Ex - Deputy Head Girl's Adventures

In the past three years, Lorna has been bouncing between the Arctic and Antarctic like a frosty ping-pong ball.

At just 23 years of age, she seems young for such an advanced case of bi-polar but such is the world we live in nowadays.

The crowd she hangs with certainly don't seem to help things; scientists, helicopter pilots, Norwegians, the Governor General, they seem only to fuel her need for the extreme.

It all seems so unlikely for a Whangarei girl who used to work at Bethells Uniforms.

Deputy Head Girl at Whangarei Girls' High School in 2004, Lorna took her first trip south in 2005, enrolling at the University of Otago. A high achiever with a scientific disposition, she studied botany because she didn't want chemistry.

However, things really took a southward turn when she was awarded an Enderby Trust Scholarship on graduating at the end of 2007.

The award gave her passage aboard the Spirit of Enderby and sent her on a Sub-Antarctic expedition to Snares, Auckland and Campbell islands.

Having graduated as a botanist by this stage, Lorna was drawn, like a bee to honey, to the "mega herbs" of Campbell Island.

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Mega herbs, for the uninitiated, are giant, colourful flowering plants that grow only in the Sub-Antarctic islands.

Their large flowers and vibrant colours had Lorna drooling. "I was super-excited about seeing the mega herbs," she says. "They are just fabulous, fabulous organisms.

"That was my first experience and it really just blew me away and I knew that I had to do something to get back on those islands."

In 2008 she was accepted on to the Post Graduate Certificate of Antarctic Studies at Canterbury University and travelled to Scott Base in Antarctica.

Living for 10 days at a field camp on the Ross Ice Shelf, Lorna's group fashioned a kitchen and toilet out of ice, and slept in a polar tent.

After the course, Lorna was all prepped to work as a polar naturalist and guide on an Antarctic tourist ship, but after waiting most of 2009 the ship broke down and she was obliged to take up her old job at Bethells.

However, the winterless north couldn't hold this polar princess for long and by March 2010 she had signed up to do a PhD studying flower colours in the Arctic and Sub-Antarctic.

Lorna's thesis looks at how the temperatures of polar flowers are influenced by the flowers' colour, and investigates what the impact of this is on flower reproduction in such a frigid environment.

Turning to the north, Lorna headed to Svalbard - a Norwegian island midway between Norway and the North Pole.

Svalbard is polar-bear country and, as such, the people inhabiting it are required to carry a rifle for self defence whenever they venture outside human settlements.

Given that Lorna's study often took her outside the safety of the settlement, she soon became used to slinging a rifle over her shoulder.

With a rifle in one hand and a thermal imaging "gun" in the other, Lorna kept one eye on flower temperatures while the other scanned the horizon for polar bears.

While she never had to fire the rifle in self defence, the thermal-imaging camera delivered some startling results.

"The centre of the poppy, where all the sexy stuff happens, can reach almost 24 degrees," she says, "while the ambient temperature - what I could feel - was only about 10 degrees."

Warmer flowers attract more insects, increasing the chances of pollination, or at least that's the hypothesis.

"I have recently found that there is way more plant sex in the Arctic than traditionally believed," she says.

During her three-month stay in Svalbard, Lorna experienced a life quite different from her upbringing in Whangarei.

Climbing glaciers, hunting reindeer, skipping across the ocean in hovercraft, flying over the island in helicopters, Lorna lived the Arctic dream.

On returning to New Zealand, she barely had time to unpack her bags before she was packing them again, destined for Campbell Island.

"To get to Campbell Island we had to sail for three days on a 50m yacht in the middle of the southern ocean, and it gets pretty crazy out there," she says.

By the time the Governor General turned up, Lorna had been picking her way through mega-herb gardens for 12 days.

Sir Anand Satyanand was visiting the island with Conservation Minister Kate Wilkinson on board the HMNZS Otago, and they kindly offered Lorna a ride home.

Back in Dunedin since December, Lorna's been analysing her data and planning her next trip north.

She'll be heading back to Svalbard on May 16, this time with the help of a Ngapuhi scholarship (Lorna claims Ngapuhi descent through her grandfather's mother, who was from Te Uri o Roi at Poroti).

She'll be in Svalbard for five months this time, and who knows where she'll be heading after that.

"I really want to be involved in the polar region and sharing knowledge with people at home and around the world," she says.

"I've got this dream of spending four months in the sub-Antarctic, and four months in the Arctic, and then four months in France, or something like that."

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