To celebrate NZ's unique natural taonga, Peter Hayden has curated a highlights collection from three decades of NHNZ productions. Aotearoa's landforms and its magnificent menagerie of natural oddities - birds, insects, trees like nowhere else on the planet - are showcased in 15 award-winning titles. From Discovery Channel and David Bellamy, to Wild South and Our World classics.
Why is New Zealand's landscape and flora and fauna so unique? In four-part series Moa's Ark, renowned English naturalist David Bellamy, with his impassioned enthusiasm and trademark beard (of "old man's beard must go" fame) goes on a journey to discover the answer. Directed and produced by Peter Hayden, this 1990 TV series was produced by Television New Zealand's award-winning Natural History Unit (now independent production company Natural History New Zealand). Read more about the series here.
By 1976 there were only seven Chatham Islands' black robins left. It was the world's rarest bird. In a bid to save the species, the surviving birds are taken from one island to another more hospitable island in a desperate rescue mission. This is part of an incredible conservation success story led by Don Merton and his NZ Wildlife Service team. With Project Takahē, this documentary captured viewers' imaginations, and was one of the first in the acclaimed Wild South series of 'rare bird' films, which were foundational for TVNZ’s Natural History Unit (later NHNZ).
In this five part series presenter Peter Hayden travels through some of New Zealand's most varied, awe-inspiring and spiritual environments. Though there is superbly filmed flora and fauna, geology and other standard natural history documentary staples, it is the history of people's relationship with these sublime landscapes and a genial New Zealand passion for the environment, that makes a lasting impression. At the 1988 Listener Film and TV Awards Hayden won Best Writer in a Non-Drama Category for the series.
For 150 years, southern right whales (tohora) were hunted to the brink of extinction, but the discovery of a “lost tribe” in the Southern Ocean sparked hope that their numbers are increasing. This documentary - made for Discovery Channel - follows a research expedition to learn about the pod. Breathtaking and intimate underwater footage, including a fabled white whale and new-born calf, unveils the behavior of these gentle giants. The award-winning film also captures soaring royal albatross, vomiting sea lions, and a flightless duck.
This documentary tells the story of the inimitable kea. The 'Clown of the Alps' is heralded as the world’s smartest bird (its intelligence rivals a monkey’s). Kea are famous on South Island tracks and ski fields for their insatiable (and destructive) inquisitiveness. Curiosity almost killed the kea when it was labelled a sheep killer, and tens of thousands were killed for a bounty. After shots of baby kea being fed, there is extraordinary night footage in clip four of the 'avian wolf' in action. The award-winning film makes a compelling case for the charismatic kea as a national icon.
Wildtrack was a highly successful nature series for children, combining a Dunedin studio set with reporting from the field. Produced by TVNZ’s Natural History Unit, it ran from 1981 through several series to the early 90s. Producer Michael Stedman sought to produce a series where “children can be excited and entertained with genuine information, while not neglecting adults”. Wildtrack won the Feltex Television Award for the best children's programme three years running (1982 - 1984).
This film tells the story of Antarctica’s emperor penguin (the real world inspiration behind Happy Feet) and how they survive vicious blizzards and -50°C. It also retraces the epic “worst journey in the world” that explorer Edward Wilson made to discover these remarkable birds. Max Quinn won a best director award at the 1994 NZ Television Awards for the Antarctic Trilogy that Emperors was part of (as was Quinn's The Longest Night). The trilogy helped establish NHNZ’s relationship with Discovery Channel, and the penguin-falling-through-ice scene (clip one) became a YouTube hit.
Paul Holmes quizzes legendary naturalist Sir David Attenborough in this April 1991 studio interview. Attenborough is downunder to promote his BBC series Trials of Life. Attenborough talks about the state of natural history TV making and changes in camera technology (musing that the old days were less efficient, but “more fun”), and responds to clips of killer whales surging on to a beach chasing sea lions, and chimpanzees teaming up to hunt. Holmes asks Sir David if he’s ever been “horrified” by nature, if animals are noble, and whether this is his last big series.
Long isolated, New Zealand contains a world of Alice Through the Looking Glass natural oddities: birds, insects and plants like nowhere else. Scientist Jared Diamond remarked "it is the nearest approach to life on another planet". Palaeontology (from Professor Michael Archer) and Māori myth (told by Hirini Melbourne) reveal these 'Ghosts of Gondwana'. Then cutting edge camera techniques (earning a Merit Award at 2002 International Wildlife Film Festival) delve into a night world of bat-filled tree trunk saunas, “demon grasshopper” weta, and furry kiwi with chopstick bills.
In TVNZ’s Journeys Across Latitude 45 South, writer and presenter Peter Hayden traverses east to west from Otago’s Waitaki Plains to George Sound in Fiordland. Hayden walks, hitches, cycles, paddles a mōkihi (a traditional Māori canoe made of reeds) and white water rafts along the 45 south line. Along the way he builds a social, industrial and natural history of latitude 45 south. From the lonely wilds of Fiordland to the tourist Mecca Queenstown, Hayden encounters the quixotic and gruff, and pioneer species of the past, present in a changing world.
The devastating effects of introduced wasps in New Zealand, particularly on kaka (the forest parrot, here beautifully filmed) remain a serious issue. The horde of yellow and black marauders has left scientists struggling to protect animal and human victims. This film looks at the effect on the ecosystem of wasps, who compete with natives for honeydew and prey upon insects. Bandits of the Beech Forest won the Environment Prize for Best Film Illustrating Protection, Preservation or Conservation of Bird Life at the Festival du Film de l'Oiseau.
Exhuming Adams investigates the mysterious disappearance of a species of New Zealand mistletoe 50 years ago. Set among dusty museum collections, high-tech labs, and remote bush, this documentary is a natural history CSI. A canny forensic investigation, taking in preserved bellbird skins, last witnesses and CGI modelling, reveals the chain of events leading to the unique plant's extinction, and a surprising culprit. Directors Brant Backlund and Thassilo Franke won the BBC Best Newcomer Award at the prestigious WildScreen film festival 2006.
From Māori myth to climbing and photography, to gliding and paraponting around its peak, Aoraki-Mt Cook is vividly captured in all its moods in this award-winning NHNZ portrait. Filmed for the centenary of the first ascent of a mountain that has claimed over 100 lives, it follows mountaineers as they climb toward the summit, re-enacting Tom Fyfe's pioneering pre-crampon route. Climbers, including Edmund Hillary, reminisce about encounters with NZ's highest and most iconic peak; and Bruce Grant takes the quick way down: a vertiginous ski descent.
The unknown has long captured the imagination of explorers and visitors to Antarctica. 100 years after first setting foot on its icy shores, scientists are only beginning to discover its secrets. This award-winning film was the first nature documentary to be filmed under the Antarctic sea ice. Innovative photography reveals the other-worldly beauty of the submarine world, and the surprisingly rich life found in sub-zero temperatures - weddell seals, giant sponge and dragonfish. Under the Ice was an early offshore success for Natural History New Zealand.
This award-winning film looks at the strange and ethereal world of New Zealand's limestone areas. The rocks and caves reveal ancient whale fossils, moa hunter art — and evolutionary one-offs (like giant carnivorous snails) that live in a limestone world. The film goes into the darkness to find glow-worms, cave weta, albino crayfish and skeletons of moa who met their death falling down tomos (shafts). In underground cathedrals, exquisite formations formed by the alchemy of water and limestone are captured. There is also footage of Waitomo Caves and Te Waikoropupu Springs.
This film tells the story of the world’s rarest wading bird, the black stilt (kakī). With its precise beak and long pink legs the stilt is superbly adapted to the stony braided riverbeads of the McKenzie Country, but it is tragically unable to deal with new threats (rats, ferrets, habitat loss). An early doco for TVNZ’s Natural History Unit, the magnificently filmed drama of the stilt’s struggle for survival makes it “stand out as a classic of its genre” (Russell Campbell). It won the Gold Award at New York’s International Film & TV Festival (1984).
Fiordland is the jewel in the Te Wahipounamu South West New Zealand UNESCO World Heritage Site, a status underpinned by primeval scenery and a reputation as one of the world’s great wilderness areas. This film explores the symmetries of life above and below the fiords, where water cascades from mountain peaks and rain-forest, into the black depths of ice-age carved valleys. Award-winning photography reveals the mirror world: kea, mohua, fur seals, bottlenose dolphins, and an underwater phantasmagoria of starfish, ancient black coral forests and sea pens.
Englishman David Bellamy is a world famous botanist, author, broadcaster and conservationist. He came to prominence in New Zealand in the 1970s and 1980s with numerous natural history programmes. His trademark beard, larger than life personality and ability to make science understandable made him a popular addition to family viewing time. In 1990 he came to New Zealand to host Moa’s Ark, a landmark documentary series telling the history of our country’s unique evolutionary past. In recent years, Bellamy has become a more controversial figure with his claims that global warming is just part of the earth’s natural climate cycle.