurel Stowell in this week's Monday Q&A that he'd like to go to the Arctic, where the kūaka/bar-tailed godwits go to breed.
How long have you been in Whanganui, and where did you come from?
We have been here for 15 years, coming to Whanganui from Zimbabwe in 2006. We are now Aotearoa New Zealand citizens and settled.
What do you miss about Zimbabwe in particular and Africa in general?
The space: large skies, open landscapes, the wildlife and the people. You can take a person out of Africa, but you can't take a feeling for Africa out of a person, especially not if you grew up and lived there for, in my case, 58 years.
How have you occupied your time since arriving here?
It took a while to establish myself professionally, particularly as there is not much call for savannah ecologists in New Zealand. So I reverted to my initial interest as a biologist and returned to studying birds.
I currently do contract work for the Department of Conservation on seabirds, mostly involving analysing thousands of aerial photographs of seabird colonies to establish their size and success.
I've helped revive the regional branch of Birds New Zealand, and contribute to running Nature Talks, a bimonthly series of evening talks on natural history, environment and conservation. I dabble in various other projects.
What are your favourite places in this district?
Enjoying nature, I like places that are still relatively wild: Kai Iwi beach and the adjacent ocean; inland Whanganui, where there are still some places that feel reasonably wild; and local attractions such as Bushy Park, Waitahinga, Rotokawau Virginia Lake and Bason Botanic Garden, where I can find some African plants.
Which natural history elements do you find the most interesting, and why?
With 86 of the world's 359 seabird species breeding in New Zealand and its sub-Antarctic islands, of which 36 breed nowhere else, the country is widely regarded as the seabird capital of the world.
Unfortunately, we also have more threatened species than any other country. But because these species nest on often isolated and difficult-to-reach islands, and otherwise spend their life at sea, they are not as widely appreciated as they should be.
What is the achievement you have been most proud of so far?
I don't know if I would use the word "proud" or its implication of pride but making a successful transition to a new life in a very different country, and seeing our son become established professionally, is something in which Sue and I take great pleasure.
What is your favourite luxury meal?
I don't "do" luxury meals, but I enjoy the seafood chowder at the Rutland Arms. Beyond that, I look back at evenings in the African bush, sitting around a campfire, having a fry-up in an upturned ploughshare, what South Africans call a "skottle braai".
Where would you travel if you could go anywhere in a Covid-free world?
I've never been to the Arctic, where our kūaka or bar-tailed godwits breed. Alternatively, I'd love to go back to Namibia, especially the Namib desert. In both cases, as with being at sea, it is the sense of immense space that I find attractive.
What change would you most like to see in this district?
That is difficult, but I'd say greater environmental awareness: more support for those volunteer-led community groups working to restore our native fauna and flora—Bushy Park, Castlecliff Coast Care, Gordon Park Volunteers, and others; less divisiveness between town and country.
If you could have dinner with three famous people, who would they be and why did you choose them?
Charles Darwin, not only because of his contributions to our understanding of evolution, but because he was such an astute natural historian; David Attenborough, who has lived such an amazing life and done more than almost anyone to promote and popularise natural history and its diversity; and Jared Diamond, a medical physiologist, ornithologist, evolutionary biologist, biogeographer, anthropologist, author, and much else besides.
I had the pleasure of spending some time in his company around 40 years ago, when someone once described him as a genius, besides which he is also thoroughly unaffected.