Train enthusiast David Sims captured the dying days of steam trains in this 1968 National Film Unit short. It features arresting images of a Kb class locomotive billowing steam as it tackles the Southern Alps, en route from Canterbury to the West Coast. Kb Country was released in Kiwi cinemas in January 1968, just months before the steam locomotives working the Midland Line were replaced by diesel-electrics. Sims earned his directing stripes with the film. As he writes in this background piece, making it involved a mixture of snow, joy and at least two moments of complete terror.
This NFU tourism promo from 1986 showcases all that the north of the North Island has to offer. As holidaymakers Dave and Julia peruse the sights and sounds of Auckland, they provide a high speed guided tour of its nightlife and many attractions. After Julia exits unexpectedly for LA — possibly to moonlight on another tourist film — Dave is joined by Jacky. The two venture up to Ninety Mile Beach and, after exploring the native bush and enjoying a spot of fishing, end their stay with a bonfire by the sea, a stark contrast to the cosmopolitan delights of Auckland.
The Central Otago gold mining town of Cromwell celebrates its centenary in this NFU documentary. For a fortnight the townsfolk go about their ordinary business, but in colonial-era costume. They also re-enact the frontier-style life of gold rush New Zealand. Just 20 years before the film was shot, Cromwell banks were still receiving deposits of gold dust from customers. But the Cromwell of 1966 is also just a memory. While the old main street still exists, much of the town was flooded with the completion of the Clyde dam in 1993.
Directed by David Sims, A Train For Christmas follows the Kingston Flyer as it chugs through the farmland of Southland from Lumsden to Kingston, where on the shores of Lake Wakatipu it meets with the steamer TSS Earnslaw. With the driver as narrator, this poetic, and sometimes fantastical (the train talks at one point) celebration of steam transportation evokes a bygone era when the train “would stop at every crossing, hedge and house.” The steam train is cast as an integral part of a vast landscape and the communities that it travels through.
This 1948 documentary follows 24 hours of work on the railways. It was directed for the National Film Unit by Margaret Thomson, arguably New Zealand’s first female film director. The film shows the engines and commuter trains preparing to leave Wellington, and the overnight train arriving from Auckland. Workers toil on the railway lines above the remote Waimakariri Gorge, and the town of Otira gets ready for a dance. The final shots are of an engine coming through the dawn and back to the city. Selwyn Toogood (It's in the Bag) narrates.
Marcus Lush goes "right up the guts" of the North Island from Wairarapa to Gisborne, in this episode of his award-winning romance with New Zealand's railways. He meets railcar restorers and recounts the murders by rail porter Rowland Edwards in 1884. Particular praise is reserved for the "spectacular and beautiful" Napier to Gisborne line (now mothballed) with its viaducts at Mohaka and Kopuawhara. The latter is on the site of a flash flood that killed 21 workers in 1938; it inspires an idiosyncratic Lush demonstration of Aotearoa's then 10 worst disasters.
Made on a wind-up Bolex camera, The Sound of Seeing announced the arrival of 21-year-old filmmaker Tony Williams. Based around a painter and a composer wandering the city (and beyond), the film meshes music and imagery to show the duo taking inspiration from their surroundings. The Sound of Seeing served early notice on Williams' editing talents, his love of music, and his dislike of narration. It was also one of the first independently-made titles screened on Kiwi television. Composer/author Robin Maconie later wrote pioneering electronic music.