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.
This edition of the 1976 adventure series documents a pioneering attempt to fly over Aoraki-Mount Cook by hot air balloon. RNZAF squadron leader Roly Parsons had made the first balloon crossing of Cook Strait the previous year. Director Pamela Meekings-Stewart captures his preparations to take on perilous winds and high altitudes. A first attempt with newbie co-pilot Rolf Dennler sets an altitude record, but crashes near Fox Glacier township, before Parsons pulls on his gold flight jacket for a final attempt at the challenge. Julian Dickon (Pukemanu) wrote the script.
Off the Edge was director Michael Firth's ode to the exhilaration of adventuring on the spine of New Zealand's Southern Alps. Something of a snowy Endless Summer, the film follows an American and a Canadian as they ski, hang glide, climb and delve beneath glaciers, in the Aoraki-Mt Cook area. Thrilling footage amidst spectacular scenery was shot over two seasons, where extreme weather and geography meant few chances for second takes. The film was nominated for an Oscar for Best Documentary in 1977. The Los Angeles Times called it "beautiful and awesome".
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.
After bad weather curtailed an ambitious film about Mount Aspiring in 1949, Brian Brake returned to the Southern Alps the following year to shoot Mount Cook — the first NFU film to feature Brake's mountain imagery in glorious blue and white colour. The wait was worth it: the longtime mountain-lover coaxes a succession of breathtaking images of the cloud-piercing mountain — plus a rollicking snow fight scene. The plot, what there is of it, centres on some skiers wandering closer to Aoraki/Mt Cook to get a better look, then demonstrating the joys of descent.
In 1968 eight Japanese teenagers won an art competition; their prize was a week long visit to the country they'd imagined on canvas. It's a busy itinerary — the students land in Wellington and take an obligatory cable car ride before visiting Parliament and the museum. The steamy wonderland of Rotorua is next, a dairy farm visit is a big success and Sir Edmund Hillary joins the teens for an authentic Kiwi barbeque. Shy smiles abound when one student meets her Kiwi pen pal for the first time. This is a rare example of a New Zealand television documentary from the 1960s.
This jaunty early National Film Unit film promotes the alpine scenery of Aoraki/Mt Cook National Park and its recreational opportunities. It includes slalom at the 1946 New Zealand ski champs, ice-skating at Lake Tekapo, comic pratfalls in the snow, a mass snow-fight and ... landscape painting. Dancing at the Hermitage Hotel is "a good way to loosen the muscles after skiing". As well as human interest, the film features the expected majestic mountains, glaciers, and avalanches, as well as curious kea at Ball Hut, and amusing dogs in snow-glasses.
In 1982 bad weather left Mark Inglis and Phil Doole trapped for 13 days in a crevasse, close to the summit of Aoraki/Mt Cook. No Mean Feat chronicles the path taken by Inglis since — from rescue, and the discovery he would lose his lower limbs, to his reinvention as research scientist, winemaker, and paralympic cyclist. In 2001 cameras followed Inglis back to Cook, where he attempted another climb using custom-designed prosthetic legs. Topped off by stunning aerial footage of Mt Cook, No Mean Feat won best documentary at the 2003 NZ TV Awards.
This 1949 NFU film is a whistle-stop tour of Aotearoa that, per the title, takes in the full gamut of the scenic wonderland. Splendidly filmed in Kodachrome, there are lakes (Tutira, Manapouri, Te Anau, Wakatipu), caves (Waitomo), mountains (Cook/Aoraki, Egmont/Taranaki) and forests and farms aplenty, with the occasional city sojourn and an obligatory ferry shot. In the narration indefatigable nature is harnessed for man’s needs and appreciation. Of note is a sequence on gum-collector Nicholas Yakas, who shows impressive agility as he scales a giant kauri.
Sir Ed Hillary, then in his early 50s, acts as tour guide to remote New Zealand. In the far north he receives a tokotoko (walking stick) and admires the Aupōuri people’s connection with the land. He goes bush and dives for scallops off Stewart Island and fishes on a Hollyford sandspit. In the Alps he tackles a 1971 grand traverse of Mount Cook with Harry Ayres and other mates. Not bad for a self-described "middle-aged family man who has tried to keep himself reasonably fit". Sir Ed narrates, and his down-to-earth passion for adventure makes this an inspiring travelogue.