Looking at New Zealand - White Island

Television, 1967 (Full Length Episode)

This edition of the 60s Sunday night magazine show travels to New Zealand’s most active volcano: White Island, situated offshore in the Bay of Plenty. The thermal activity on the privately owned scenic reserve is vividly captured as the camera roams the roaring, shuddering landscape and ventures past seething fumaroles into the crater. The tenuous history of human engagement with ‘Whakaari’ is covered: from Maui and Māori myth to the derelict remains of sulphur mining; including a 1914 eruption that killed 11 miners (with their black cat the only survivor). 

Gateway to New Zealand

Short Film, 1952 (Full Length)

“Only 40 hours by air from San Francisco and six from Sydney, Auckland New Zealand is on your doorstep.” In 1952, NZ tourism was also a long way from a core contributor to the national economy. A flying boat and passenger ship deposits visitors in the “Queen among cities” for this National Film Unit survey of Kiwi attractions. The potted tour takes in yachting, the beach, postwar housing shortage, school patrols, dam building and the War Memorial Museum, before getting out of town into dairy, racing and thermal wonderlands, where “you can meet some of our Māori people”.

New Zealand Mirror No. 24

Short Film, 1953 (Full Length)

This was the 24th edition of New Zealand Mirror, a National Film Unit series promoting NZ to British audiences in the 1950s. The first clip, on rugby's Ranfurly Shield, was deemed “too topical” by the UK distributor, and cut from later editions. The clip in question captures the colour of the national obsession (knuckle bones, livestock parades) at Athletic Park, where Taranaki challenge shield holders Wellington. It was later seen in NZ theatres as a short, playing with 1982 rugby tale Carry Me Back. The latter segments show Kaiapoi ploughing, and Wairakei thermal energy. 

Series

Children of Fire Mountain

Television, 1979

While convalescing down under Sir Charles Pemberton (Terence Cooper) schemes to build a thermal spa in the town of Wainamu c.1900. Conflict ensues as the spa’s planned location is on Māori land. The action is seen through the eyes of youngsters: hotelier’s son Tom, and Pemberton’s granddaughter Sarah Jane; who — along with an erupting volcano — eventually impart on Sir Charles a lesson about colonial hubris. The 13-part series was a marquee title from a golden age of Kiwi kidult telly-making: it won multiple Feltex awards, and screened on the BBC in 1980.

Children of Fire Mountain - Tom (First Episode)

Television, 1979 (Full Length Episode)

This Feltex award-winning kidult series is set in the colonial town of Wainamu in 1900, amidst the North Island’s ‘thermal wonderland’. It follows the challenges that Sir Charles Pemberton (Terence Cooper) faces in building a spa on Māori land. In this first episode, local lad Tom, son of the hotelier, is irritated by the arrival of Sir Charles and his aristocratic entourage (particularly granddaughter Sarah Jane, also known as “Little Miss Prim”). Their train is late after being spooked by natives. Tom's gang of shanghai-toting scallywags also take on the mean local butcher.

Pacific Viewpoint - Guide Bubbles interview

Television, 1979 (Excerpts)

This 1979 episode of Pacific Viewpoint features Guide Bubbles — aka Dorothy Huhana Mihinui— who showed guests around Rotorua's hot pools at Whakarewarewa for close to half a century. She talks about how tourism has changed at the pools over the years, and reminisces about famed guides Rangi and Bella. At the time of the interview Mihinui was the senior guide, having been promoted after Rangi’s passing in 1970. After her 1985 retirement she was made an MBE, then a Distinguished Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit. The beloved guide died in June 2006. 

Hot Earth

Short Film, 1955 (Full Length)

This 1955 film looks at the “savage” geology of the North Island volcanic region, and its human settlement. Te Arawa myth introduces the steaming valleys of volcano and quake god Rūaumoko. The film then surveys geothermal activity and its exploitation by Māori and Pākehā, from cooking to heating hospital radiators. It ends with a dramatic geyser display in front of tourists. Guide Rangi cameos. It screened at the Edinburgh Film Festival, and was John Feeney’s last National Film Unit gig before directing Oscar-nominated films for the National Film Board of Canada.

Right Next Door

Short Film, 1985 (Full Length)

“I’d no idea what I’d been missing!” This 1985 film pitches Aotearoa as a destination to our Aussie cobbers. Long haul air travel had led to a tourism boom, and promo campaigns were becoming increasingly sophisticated. This effort tries to overcome expectations of NZ as a place for oldies where “nothing is ever open”. A dinky-di Sydney family go on a tour of “Kiwiland” for a smorgasbord of sun, sea and snow. There’s crayfish and wine on the sand, and Barry Crump tells a less than 100% Pure tale at the pub. Australian John Sheerin (McLeod's Daughters) plays Dad.

Strata

Film, 1983 (Excerpts)

In Geoff Steven's Kiwi riff on the European art film, a vulcanologist (Brit character actor Nigel Davenport) roams the Volcanic Plateau accompanied by a journalist, a photographer and escapees from a cholera quarantine. Steamy philosophical musings and symbolic intent made for a marked departure from the realism of the NZ feature film renaissance (e.g. Steven’s own Skin Deep). The second feature produced by John Maynard (The Navigator), this moody allegorical tale was co-scripted by Czech writer/designer Ester Krumbachova and Czech-based Kiwi Michael Havas.

Introducing New Zealand

Short Film, 1955 (Full Length)

Recut from material shot at least five years before, this National Film Unit short appears to have been driven by the Tourist and Publicity Department. Coming in for praise are New Zealand’s primary exports (farm products), road and railways, and social security. In the 50s long distance air links were opening NZ up to the world but international tourism was not a major industry, and NZ was focused firmly on agriculture. People are shown farming, “a little unsmiling” on city streets, and at play (fishing, sailing and skiing). Kids drink milk and Māori are assimilating.