The man behind the DinoFest event at Sydenham Botanic Park next week has been fascinated by dinosaurs since childhood.
“I guess when I was a kid, I used to go fossil hunting in the UK, I had an interest in reptiles, dinosaurs from a young age and never really grew out of it,” says Laurence Taylor.
The idea to create a large sized dinosaur costume show was sparked when he moved to New Zealand with his wife and daughters, and saw the New Zealand bush.
“We were on a road trip to the South Island along one of the glacial valleys; steep slopes covered in tree ferns and it felt pre-historic – it was like driving in the Jurassic period and when you drove around a corner, you might bump into a T Rex.”
His first dinosaur event was at the Auckland Botanic Gardens’ Gondwana Arboretum, where Laurence volunteers.
“I suggested that we do a dinosaur event in that particular area of the garden and it kind of grew from there.”
Gondwana was the land mass that in the ages of the dinosaurs connected present-day South America, Africa, Arabia, Madagascar, India, Australia, New Zealand and Antarctica.
The history of the ancient connections is followed today in the shared plant families, the ancient conifers cycads and ferns – and the fossil record.
“We have deliberately chosen the botanic park because the pine trees that they have got there and some of the cycads,” says Laurence.
“The conifers haven’t changed much, neither have the ferns.
“New Zealand takes these beautiful amazing plants for granted because you see them all the time, but when you come over from Europe and you are presented with this amazing bush it does feel like you kind of have gone back in time.”
The DinoFest show at the Sydenham Botanic Park held over January 25-28 will be educational and focus mainly on dinosaurs whose fossils have been found in the Hawkes Bay region, says Laurence.
Ankylosaurus, a VW beetle sized horned and armoured dinosaur from the Cretaceous period that could weigh up to eight tonnes, Titanosaur, the last of the long-necked herbivores that grew up to 25m long.
An Allosaur that only experts can distinguish from Tyrannosaurus Rex.
There is a T Rex in the show and has a literal toe hold claim as an ancient New Zealand resident.
“T Rex, Tyranosaurus is a North American dinosaur, not Gondwana,” says Laurence.
“But in 2004 they found a fossil toe bone on the Chathams very similar, or identical to a T Rex fossil.
“It’s very difficult to do a dinosaur event for kids without a T Rex, but there was a two legged meat-eating dinosaur stalking round Gondwana many, many years ago.”
New Zealand dinosaurs were confirmed in Hawke’s Bay by the discoveries of amateur palaeontologist Joan Wiffen.
“There are a surprising number of fossils in New Zealand, 13,000 species, a lot marine fossils,” says Laurence.
“Vegetation covers New Zealand, there a small population and not that many people out looking for dinosaur fossils, but they were here.”
The show is educational in the sense it is using the dinosaurs as an opportunity to engage with the plants at the Sydenham Botanic Park, the ancient vegetation that the dinosaurs were nesting in, hiding in and walking beneath.
“It is a great park which they are developing, I hope the event is successful and we can make a contribution,” says Laurence.