In November 1948 New Zealand got its own Lost World story, when a population of takahē — a large flightless rail, long thought extinct — was found in a remote part of Fiordland. The rediscovery of ‘notornis’ (a cousin of the pūkeko), by Southland doctor Geoffrey Orbell, generated international interest. This episode of the NFU’s Weekly Review newsreel series treks from Lake Te Anau high into the Murchison Mountains, where the team (including naturalist Robert Falla) find sea shell fossils, evidence of moa-hunter campsites, and the dodo-like takahē itself.
This collection celebrates the onscreen legacy of Sir Edmund Hillary — from triumphs of endurance (first atop Everest, tractors to the South Pole, boats up the Ganges) and a lifetime of humanitarian work, to priceless adventures in the NZ outdoors. Tom Scott and Mark Sainsbury — Ed’s TV biographers-turned-mates — offer their own memories of the man.
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.
Going with his father to see the battleship HMS Ramilles set Peter Couling on a course that led to the New Zealand Navy. Joining at 18, he soon found himself bound for Korea where his ship escorted convoys from Japan to Pusan. He was also on hand to see the battleship USS Missouri fire its guns in anger for the first time since World War II. That was in the early stages of the Incheon Landings. In this interview he also talks about going on parade in London for King George VI’s funeral. Back home he headed south with Sir Edmund Hillary and the Trans-Antarctic Expedition.
In this 1956 reel, Sir Edmund Hillary and colleagues describe their mission to set up bases in advance of the Commonwealth Trans-Antarctic Expedition. Ed meets Everest mate George Lowe in Uruguay to board The Theron, and they smash and use explosives to blast their way through ice, then unload supplies (including the soon-to-be-famous Ferguson tractors). Sections of the footage were shot on 16mm film by Hillary himself. Lt Commander Bill Smith and Dr Trevor Hatherton narrate pathfinding with sledges in McMurdo Sound, on the other side of the continent.
Beyond the Edge tells the story of Sir Edmund Hillary and Sherpa Tenzing Norgay’s first ascent of the world’s highest mountain. Award-winning director Leanne Pooley (Untouchable Girls) mixes archival material with recreations of the English-led 1953 Everest expedition. 3D cameras were used to put viewers in the crampons of the climbers, and evoke the endurance and dangers faced as they ventured to the top of the world. Beyond the Edge debuted at the 2013 Toronto Film Festival, where it was one of two runner-ups for the People’s Choice Documentary Award.
This NFU documentary chronicles a major milestone in NZ's presence in Antarctica: the building of Scott Base. Members of the Commonwealth Polar Expedition leave Wellington in December 1956, and sail through storms and pack ice. Led by Sir Edmund Hillary, they construct Scott Base, meet some local wildlife and begin preparations to support a British team led by Doctor Vivian Fuchs. After wintering over, Hillary would, in January 1958, controversially reach the South Pole before Fuchs — only the third party after Scott and Amundsen to do so overland.
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.
This National Film Unit documentary shows the NZ contingent training in the Aoraki Mount Cook area for their mission to Antarctica, as part of the Commonwealth Trans-Antarctic Expedition. On the Tasman Glacier, they practise polar survival techniques, huskies are put through their paces and an RNZAF ski plane dramatically flips before a blizzard blows in, and some classic Kiwi DIY repairs are required on the ice runway. Team leader Sir Edmund Hillary narrates in laconic style. Cameraman Derek Wright went on to chronicle Sir Ed’s famous tractor dash to the pole.
This half-hour film from 1958 documents New Zealanders in Antarctica: researching International Geophysical Year, and supporting the Trans-Antarctic Expedition by laying supply depots for Vivian Fuchs’ overland crossing. National Film Unit cameraman Derek Wright films Edmund Hillary's team, capturing the drama of their (in)famous dash to the South Pole as they roll precariously forward in converted Ferguson tractors — “the best crevasse detectors ever invented” as Hillary notes. Hillary's team got to the South Pole on 4 January 1958, 82 days after leaving Scott Base.