Why is New Zealand's landscape and flora and fauna so unique? In four-part series Moa's Ark, renowned English naturalist David Bellamy, with his impassioned enthusiasm and trademark beard (of "old man's beard must go" fame) goes on a journey to discover the answer. Directed and produced by Peter Hayden, this 1990 TV series was produced by Television New Zealand's award-winning Natural History Unit (now independent production company NHNZ). Read more about the series here.
The Southern Alps contain some of the youngest mountains in the world. In this NHNZ documentary awesome four seasons footage and sound design evoke the the tenuous richness of life in the vast, geologically dynamic landscape. Garrulous kea (the world’s only mountain parrot), Himalayan thar, “snow thrush” (crickets) and Mount Cook buttercup (the world’s largest) exist in a world of thundering avalanches and creaking glaciers. The classically filmed doco won a Merit Award at the 1993 International Wildlife Film Festival, Missoula.
As an eight-year-old, a postage stamp of the giant kauri Tāne Mahuta offered English TV presenter David Bellamy his first introduction to New Zealand. In this episode of Moa’s Ark, Bellamy attempts to hug the nearly 14 metre girth of the tree, and explores Aotearoa's ancient forests and the fight to save them from destruction — including campaigns to save Whirinaki and Puerora Forests, when protestors chained themselves to enormous totara to prevent their milling. The episode also features a extraterrestrial underwater forest, deep under Milford Sound.
For 80 million years, Moa's Ark was mammal free. Then, in the last 1000 years, humans arrived from Polynesia and Europe, and as presenter David Bellamy discovers, changed these islands at a rate unparalleled in the peopling of this planet. Bellamy channels Indiana Jones and hangs from old man's beard vines to assess the impact. The episode features footage of a beautiful dawn chorus, of the kiwi and the nocturnal kakapo (the world's largest, rarest parrot), cave drawings of the moa-hunters, plus Māori harakeke weaving and a hangi with Tipene O'Regan.
This documentary looks at the history of the island of Motutaiko, the prominent landmark in the middle of Lake Taupō. Motutaiko is a sacred site for Ngāti Tūwharetoa. Directors Toby Mills and Moana Maniapoto use interviews and shots of island life to examine Motutaiko’s geological and mythological origins, its strategic place in Māori history (from the muttonbirds that gave the island its name, to its role as a stronghold), desecration of burial sites, and its contemporary place as a conservation bastion free of predators — and home to rare birds, insects and trees.
This edition of the 60s Sunday night magazine show travels to New Zealand’s most active volcano: White Island, situated offshore in the Bay of Plenty. The thermal activity on the privately owned scenic reserve is vividly captured as the camera roams the roaring, shuddering landscape and ventures past seething fumaroles into the crater. The tenuous history of human engagement with ‘Whakaari’ is covered: from Maui and Māori myth to the derelict remains of sulphur mining; including a 1914 eruption that killed 11 miners (with their black cat the only survivor).
Landmarks was a major 10-part series that traced the history of New Zealand through its landscape, particularly the impact of human settlement and technology. The concept was modelled on the epic BBC series America. Here a bespectacled, Swannie-wearing geography professor, Kenneth B Cumberland, stands in for Alistair Cooke, interweaving science, history and sweeping imagery to tell the stories of the landscape's "complete transformation". It received a 1982 Feltex Award for Best Documentary and the donnish but game Cumberland became a household name.
From Māori myth to climbing and photography, to gliding and paraponting around its peak, Aoraki-Mt Cook is vividly captured in all its moods in this award-winning NHNZ portrait. Filmed for the centenary of the first ascent of a mountain that has claimed over 100 lives, it follows mountaineers as they climb toward the summit, re-enacting Tom Fyfe's pioneering pre-crampon route. Climbers, including Edmund Hillary, reminisce about encounters with NZ's highest and most iconic peak; and Bruce Grant takes the quick way down: a vertiginous ski descent.
‘Moa's Ark' set sail 80 million years ago. David Bellamy becomes an ancient mariner and retraces the voyage of the islands of New Zealand (using contemporary science as his guide). In this first episode he finds out why New Zealand is called the Shaky Isles, gets face to face with the "living fossil" the tuatara, is inspired by meat pies, and discovers geography as he competes in the annual Coast to Coast race over the Southern Alps — with directional and gorse eradication aid coming from legendary race organiser Robin Judkins.
Presented by Kenneth Cumberland, Landmarks looked at New Zealand history through the landscape — and at man "coming to terms" with it. In this episode Aotearoa's "last, lonely, remote" geography is framed as a stimulus for ingenuity. A narrative of "triumph over the elements" finds its flagbearer in the DIY story of jetboat inventor Bill Hamilton. Cumberland is donnish but game in pursuit of telling landmarks: exposing seashells alongside the Napier-Taupō highway (700 metres above sea level) like a downunder Darwin, or in a gas mask on an erupting White Island.