Snow collects together titles celebrating the scenic, recreational and spiritual call of New Zealand's mountains and ice. They include retro ski classics Flare and Off the Edge, Sir Ed saga Kaipo Wall, and NZ's first Oscar nominated film Snows of Aorangi. The collection features everything from ski ballet, Middle Earth glaciers and mountain parrots, to polar ice-fishing.
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.
Three young ski instructors head south for an end of season adventure on Mt Ruapehu and the Tasman Glacier. Michael Dennis and Anne Reid both competed for NZ in the 1968 Grenoble winter Olympics. They join Swiss-born heli-ski pioneer Herbie Bleuer on the slopes in this 1969 NFU short film, replete with slightly dated, “hip” voiceover. With not another soul in sight, the three begin on Mt Ruapehu, skiing down to examine the crater. Then it’s down to Queenstown and a ski-plane flight onto the top of the Tasman Glacier for a run down its 27 kilometre length.
"These mountains have always been a challenge. Now there's a new type of skier facing that challenge in a new way." Across the Main Divide follows NZ mountain guide Shaun Norman, US telemark skiing champ Whitney Thurlow and German skier Babette Bodenstein, as they cross the Southern Alps in free heel skis. Flown up the Tasman Glacier from Mount Cook, a 2,000m haul up to Graham Saddle is rewarded with sweet spring snow skiing and cheesecake at Alma Hut, before the tramp down to the West Coast. The doco screened worldwide and won awards at mountain film festivals.
This documentary comprehensively traces the history of skiing and winter sports in New Zealand. From Mannering and Dixon, who used homemade skis in an almost-successful ascent of Mt Cook and the hut-building pioneers of recreational ski clubs in their pre-Gore-tex garb, to commercial ski fields and lifts, superb archive footage shows the advances. New Zealand teams at the Winter Olympics in Oslo in 1952 and Sarajevo 32 years later had come some way from the days when carrier pigeons were used to report snow conditions from Canterbury's ski fields to Christchurch.
This documentary follows a Southern Alps ski competition for local and off season northern skiers. Organised by Coast to Coast impresario Robin Judkins, the ‘grand slam’ series begins with a chopper ride to Black Peak for powder 8 and telemark skiing; and then it's above Lake Wanaka for slalom, ski jumping, and a grunty "air, style and speed" mogul. Après-ski competing there's a springtime descent down Mt Taranaki. It wouldn't be Kiwi skiing without kea, and the discipline of the inner tube. The crisp sax and synth 80s score is by Hello Sailor's Dave McArtney.
This early 80s series aimed to introduce and encourage young Kiwis into the outdoors. Fronted by legendary climber Graeme Dingle, and based at Turangi's Sir Edmund Hillary Outdoor Pursuits Centre (co-founded by Dingle in 1973), it was produced for the Department of Education. In this fifth episode Dingle and a bevy of young Kiwis learn about the basics of alpine travel: traversing and belaying on the slopes of Mt Ruapehu. The team tackles an igloo build, before practising self arrest using a pick axe, and ultimately, summiting the volcano.
New Zealand's relationship with Antarctica and the explorers and scientists who went there is the focus of this episode in The Years Back series, with Bernard Kearns as guide. Early last century NZ was the starting point for most polar expeditions, including Robert Falcon Scott's fatal attempt to reach the Pole. Footage of Scott on the ice is featured, and as well as clips of Sir Ernest Shackleton’s epic survival tale. Of course the Sir Edmund Hillary-led 50s Kiwi expedition is shown: Hillary made a defiant dash for the Pole on tractors, arriving 4 January 1958.
Off the Edge was director Michael Firth's ode to the exhilaration of adventuring on the spine of New Zealand's Southern Alps. Something of a snowy Endless Summer, the film follows an American and a Canadian as they ski, hang-glide, walk, climb and delve beneath glaciers, in the Aoraki-Mt Cook area. Thrilling footage amidst requisite spectacular scenery was shot over two seasons, where extreme weather and geography meant few chances for second takes. The film was nominated for an Oscar (Best Documentary in 1977); the LA Times called it "beautiful and awesome".
Aotearoa's place as an adventure sport mecca is vividly captured in this classic 70s documentary, directed by Roger Donaldson (Smash Palace). Sir Edmund Hillary leads an A-Team of mates to tackle Fiordland's unclimbed Kaipo Wall. In part one, they set out to kayak and raft down the Hollyford River's white water rapids for the first time (they're soon overturned, bashed and wet). At Lake McKerrow they build a DIY sailboat with a tent fly and branches (Bear Grylls take note), then tramp along windswept sands and through thick bush to reach the imposing wall.
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.
"The story of a four-day journey from Westland to Canterbury, across the Southern Alps." Narration from the four climbers accompanies spectacular alpine imagery in this classic NFU film. In crevasse country they rope up and climb to "half way across the frozen roof of New Zealand" and share a can of tinned pineapple as reward. At Malte Brun Hut they meet Sir Edmund Hillary, Murray Ellis and Harry Ayres, and they descend together down the Tasman Glacier. Ayres reflects on the Alps as training ground for famous polar and Everest expeditions.
This film tells the story of Antarctica’s emperor penguin (the inspiration behind Happy Feet) and how they survive vicious blizzards and -50°C temperatures. It also retraces the epic “worst journey in the world” which 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 Emperors was part of. The trilogy helped establish NHNZ’s relationship with Discovery Channel. As this backgrounder explains, the scene of a penguin falling through ice (clip one) became a YouTube hit.
In this episode of the Journeys series, Peter Hayden travels west to east across two national parks and some of New Zealand's most sublime landscapes: from giant, ancient kahikatea forest to hotpools and creaking glaciers. Reflections by ecologist Geoff Park (author of Ngā Uruora) on the coast-to-mountains forest, and the exploits of early surveyor Charlie 'Explorer' Douglas are woven through Hayden's journey, ending with Hayden's personal highlight of the series: climbing Hochstetter Dome with the legendary mountaineer (and Edmund Hillary mentor) Harry Ayres.
This National Film Unit dramatised doco was boosterism for postwar immigration to New Zealand. Three Brits (Margaret, Cassie, Harry) travel and settle down under and the film records their hopes, jobs (nurse, factory worker, engineer), challenges (accents, 'casual' work ethic, locals wary of the ‘Poms’) and adventures in the new country (tramping, skiing, milk bars, the races, romance). Partaking in a glacier rescue raises Harry's spirits and assimilates him with the blokes. The film was released theatrically in the UK, and was scored by Douglas Lilburn.
Directed by David Fowler for the National Film Unit, tourism promo Holiday For Susan enthusiastically follows 22-year-old Aussie Susan's tour of Godzone with Kiwi lass Lorraine Clark. En route, Susan finds a husband in Auckland's David Thomas. Abounding with shots of scenic wonder (cleverly integrated with signs of the country's industrial progress), and Susan's legs (many aspects of the film would have had Kate Sheppard rolling in her grave), the film presents a jaunty portrait of 60s NZ as a destination for young, well-to-do, globetrotters.
The unknown has long captured the imagination of explorers and visitors to Antarctica. One hundred 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 otherworldly beauty of the submarine world, and the surprisingly rich life found in sub-zero temperatures — including dragonfish, weddell seals, and the giant sponge. Under the Ice was an early offshore success for company NHNZ.
This excerpt from the United Travel-sponsored travel show features presenter Clarke Gayford showing viewers around the Blanket Bay luxury lodge, on the shores of Lake Wakatipu near Queenstown. Gayford is joined by champion snowboarder (and Dancing with the Stars dancer) Hayley Holt for some heli-snowboarding, followed by an après ski spa and beer. For snow fans, the item features spectacular backcountry boarding runs. United Travel Getaway screened on Prime Television in 2007.
This short documentary about freestyle skiing was directed for the NZ Tourist and Publicity Department by Sam Neill (who would shortly achieve fame as an actor). This was one of several docos directed by Neill while at the National Film Unit; other subjects included the Red Mole theatre troupe and architect Ian Athfield. The skiers put on daring displays of their 'art' in locations including Mount Hutt, Queenstown and Tongariro National Park. 70s snow-styles (and beards) abound. The film was translated into French, Japanese, Italian, German and Spanish.
Michael Firth's follow-up to his 1977 Oscar-nominated ski documentary Off the Edge, but this time with a plot and scripted dialogue. Canadian Matt hitches from Auckland to meet a bunch of Kiwi extreme thrill-seekers at a southern ski field. They throw themselves off volcanoes, glaciers, mountains and into an Iron Man with "get more go" abandon. Cinematographer Stuart Dryburgh's first feature shoot — "I was relatively cheap and I could ski" — is notable for its action sequences (set to an 80s pop soundtrack) and Billy T James as a mad pilot.
Shot by photographer Brian Brake as a NFU tourism promo, Snows of Aorangi surveys New Zealand's mountain landscapes. Brake captures stunning imagery: ethereal ice forests, lightning storms, volcanic craters, glaciers, avalanches, kea. Three skiers are mesmerising as they scythe downhill from Almer Hut: "for a little while they've given themselves to the rhythm of sky and earth" runs the James K Baxter-scripted narration. It was the first NZ film to compete for an Oscar, nominated in the Best Short Subject (Live Action) category in 1959.
In 1982 bad weather left Mark Inglis and Phil Doole trapped for 13 days in a crevasse, close to the summit of Aoraki/Mt Cook. No Mean Feat chronicles the path taken by Inglis since — from rescue, and the discovery he would lose his lower limbs, to his reinvention as research scientist, winemaker, and paralympic cyclist. In 2001 cameras followed Inglis back to Cook, where he attempted another climb using custom-designed prosthetic legs. Topped off by stunning aerial footage of Mt Cook, No Mean Feat won best documentary at the 2003 NZ TV Awards.
The Southern Alps contain some of the youngest mountains in the world. In this NHNZ documentary awesome four seasons footage and sound design evoke the the tenuous richness of life in the vast, geologically dynamic landscape. Garrulous kea (the world’s only mountain parrot), Himalayan thar, “snow thrush” (crickets) and Mount Cook buttercup (the world’s largest) exist in a world of thundering avalanches and creaking glaciers. The classically filmed doco won a Merit Award at the 1993 International Wildlife Film Festival, Missoula.
Each episode of Extraordinary Kiwis shines a spotlight on a particular Kiwi and the activities that make them extraordinary. In this third season pilot, Clarke Gayford spends some time in Antarctica with scientist Victoria Metcalf, who investigates how fish survive in such extreme cold and their use as bellwethers for climate change. The "very Auckland" Gayford learns to fish amongst the seals. Dealing with hooks and bait in -20°C conditions is challenging for the self-described "sook in the cold", but Gayford proves pretty handy with a rod.
Following the conquest of Mt. Everest, Sir Edmund Hillary, accompanied by fellow New Zealand climber George Lowe, arrives in Auckland and alights from a flying boat to a hero's welcome from a proud Kiwi public. After a further welcome in his home town, Papakura, Sir Edmund is interviewed by his brother Rex. In this NFU newsreel he muses about the last challenging step (soon to be named ‘Hillary's Step') and the suitability of the Southern Alps as preparation for, to paraphrase Sir Ed, knocking the bastard off.
This jaunty early National Film Unit film promotes the alpine scenery of Aoraki/Mt Cook National Park and its recreational opportunities. It includes slalom at the 1946 New Zealand ski champs, ice-skating at Lake Tekapo, comic pratfalls in the snow, a mass snow-fight and ... landscape painting. Dancing at the Hermitage Hotel is "a good way to loosen the muscles after skiing". As well as human interest, the film features the expected majestic mountains, glaciers, and avalanches, as well as curious kea at Ball Hut, and amusing dogs in snow-glasses.
This documentary examines the alpine flora and birdlife in the Upper Waitaki area of the South Island. Its distinctive bird-life includes karearea (falcons), mirimiro (tomtit), kererū and kea. The native vegetation is profiled in depth. The area's introduced animals include deer, chamois, and thar, which have become pests. Beautifully shot, directed, and packed full of information, this is the kind of film the NFU was famous for. It was commissioned by the Soil Conservation Council, NZ Forest Service and the Department of Internal Affairs.
"For the farmers of the high country the snowline is their boundary". So begins the narration to this National Film Unit documentary. Beautifully shot by Brian Brake, the challenges of farming the vast stations on the rugged aprons of the Southern Alps are captured. The centrepiece is the great autumn muster where shepherds and dogs work 16,000 sheep down from "the tops" over 100,000 acres of peaks and glaciers, before the snow and winter blizzards arrive. "It's mutton every meal out here - we chase sheep every day and eat them every meal."
This promotional film showcases Tongariro National Park, New Zealand's oldest (and the world's fourth oldest) national park. The film covers the park's four seasons, from dandy spring days at the Chateau ("holiday headquarters") for the romance of bowls and moonlit mountain jazz; to the scenic and snow-sport thrills of the volcanoes in winter: Ketatahi springs, the crater lake, beech forest, trout fishing, and skiing on the slopes of Mount Ruapehu where "the only sound in the white stillness is the hiss of the tips streaking into the snow".
Idiosyncratic TV host Marcus Lush — continuing his ratings-winning collaboration with Jam TV — goes further off the rails and further south in this five-part series about the history, environment and wildlife of Antarctica. In this short excerpt Lush disrobes for the camera to experience a Scott Base three-minute shower. He also interviews the Curator of Antarctic History at Canterbury Museum who contextualises Captain Scott's 1912 expedition to the Pole that departed from Lyttelton harbour as being "very similar to blasting off to the moon from Hagley Park".
Prelude to Aspiring was the first National Film Unit title directed by legendary photographer Brian Brake, soon after he joined the Unit in 1948. It follows a group of climbers up the Matukituki Valley, west of Wanaka, towards Mt Aspiring for the opening of a new hut and a trudge through snow to resurrect a flattened shelter high up Mt French. The autumn alpine scenery is breathtaking even in black and white, and the film perfectly performs its role as one of a series of promotional ‘documentaries' made by the NFU.