This 1972 documentary explores the world of a dying generation of Māori female elders or kuia — “the last of the Māori women with tattooed chins”. The film pays tribute to the place of the kuia in Māori culture, and of wahine tā moko. Among those on screen are 105-year old Ngahuia Hona, who cooks in hot pools, rolls a cigarette, and eats with whānau, and “the oldest Māori” Nga Kahikatea Wirihana, who remembers the Battle of Ōrākau during the land wars, and has outlived four husbands. Into Antiquity was an early documentary from veteran director Wayne Tourell.
Award-winner Hidden Places: Ōkārito marked an early milestone for the Natural History Unit (later to become NHNZ) — it was part of the first series made by the unit. The 15 minute episode follows birds, such as white heron, Russian godwits and royal spoonbills, all of them flocking to Ōkārito's "unique world of sea, lagoon, rivers and forests". Logging of kahikatea, the tallest endemic forest tree, also features. Robin Scholes, later to produce movie Once Were Warriors, wrote and directed this episode. It won Best Documentary at the 1979 Feltex Television Awards.
Renowned ornithologist and Dominion Museum head Robert Falla goes into the field to present this first edition of National Film Unit’s Land of Birds. His subject is the kōtuku or white heron, nesting in swamp forest by Ōkārito Lagoon, Westland — the only New Zealand breeding colony. In Māori lore the heron is the sacred 'He kotuku rerenga tahi' or 'bird of single flight', owing to its rare sightings. Grant Foster’s beautifully shot survey of the kōtuku’s Ōkārito summer housing screened on TV in 1972, and won a 1973 Feltex Award for Best Natural History Programme.
This short National Film Unit documentary travels to Westland to meet the kōtuku or white heron. In Aotearoa, the kōtuku is known for its beauty and scarcity (the bird’s only NZ breeding colony is near Okarito Lagoon). The black and white film joins the ranger to go whitebaiting, as kōtuku arrive in spring. Kōtuku’s special place in Māori mythology is recounted, and legendary ornithologist Robert Falla checks out chicks in a crowded ponga fern nest. Directed by John Feeney, the film premiered in Christchurch in front of Queen Elizabeth, on her Coronation Tour.
In this episode of the Journeys series, Peter Hayden travels west to east across two national parks and some of New Zealand's most sublime landscapes: from giant, ancient kahikatea forest to hotpools and creaking glaciers. Reflections by ecologist Geoff Park (author of Ngā Uruora) on the coast-to-mountains forest, and the exploits of early surveyor Charlie 'Explorer' Douglas are woven through Hayden's journey, ending with Hayden's personal highlight of the series: climbing Hochstetter Dome with the legendary mountaineer (and Edmund Hillary mentor) Harry Ayres.
In this episode of the long-running nature programming slot on TV One, naturalist David Bellamy visits New Zealand’s “dinosaur forest” — Whirinaki. Bellamy brings his famed nature-boy enthusiasm to “a living cathedral that dates back 200 million years”. He explores the North Island forest’s “big five”: 60m+ rimu, mataī, kahikatea, miro and tōtara trees; and the ecosystem that they reign over, from kākā parrots to giant tree ferns. The intro is by Gael Ludlow and features the fondly-remembered Jean Michel Jarre synthpop track that was Our World’s signature.
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.
In this series celebrating New Zealand's national parks, Peter Hayden travels through some of Aotearoa's most awe-inspiring environments. This episode — looking at the unique spiritual relationship between the Tūhoe people, and the birds and bush of Te Urewera National Park — was directed by Barry Barclay (Ngati). Barclay used his fourth cinema philosophy of indigenous filmmaking, "to tell the contemporary story of the park through their [Tūhoe] eyes". The film attracted controversy for its then exceptional use of te reo. Catherine Bisley writes about the Journeys series here.
Peter Hayden travels through some of New Zealand's most awe-inspiring environments in this five part series, made to celebrate the centenary of our first national park. This episode looks at the national park closest to our largest city and contemplates that relationship, featuring stories of life on the islands of the Hauraki Gulf. A highlight is the transfer of the rare saddleback or tieke (a lively wattlebird) from Cuvier Island to the ecological time-capsule of Little Barrier Island — "with Auckland's lights twinkling in the background". Catherine Bisley writes about the Journeys series here.
In this five-part series, presenter Peter Hayden travels through some of New Zealand’s most awe-inspiring landscapes. The series was made to coincide with the centennial of the establishment of Tongariro, Aotearoa’s first national park (and the fourth worldwide). Hayden traverses the famous Tongariro Crossing with priest Max Mariu, volcanologist Jim Cole, park ranger Russell Montgomery, and the young Tumu Te Heu Heu. It was the first time Tumu, later paramount chief of Ngāti Tuwharetoa, had been up the maunga; the power of his experience is clear and moving.