Peter Hayden’s long storytelling career spans fact, fiction, feather and fur. Hayden has worked extensively behind the scenes on a run of nature documentaries, made for company NHNZ. His acting career includes roles in classic goldmining drama Illustrious Energy and Maurice Gee series The Fire-Raiser. In 2017 Hayden was made a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit, for services to film and television.
I'm curious, and that's what drives me as a naturalist, as an actor and as a human being. Peter Hayden in The NZ Herald, 5 May 2013
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.
This best of special culls history and highlights from 40 seasons of the longest running show on NZ television. Farming, forestry and fishing are all on the roster, but this edition is as much about observing people and the land. There is footage of high country musters, helicopter deer capture, floods and blizzards, as well as radio-controlled dogs and mice farmers. Longtime Country Calendar figures like John Gordon and Tony Trotter share their memories, and the show sets out to catch up again with some of the colourful New Zealanders that have featured on screen.
The first episode of Ice Worlds explores animal life at the poles, both North and South. At the North Pole American scientist Steve Amstrup tracks polar bears, from their hibernation during winter, to seeking food out on the tundra during summer. Down south, Antarctica's emperor penguins are studied by Gerald Kooyman, physiologist Arthur Devries catches Antarctic cod, and biologist Brent Sinclair seeks the continent's largest land animal — a tiny insect called a springtail. Ice Worlds was narrated by former news anchor Dougal Stevenson.
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.
Ask Country Calendar viewers which shows they remember and inevitably the answer is "the spoofs" — satirical episodes that screened unannounced. Sometimes there was outrage but mostly the public enjoyed having the wool pulled over their eyes. Created by producer Tony Trotter and Bogor cartoonist Burton Silver, the first (in late 1977) was the fencing wire-playing farmer and his "rural music". This special episode collects the best of the spoofs, from the infamous radio-controlled dog, to the gay couple who ran a "stress-free" flock, and more malarkey besides.
This 1999 documentary goes behind the scenes with veteran Antarctic filmmaker Mike Single, as he films icebergs in the Southern Ocean. To Single they’re "ice creatures" and his mission is to get to their dynamic "essence". He and his crew face time pressure, storms, cabin fever, and challenges shooting underwater. Some of Single's shots of epic ice sculptures, calving glaciers, crabeater seals, gentoo penguins, humpback whales and trademark time-lapse cloudscapes also appeared in his documentaries Crystal Ocean (a 2000 Emmy Award-winner), and Katabatic.
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.
Naturalist Ramari Stewart never tires of the view from a subantarctic hut. "This is the only place I know where I can see a whale out my window and it’s never let me down." The documentary follows Stewart as she spends a summer and winter monitoring wildlife at remote Northwest Bay in Campbell Island. Southern right whales, Hooker's sea lions and elephant seals all feature. Stewart, who later became a whale expert, displays a jaw-dropping bond with the animals. At the end of the programme, the whales cause a stir when they play perilously close to Stewart's boat.
This series centred on a weekly TV current affairs programme in mid-90s Wellington. Katie Wolfe stars as stroppy journalist Amanda Robbins: lured back from Australia for her tabloid style in an effort to boost the show's ratings. Tackling timely storylines and shot ‘handheld’ in the NYPD Blue-inspired style, the TV3 series was well reviewed but faced its own ratings struggles (a later series screened on TV One). It was Gibson Group’s second foray into producing a TV drama series, after Shark in the Park. A pre-Lord of the Rings Fran Walsh was a series writer.
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.
This 1993 documentary surveys the world’s southernmost volcano, Mount Erebus. Cameras travel to never before filmed depths, 400 metres below the sea ice. They also go 3500 metres above sea level into the erupting crater. The film charts what is able to survive in the otherworldly environment, from seals to moss. Solid Water was the third part of an acclaimed Wild South trilogy on Antarctica, which helped establish a relationship between Discovery Channel and TVNZ’s Natural History Unit (later NHNZ). It was awarded for Best Camera at the 1994 New Zealand TV Awards.
This trio of 1990s-era commercials features a pre-Xena Lucy Lawless — who is more fiscally responsible mum than warrior princess — while the doting Dad is played by Erik Thomson (Packed to the Rafters). The two are promoting the “your future bank” concept by extolling the benefits of banking with ASB, and securing the financial future of their baby Stan. Actor and nature presenter Peter Hayden's smooth tones and power suit launch the campaign. The following decade, ASB bank's ad campaign featuring fish out of water lawyer Ira Goldstein began a remarkable 11 year run.
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.
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.
Wildtrack was a long-running series that infected a generation of kids who grew up in the 80s and early 90s with enthusiasm for all-things native’n’natural. This 1991 Taylormade episode (neon-lit as ‘Wild T’) explores the mountain life of Aoraki-Mt Cook: from Māori myth, to cheeky kea and solar-powered butterflies. Peter Hayden presents from the studio with a homegrown HAL: Archie the computer. Future actor/director Katie Wolfe is the young cub in field: glacier-skiing, hanging from a crevasse, meeting Mt Cook School’s eight pupils, and hugging vegetable sheep.
Like the eponymous native plant this children's puppet programme stuck to the socks of many kiwis of a certain vintage. Produced in Dunedin by TVNZ's Natural History Unit (now NHNZ), Bidibidi followed the adventures of a sheep on a South Island station for two series. Adapted from the children's book by Gavin Bishop, the show interspersed puppet scenes and musical numbers with actual wildlife footage. This first episode sees Bidibidi chasing a rainbow with advice from Stella the kea; includes beautifully shot images of a menagerie of native birds.
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.
‘Moa's Ark' set sail 80 million years ago. David Bellamy becomes an ancient mariner and retraces the voyage of the islands of New Zealand (using contemporary science as his guide). In this first episode he finds out why New Zealand is called the Shaky Isles, gets face to face with the "living fossil" the tuatara, is inspired by meat pies, and discovers geography as he competes in the annual Coast to Coast race over the Southern Alps — with directional and gorse eradication aid coming from legendary race organiser Robin Judkins.
For 80 million years, Moa's Ark was mammal free. Then, in the last 1000 years, humans arrived from Polynesia and Europe, and as presenter David Bellamy discovers, changed these islands at a rate unparalleled in the peopling of this planet. Bellamy channels Indiana Jones and hangs from old man's beard vines to assess the impact. The episode features footage of a beautiful dawn chorus, of the kiwi and the nocturnal kakapo (the world's largest, rarest parrot), cave drawings of the moa-hunters, plus Māori harakeke weaving and a hangi with Tipene O'Regan.
As an eight-year-old, a postage stamp of the giant kauri Tāne Mahuta offered English TV presenter David Bellamy his first introduction to New Zealand. In this episode of Moa’s Ark, Bellamy attempts to hug the nearly 14 metre girth of the tree, and explores Aotearoa's ancient forests and the fight to save them from destruction — including campaigns to save Whirinaki and Puerora Forests, when protestors chained themselves to enormous totara to prevent their milling. The episode also features a extraterrestrial underwater forest, deep under Milford Sound.
Predators (possums, rats, rabbits, deer) forced much of the cargo of 'Moa's Ark' to abandon ship and live on off-shore island lifeboats. Moa's Ark presenter David Bellamy visits them (and recently-established mainland 'islands'), and tells some of New Zealand's most dramatic conservation stories. In the fourth clip, he praises the pioneering leadership of Don Merton. The episode includes footage of kōkako and its haunting song, cheeky kaka parrots, tieke (saddleback), hoiho (yellow-eyed penguin), black robins, fierce-looking giant weta, and the Castle Hill buttercup (the world's rarest).
In the mid 1970s the Chatham Island black robin was the world's rarest bird. With only two females left, the conservation ante was extreme. Enter saviour Don Merton and his Wildlife Service team. Their pioneering efforts ranged from abseiling the birds (including the talismanic Eve of her species, 'Old Blue') down cliff faces, to left-field libido spurs. This 1988 Listener Film & TV award-winner united two earlier Wild South docos and updated the robin’s rescue story to 1987. It originally screened on Christmas Day 1987; and was reversioned for this 1989 edition.
Illustrious Energy sees Chan and his older mate Kim prospecting for gold in 1890s Otago. Marooned until they can pay off their debts and return to China; they’ve been fruitlessly working their claim for 12 and 27 years respectively. Chan faces racism, isolation, extreme weather, threatening surveyors, opium dens and a circus romance. The renowned feature-directing debut of cinematographer Leon Narbey provides a poetic evocation of the Chinese settler experience; especially vivid are Central’s natural details — desolate schist and tussock lands, rasping crickets.
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.
In this episode of the Journeys in National Parks series, presenter Peter Hayden looks at the primeval, remote wilderness of Fiordland National Park. We learn of how the god Tu-te-raki-whanoa crafted the fiords out of sheer cliffs with his adze, "so the sea might run in and there'd be quiet places for people to live". On boats and along the Milford Track, Hayden traces the "memory trails" of the few who have braved the area: Māori pounamu collectors, sealers, cray fishermen, early naturalists Georg and Johann Forster, and pioneering conservationist Richard Henry.
Peter Hayden travels through some of New Zealand's most awe-inspiring environments in this five part series, made to celebrate the centenary of our first national park. This episode looks at the national park closest to our largest city and contemplates that relationship, featuring stories of life on the islands of the Hauraki Gulf. A highlight is the transfer of the rare saddleback or tieke (a lively wattlebird) from Cuvier Island to the ecological time-capsule of Little Barrier Island — "with Auckland's lights twinkling in the background". Catherine Bisley writes about the Journeys series here.
In this series celebrating New Zealand's national parks, Peter Hayden travels through some of Aotearoa's most awe-inspiring environments. This episode — looking at the unique spiritual relationship between the Tūhoe people, and the birds and bush of Te Urewera National Park — was directed by Barry Barclay (Ngati). Barclay used his fourth cinema philosophy of indigenous filmmaking, "to tell the contemporary story of the park through their [Tūhoe] eyes". The film attracted controversy for its then exceptional use of te reo. Catherine Bisley writes about the Journeys series here.
In this five-part series, presenter Peter Hayden travels through some of New Zealand’s most awe-inspiring landscapes. The series was made to coincide with the centennial of the establishment of Tongariro, Aotearoa’s first national park (and the fourth worldwide). Hayden traverses the famous Tongariro Crossing with priest Max Mariu, volcanologist Jim Cole, park ranger Russell Montgomery, and the young Tumu Te Heu Heu. It was the first time Tumu, later paramount chief of Ngāti Tuwharetoa, had been up the maunga; the power of his experience is clear and moving.
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.
Created for television by author Maurice Gee, The Fire-Raiser pits a quartet of smalltown school kids against a balaclava-clad figure with fire on the brain. In this episode, the children sneak onto the property of the man they suspect of terrorising their town. The police arrive after Kitty is trapped inside a room that has tragic memories for the suspect’s mother, the memorably moody Mrs Marwick. This WWI-era gothic adventure went on to score four Listener TV awards, including best drama; and Gee’s accompanying novel was published both here and overseas.
This Richard Riddiford-directed relationship drama explores the restless homecoming of a Kiwi from her OE. Monica (Judy McIntosh) returns from Europe to sculptor Nick (Peter Hayden), who has stayed behind in Waiuku. She goads him into a road trip north, searching for connection to him and home. At a Dargaville pub they meet Riki (Rawiri Paratene), a charismatic poet who has left the city to find his Ngapuhi roots. Monica is intrigued by Riki's bond to his people and the land, which widens a rift between her and Nick. Caution: this excerpt contains bath tub sax.
In 1986 Footrot Flats: The Dog's (Tail) Tale and its theme song ‘Slice of Heaven’ were huge hits in New Zealand and Australia. The adaptation of Murray Ball's beloved Footrot Flats comic strip marked Aotearoa's first animated feature. There were a lot of big questions to answer: Will Wal become an All Black? Will Cooch recover his stolen stag? Will the Dog win your hearts and funny bones? Punters answered at the box office. This John Toon-shot trailer doubled as a promo for the Dave Dobbyn-Herbs song, and smartly leveraged both. Tony Hiles writes about the film's making here.
The Fire-Raiser pits a quartet of smalltown World War I era school kids against a mysterious figure with fire on the brain. Inspired partly by a real-life Nelson arsonist, the five-part gothic adventure was created for television by author Maurice Gee. Peter Hayden plays the town’s unconventional teacher ‘Clippy’ Hedges, while the lead role went to Royal NZ Ballet star Jon Trimmer. The Fire-Raiser won four Listener TV awards, including best overall drama and best writer. Gee’s accompanying novel was published both here and overseas. He writes about the show's birth here.
This final installment of Hayden’s traverse across latitude 45 finds him in the ice-sculpted isolation of Fiordland. In this episode he travels through diverse flora (lush and verdant thanks to astonishingly high rainfall); and with botanist Dr Brian Molloy follows the footsteps of early bird conservationist Richard Henry. Mohua (yellowhead), takahe, weka and tiny rock wrens feature in the fauna camp. Reaching the sea, the underworld depths of George Sound house a world teeming with abundant life.
The first leg of Peter Hayden’s journey across latitude 45 south takes him across the Waitaki Plains and up to Danseys Pass. He visits the site of a moa butchery and the sunken circular umuti (cabbage tree ovens) of early Māori. Guided by colonial literature, he visits New Zealand’s tallest tree (a eucalypt, which he finds horizontal). Drought busting desperation of 1889 and the provenance of Corriedale sheep is also covered. In a riparian side trip, Hayden heads up the Maerewhenua River where gold miners succeeded only in ravaging the landscape.
This third episode in presenter Peter Hayden’s journey across latitude 45 depicts the “new gold” of the booming tourist trade. On the Clutha River, archaeologists race ahead of the construction of a dam, digging for a soon-to-be-submerged mining past. The road to Skippers Canyon induces vertigo. Hayden rafts through the Oxenbridge brothers’ tunnelling feat, a failed project aimed at diverting the Shotover River in the hope of finding gold on the exposed bed. Alan Brady is filmed in his newly-established winery, the first in a region now famed for its wine.
Central Otago’s broad, dry landscape is dominated by an extreme climate; it is scarred by wind, ice and industry. Deep mining shafts and long rusted sluicing guns pepper this second stage of Peter Hayden’s traverse across latitude 45 south. He visits the quartz covered Mt Buster, NZ’s highest diggings, where unseasonal blizzards often claimed miners’ lives. The layout of Naseby’s graveyard yields information on the hierarchy of the goldfields. The flora includes mountain totara, carnivorous sundews and a heather variety that grows horizontally. Hayden won a GOFTA award for his script.
Stunt driver Judd (US Oscar winner Cliff Robertson) and his mechanic Casey (ex child star Leif Garrett) are in NZ racing 'Shaker' — their pink and black Trans-Am — when they're enlisted by scientist Dr Christine Ruben on a fast and furious dash from Dunedin. Unknown to the Yanks, Ruben (Lisa Harrow) has stolen a deadly virus that she's aiming to smuggle to the CIA, and away from the NZ military — who plan to use it for bio warfare! Touted as "fantasy car violence", the chase and stunt-laden Run was one of dozens of films sped out under an 80s tax break scheme.
Young Geoff Garlick reckons he's developed a game-winning move - the 'Garlick Thrust' - for his schoolboy rugby team, but the Saturday he hopes to show it off to his dysfunctional family they're more interested in the Springbok match. The national loss of innocence the '81 tour represented is captured in an end scene, where Geoff and his weeping Dad (Michael Noonan) are intercut with clips of a notorious stand-off between tour protestors and rugbyheads. Written by playwright Bruce Mason, this was one of a three TV dramas written as he was battling cancer.
Flightless and nocturnal, the kākāpō is the world's heaviest parrot. By the 1970s the mysterious, moss-coloured bird was facing extinction, "evicted" to Fiordland mountains and Stewart Island by stoats and cats. Thanks to special night vision equipment, this documentary captured for the first time the bird's idiosyncratic courtship rituals, and the first chick found in a century. Marking the directing debut of NHNZ veteran Rod Morris, the film screened on series two of Wild South. It was a runner-up for Best Film at a major international wildlife festival in the US city of Missoula.
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 until the early 1990s. 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).
TVNZ’s Natural History Film Unit was founded in Dunedin around 1977. The first Wild South documentaries began filming a year later. The slot's initial focus was on New Zealand’s perilously endangered birds, eg the Chatham Island black robin (then the world’s rarest bird). The results won local and international notice, and a loyal audience. Wildtrack was a sister series showcasing natural history for young viewers. Wild South ended in 1997 when the Natural History Unit was purchased by Fox Studios; it later became internationally successful production company NHNZ.
The remote Antipodes Islands lie 860 kilometres southeast of Stewart Island. This 1980 documentary follows a Wildlife Service team surveying the islands’ inhabitants who are making all the strange noises – fur seals, albatrosses, petrels, parakeets and snipe, elephant seals and prolific penguins. It also investigates threats to their survival: mice and overfishing in the southern ocean. Winner of a Silver Medal at New York's International Film and Television Festival, this early Wild South episode helped establish the reputation of TVNZ’s Natural History Unit (later NHNZ).
This fictionalised account of pioneering 19th century photographers the Burton brothers is set partly in Dunedin during the closing stages of the New Zealand Wars. William and Alfred take contrasting approaches to representing their subjects — and are treated accordingly by the authorities, who are attempting to attract new settlers while brutally suppressing Māori. Produced by veteran John O'Shea (who co-wrote with playwright Robert Lord), the tale of art, commerce and colonisation was largely well received as a thoughtful essay at revisionist history.
When the takahē was rediscovered in the Murchison mountains in 1948, it made world headlines as a back from extinction story. This documentary checks in on the big flightless birds three decades later, with their future under threat (by deer, stoats and breeding failure). Doctor Geoffrey Orbell recalls the 1948 expedition. Project Takahē was the first Wild South documentary made by TVNZ’s Natural History Unit (later NHNZ). The images of takahē – blue, green and red, plodding in the snowy tussock – marked the first time most New Zealanders had seen the bird in the wild.
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).
This feature is a dramatized reconstruction of actual events surrounding a notorious miscarriage of justice. Farmer Arthur Allan Thomas was jailed for the murder of Harvey and Jeanette Crewe but later exonerated. Directed by John Laing, produced by John Barnett and starring well-known English actor David Hemmings (Blowup, Barbarella), the docudrama leveraged the immense public interest in the case (Thomas was pardoned when the film was in pre-production). It became NZ's most successful commercial film until Goodbye Pork Pie.
The Governor was a television epic that examined the life of Governor George Grey in six thematic parts. Grey's "Good Governor" persona was undercut with laudanum, lechery and land confiscation. NZ TV's first (and only) historical blockbuster was hugely controversial, provoking a parliamentary inquiry and "test match sized" audiences. It won a 1978 Feltex Award for Best Drama. Auckland Star reviewer Barry Shaw trumpeted: "It has made Māori matter. If Pākehā now have a better understanding of the Māori point of view [...] it stems from The Governor.
The Governor was a six-part TV epic that examined the life of Governor George Grey (Corin Redgrave). This episode arguably best lived up to the blockbuster scale and revisionist ambitions of the series. It depicts key battles of the 1863-64 Waikato Campaign (including ‘Rewi’s last stand’ at Ōrākau). General Sir Duncan Cameron (Martyn Sanderson) feels growing unease following Grey’s orders to evict Māori villagers, as he learns respect for his foe, and that Grey’s motives are driven not just by the urge to impose order on ‘the natives’ but by hunger for land.
Telethon was a 24-hour live television spectacular aimed at securing donations from viewers for a charitable cause. The first, in 1975, launched the second channel (TV2) and raised over half a million dollars for St John's Ambulance. By 1981 Telethon had hit the $5 million mark. Along with willing local celebrities, volunteers and a receptive public, it attracted overseas stars: Basil Brush, Entertainment Tonight's Leeza Gibbons and Coronation Street's Christopher Quinton (who famously got together after the 1988 show). "Thank you very much for your kind donation!"