Craig Potton — renowned photographer and conservationist — is New Zealand coastal tour guide in this five part South Pacific Pictures’ series. In this excerpt from the opening episode Potton gets choppered in by his mate, legendary pilot Richard ‘Hannibal’ Hayes, to explore the edges of the Fiordland wilderness. The duo camp on Hayes’ ex-navy vessel moored in Breaksea Sound; and retrace Captain Cook’s star-gazing route in Dusky Sound (where Cook brewed the first beer in NZ). Then Potton frames the epic limestone landscape of Chalky Inlet through his camera lens.
In this episode of the Journeys in National Parks series, presenter Peter Hayden looks at the primeval, remote wilderness of Fiordland National Park. We learn of how the god Tu-te-raki-whanoa crafted the fiords out of sheer cliffs with his adze, "so the sea might run in and there'd be quiet places for people to live". On boats and along the Milford Track, Hayden traces the "memory trails" of the few who have braved the area: Māori pounamu collectors, sealers, cray fishermen, early naturalists Georg and Johann Forster, and pioneering conservationist Richard Henry.
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.
The bid to raise the level of Fiordland’s Lake Manapōuri (to provide hydro-electricity for an aluminum smelter) resulted in controversy between 1959 and 1972. This film charts a (still-timely) debate as arguments for industrial growth and cheap energy vie with views advocating for ecological values. New Zealand’s first large-scale environmental campaign ensued, and its “damn the dam” victory was a spur for the modern conservation movement — drawing an unprecedented petition, Forest and Bird, and figures like farmer Ron McLean and botanist Alan Mark into the fray.
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.
In the decades after WWll, introduced deer had become major high country pests, and they were culled in their thousands. By the 1960s entrepreneurs were recovering the meat for export, then later live capturing animals for farming stock, using helicopters. This 1980 National Film Unit documentary follows pilots Norm Kensington and Doug Maxwell on a mission in Fiordland: flying low over imposing mountains, nabbing a deer with a net gun, then ferrying it down the valley hanging from the chopper. Directed by Chris Dillon, the wordless film is scored by Chris Cree Brown.
Flightless and nocturnal, the kākāpō is the world's heaviest parrot. By the 1970s the mysterious, moss-coloured bird was facing extinction, "evicted" to Fiordland mountains and Stewart Island by stoats and cats. Thanks to innovative night vision equipment, this film captured for the first time the bird's idiosyncratic courtship rituals, and the first chick found in a century. Marking the directing debut of NHNZ veteran Rod Morris, it screened in the Feltex Award-winning second season of Wild South, and won acclaim at the 1984 International Wildlife Film Festival.
This documentary turns the lens on acclaimed photographer Andris Apse. The Latvian war refugee later joined the Forest Service, where he was inspired by lensman John Johns and Fiordland; a chance break taking scenic shots for Air New Zealand empowered Apse to pursue his passion: wilderness photography. From his Okarito home and in the wild, Apse muses on the rugged demands of capturing an image and the "stubborn determination" of his craft. From Time to National Geographic, his photos have helped define Aotearoa as a theatre country of epic, elemental landscapes.
Manapōuri hydroelectric power station is New Zealand’s largest. This 1970 NFU film — made for the Electricity Department — follows workers clearing a path for power through epic Fiordland mountains and rainforest, building roads and power pylons, and stringing a cable along the “hard and dirty” 30 miles to the aluminium smelter at Bluff. Sixteen men were killed constructing ‘the line’ before power was first generated in 1969. At the same time the scheme generated mass protests (the ‘Save Manapōuri’ campaign) at the proposal to raise Lake Manapōuri's level.
This NFU documentary gets in the saddle to follow the professional riders in the world’s southernmost road cycling race. Held in October 1981, the Tour of Southland went from lowland towns like Lumsden to the spectacular trans-Southern Alps road to Milford. Chopper shots and pre-GoPro camera mounts follow riders through Fiordland National Park rainforest. As cyclists rest aching muscles, an unusually philosophical narrator wonders “but is it worth it?”. Date stamps include cigarette sponsorship and a Cortina support fleet. The film screened in cinemas alongside Smash Palace.