Who Was Here Before Us?

Television, 2000 (Full Length)

Aotearoa is the last big land mass on earth discovered and settled by people (orthodox history suggests Māori arrived around 1280). Directed by Mark McNeill, this Greenstone TV documentary examines controversial evidence put forward to claim an alternative pre-Māori settlement — from cave drawings and carvings, to rock formations and statues. Historians, scientists, museum curators, and amateur archaeologists weigh up the arguments, DNA, carbon, and oral stories of the early Waitaha people, to sift hard fact from mysticism and hope.

Sale of a Nation

Television, 1991 (Full Length)

As part of the radical 80s neoliberal reform of the public and corporate sector in New Zealand, many government-run assets were turned into state owned enterprises; some were sold off to foreign buyers. Screening on TV3, this 1991 film, written by Metro columnist Bruce Jesson, examines the controversial programme by asking “who owns this country and who controls it?”. Those answering range from businesspeople to politicians, academics, journalists, vox pops and critics of the ‘cashing-in’, from the Hamilton Jet family to UK environmentalist Teddy Goldsmith.

The Last Ocean

Film, 2012 (Trailer)

This documentary advocates for the protection of one of the last pristine ecosystems on earth: The Ross Sea. Veteran cameraman Peter Young vividly captures the frozen wilderness — freewheeling penguins, fish and sealions under the aquamarine ice — and interviews scientists concerned at threats posed by commercial fishing (including from New Zealand-owned boats). The film confronts unsuspecting New York diners with the origins of their fish, exposing upmarket ‘Chilean sea bass’ as Antarctic toothfish. Last Ocean won Best Film at the 2013 Reel Earth Film Festival.

Hidden Places: Ōkārito

Television, 1978 (Full Length)

Award-winner Hidden Places: Ōkārito marked an early milestone for the Natural History Unit (later to become NHNZ) — it was part of the first series made by the unit. The 15 minute episode follows birds, such as white heron, Russian godwits and royal spoonbills, all of them flocking to Ōkārito's "unique world of sea, lagoon, rivers and forests". Logging of kahikatea, the tallest endemic forest tree, also features. Robin Scholes, later to produce movie Once Were Warriors, wrote and directed this episode. It won Best Documentary at the 1979 Feltex Television Awards.

Wild Horse Wild Country

Television, 1994 (Full Length)

This NHNZ documentary looks at the fierce debate between animal lovers and ecologists over the wild horses of the Kaimanawa Ranges (with striking footage of them running free). At issue: a delicate tussock land ecosystem with rare native plants dating back thousands of years, increasingly at risk from horses recognised for their uniqueness — but whose numbers have grown tenfold in 15 years. Reducing the herd size is the favoured option. But only younger horses can be sold and, with older ones going to an abattoir, the plan is opposed by the horse lobby.

Journeys in National Parks: Westland / Aoraki

Television, 1987 (Full Length)

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.  

Journeys in National Parks: Te Urewera

Television, 1987 (Full Length)

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.

Journeys in National Parks: Hauraki Gulf

Television, 1987 (Full Length)

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.

Journeys in National Parks: Fiordland

Television, 1987 (Full Length)

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. 

Journeys in National Parks: Tongariro te Maunga

Television, 1987 (Full Length)

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.