The Fantasy Cave is a DIY Disneyland built in the town of Dannevirke. Created by a group of older locals known as ‘Cave Dwellers’ as a Christmas-themed grotto in 1989, the cave has evolved to become a quirky tourist attraction, encompassing animatronics and astral light displays. Directed by Michelle Savill (Ellen is Leaving) and cinematographer Matt Henley, this 2015 Loading Docs short introduces us to the horse-headed retirees and their homespun wonderlands, and the happiness they find in “making stuff”.
On 28 April 1995, the collapse of a viewing platform at Cave Creek, in Paparoa National Park on the West Coast, caused 17 students and a Department of Conservation Field Centre manager to plunge 40 metres into a chasm. 14 died, and four were injured. The documentary (from which NZ On Screen has three excerpts) explores what happened and why, with accounts by family members, survivors, and DoC staff. Made three years after the tragedy, the programme looked at its lasting impact on those left behind. It won Best Documentary at the 1998 NZ Television Awards.
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.
This collection looks at some of New Zealand's most significant national tragedies. Spanning 150+ years, it tells stories of drama, caution, hope and recovery — from the 1863 wreck of the Orpheus at Manukau Heads, to Tarawera, the Wahine, Erebus, Pike River and Christchurch. In the backgrounder, Jock Phillips writes about the collection, and the "common sequence" to disaster.
This award-winning film looks at the strange and ethereal world of New Zealand's limestone areas. The rocks and caves reveal ancient whale fossils, moa hunter art — and evolutionary one-offs (like giant carnivorous snails) that live in a limestone world. The film goes into the darkness to find glow-worms, cave wētā, albino crayfish and skeletons of moa who met their death falling down tomos (shafts). In underground cathedrals, exquisite formations formed by the alchemy of water and limestone are captured. There is also footage of Waitomo Caves and Te Waikoropupu Springs.
This NFU short features the first 'official' colour footage of the Waitomo Caves. Perhaps wary of playing its ace card too early, Waitomo finds time to showcase local beaches and hotel ping-pong tables before moving underground. A wave of Phantom of the Opera-style organ music accompanies the tour party as they enter Waitomo’s limestone grottos, then float down an eerie underground river. Meanwhile the narrator reimagines earlier cave explorations — by English surveyor Fred Mace and local chief Tane Tinorau — into a tale of one lone white man and his candle.
This Loading Doc short follows cavers Dave Ellacott and Mike Allen on their mission to connect Luckie Strike and Junior Mudball, two vastly different cave systems at Waitomo. Luckie Strike features extraordinary rock formations, waterfalls, and vast caverns. Junior Mudball is as its name suggests, mostly mud. The short sees them at work, galavanting through streams, abseiling down crevasses and scraping through mud — and reflecting on what they love about it. Luckie Strike was picked by National Geographic for its Short Film Showcase. A longer version is in the works.
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.
In this full-length Intrepid Journey, Paul Henry brings his straight-talking style to Tibet. Entering Tibet after three days in Kathmandu, Henry encounters dodgy plumbing and the occasional surveillance camera, though he finds a certain romance in the dirt. Henry makes no effort to hide his feelings on yak butter tea, fights altitude sickness en route to Mount Everest base camp, and visits Potala Palace — ex home to the Dalai Lama, now "a mausoleum to old Tibet". For Henry, now is the best time to visit, because "Tibet is being snuffed out. This is just going to be another corner of China."
This Feltex Award-winning documentary dives, abseils and squeezes under the mountain — Mt Arthur in Kahurangi National Park — to record the exploration of the subterranean world of the Nettlebed Cave System. At nearly one kilometre underground the system is New Zealand’s deepest cave, and a mecca for cavers from around the world. The cavers relay their motivations and anxieties as they negotiate the uncharted water-carved limestone labyrinth. Directed by Ian Taylor, it screened in the Lookout series. Claustrophobes beware: there are no lattes at Soft Rock Cafe.