Packed with creatures and landscapes that quite simply boggle the mind, the Nature Collection showcases New Zealand's impressive menagerie of nature and wildlife films. Many of the titles were made by powerhouse company NHNZ, which began around 1977 as the Natural History Unit, a small, southern outpost of state television. In this backgrounder, Peter Hayden — who had a hand in more than a few of these classic films — guides viewers through just what the Nature Collection has to offer.
Zoo Babies - Raising Baby Iwani was a spin-off from long-running Greenstone series The Zoo. Capitalising on the cute charisma of baby animals, it highlights the inherent dramas of animal breeding programmes at zoos. Filmed at Auckland Zoo, this documentary follows the story of surviving twin Baby Iwani, a Siamang gibbon, whose mother rejected him at six weeks of age. Senior primate keeper Christine Tintinger takes on the role of surrogate Mum, hand-raising Iwani for a year before giving him back to his mother. The documentary originally screened in two parts.
Craig Busch aka The Lion Man is a self-taught big cat handler who has brought Barbary lions and white Bengal tigers to New Zealand. With both species extinct in the wild, Busch launched a breeding programme to add to limited numbers remaining in captivity. Great Southern Television produced three series following the often controversial Busch and his giant feline charges, from the early days of his Zion Wildlife Gardens park near Whangarei (later relaunched as The Kingdom of Zion). An international sales success, the show has played in more than 120 countries.
In this full-length episode, Heartland visits the heart of the North Island: the Waimarino district at the foot of Mount Ruapehu. Host Gary McCormick hits town in time for the yearly Waimarino Easter Hunt. In Ohakune he talks to a policeman about a strange case of streaking near the town's famously oversized carrot, visits an equally overized collection of salt and pepper shakers, then sets off on an early morning pig hunt. Vegetarians be warned: many expired members of the animal kingdom make guest appearances.
Marriage brought Scottish-born Robert Bruce down under, where he wrestled on hit show On the Mat, and acted and did stunts for movies. The Robert Bruce Ugly Agency was born in 1978, representing both actors and stuntpeople. The agency's stable of actors would expand to include Cliff Curtis, Joel Tobeck and Temuera Morrison. Bruce died on 2nd March 2009, after a short illness.
Aged 17, Max Quinn joined the NZ Broadcasting Corporation as a trainee cameraman. At 25 he was filming landmark television dramas like Hunter’s Gold. In 1980 he moved into directing and producing. Since joining Dunedin’s Natural History Unit (now NHNZ) in 1987, Quinn's many talents have helped cement his reputation as one of the most experienced polar filmmakers on the globe.
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 'Eve' of her species, 'Old Blue') down cliff faces, to left-field libido spurs. This 1988 Listener Film and TV award-winner united two earlier Wild South documentaries, and updated the robin’s rescue story to 1987. It originally screened on Christmas Day 1987, before being modified for this 1989 edition.
“These three birds are over half the world population of their species.” Peter Hayden’s narration lays bare the stakes for the Chatham Island black robin, and the Wildlife Service team (led by Don Merton) trying to save them. Merton’s innovative methods include removing eggs from nests – to encourage the last two females to lay again – and placing them in riroriro (grey warbler) foster homes. The black robin documentaries helped forge the reputation of TVNZ's Natural History Unit. Paul Stanley Ward writes about the documentaries here, and the mission to save the black robin.
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 were taken from one island to another more hospitable island in a desperate rescue mission. This was part of an incredible conservation success story led by Don Merton and his NZ Wildlife Service team. Seven Black Robins and Project Takahē captured viewers' imaginations as part of an acclaimed series of 'rare bird' films that screened on TV series Wild South. They helped forge the reputation of TVNZ’s Natural History Unit (later NHNZ).
For more than 20 years, Haunui Royal has been driven by the desire to be part of a vibrant Māori voice in broadcasting. The director turned executive got his break at TVNZ in 1988, before directing everything from a long line of documentaries (The Truth about Māori), to entertainment (Havoc and Newsboy's Sellout Tour). Later he spent seven years as General Manager of Programming at Māori Television.