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.
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.
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.
This fourth episode of Captain’s Log sees host Peter Elliott journeying around the bottom of the South Island, tracing the end of James Cook’s first journey around New Zealand. The precarious Otago Harbour is navigated in an oil tanker, before a much smaller boat takes Elliott around the bottom of Stewart Island to Fiordland, where his captain Lance Shaw describes major conservation efforts in the area. A trip up the treacherous West Coast in a concrete carrier is cause for nerves, then a sail aboard Spirit of New Zealand offers a chance to reflect on the journey.
This Roger Donaldson-directed documenary follows Sir Edmund Hillary, as he leads an A-Team of mates on an epic expedition to climb Fiordland's Kaipo Wall. In part two Murray Jones and Graeme Dingle attack the imposing 1000 metre face, and tackle icy rocks and vertical overhangs. Hillary's supply team skirts around towards a peak rendezvous, meeting friendly kea and unfriendly weather en route. When the climbers unite there's a celebratory beer before a blizzard traps them in a snowcave and tents. Awesome cinematography captures the old school thrill of adventure.
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.
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.
Anthropologist Max Scarry goes missing in Fiordland, while searching for a fabled Māori tribe. The local policeman believes Max broke local tapu. Max's partner Ruth sets off with his twin brother, murder suspect Edward, to try to unravel the mystery. John Laing's second feature attempts an ambitious Hitchcockian plot, and the cast — especially John Bach's terse doppelganger performance — testifies to the talent on hand in the early days of the Kiwi film renaissance. Atmospheric camerawork makes the most of damp Wellington, and remote bush settings.