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.
With his impassioned enthusiasm and trademark beard, English naturalist David Bellamy made this well known 1989 community service message for the Department of Conservation. “It’s a nasty, horrible plant and it’s smothering and killing New Zealand’s native bush, and that is a catastrophe ... a trim is not enough — we’ve got to destroy it in every way we can — old man’s beard must go!”. Bellamy is a long-term advocate for the conservation of NZ’s natural heritage, presenting the Moa’s Ark series, as well as famously promoting Woolmark carpet.
This collection is a celebration of the eccentric, exuberant career of NZ screen industry frontrunner Tony Williams. As well as being at the helm of many iconic ads (Crunchie, Bugger, Spot, Dear John) Williams made inventive, award-winning indie TV documentaries, and shot or directed pioneering feature films, including Solo and cult horror Next of Kin.
The world's rarest parrot and immigrant desert "pests" feature in this Meet The Locals Conservation Week special. Presenter Nicola Toki (née Vallance) travels to Invercargill to visit rescued kākāpō chicks, before disinfecting her clothes so she can return the birds to their pest-free home on Codfish Island. Heading north, she takes to the skies to help herd Kaimanawa wild horses, which are wreaking havoc on rare plants, and joins kids on a trip to wildlife sancturary Tiritiri Matangi. The Department of Conservation and TVNZ collaborated to make the series.
By 1976 there were only seven Chatham Islands' black robins left. It was the world's rarest bird. In a bid to save the species, the surviving birds are taken from one island to another more hospitable island in a desperate rescue mission. This is part of an incredible conservation success story led by Don Merton and his NZ Wildlife Service team. With Project Takahē, this documentary captured viewers' imaginations, and was one of the first in the acclaimed Wild South series of 'rare bird' films, which were foundational for TVNZ’s Natural History Unit (later NHNZ).
Aotearoa's wildlife and unique landscape provided the inspiration for Meet the Locals, a partnership between TVNZ and the Department of Conservation. The series ran for six seasons from 2007, most of them on digital channel TVNZ 6 (then on TVNZ 7 for its final season). The four-minute episodes saw DOC staff doing everything from visiting a range of animals and snorkelling in marine reserves, to tramping and taking kids out on trips to the great outdoors. Nicola Toki (née Vallance) presented the series until 2010; later James Reardon and Les Judd took the reins.
This Touchdown series profiles the working lives of rangers who work for the Department of Conservation and Ministry of Fisheries, whose office is "the great New Zealand outdoors". This opening episode meets three rangers looking after threatened taonga: Al Hutt is a sea shepherd to Akaroa's Hector's dolphins; lizard hunter Keri Neilson rescues a chevron skink on Great Barrier Island; and Steve Sawyer defends dotterel nests from cats, hedgehogs, stoats and boy racers on the Wherowhero Lagoon beach (near Gisborne). The series screened on TV One in early 2002.
Nearly mammal free, pre-human New Zealand was a land of birds, many of them found nowhere else. In Birdland, Jeremy Wells (Eating Media Lunch) explores all things avian in Aotearoa. In this opening episode he visits Hauraki Gulf island sanctuary Tiritiri Matangi and Christchurch’s Peacock Springs. Putting the wry into wrybill, Wells muses on manu matters from twitching to tākahe poop. Dominion Post’s Linda Burgess praised Mike Single's "marvellous camera work", and Wells’ celebration of ordinary people "who work to protect and enhance what we still have".
Director Nic Gorman won best short at the 2013 NZ Film Awards for zombie tale Here Be Monsters. With his first feature he shifts horror genres to the psychological thriller, as a mysterious new arrival (Vinnie Bennett) disturbs subantarctic island life for a husband and wife scientist team (Fantail's Sophie Henderson and Siege's Mark Mitchinson). Human Traces debuted at the 2017 NZ International Film Festival. NZ Herald reviewer George Fenwick praised the "stunning cinematography" and "impressive performances", arguing they helped produce a "fine debut" for Gorman.
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.