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 award-winning film looks at the strange and ethereal world of New Zealand's limestone areas. The rocks and caves reveal ancient whale fossils, moa hunter art — and evolutionary one-offs (like giant carnivorous snails) that live in a limestone world. The film goes into the darkness to find glow-worms, cave wētā, albino crayfish and skeletons of moa who met their death falling down tomos (shafts). In underground cathedrals, exquisite formations formed by the alchemy of water and limestone are captured. There is also footage of Waitomo Caves and Te Waikoropupu Springs.
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.
The Waitomo Caves are a longtime tourist magnet, thanks to their bioluminescent glow-worms and spectacular stalagmite and stalactite formations. Aside from the glories of the caves, this National Film Unit tourism film mentions the surrounding countryside as “a good reason to stay another day”. Set to a laid-back jazz score, a tour from Waitomo Caves Hotel takes in lambing, limestone outcrops, scenic driving and a picnic by the Marokopa waterfalls. But "to float down the underground river as galaxies pass silently overhead is the crowning pleasure in the valley of Waitomo.”
This NFU short features the first 'official' colour footage of the Waitomo Caves. Perhaps wary of playing its ace card too early, Waitomo finds time to showcase local beaches and hotel ping-pong tables before moving underground. A wave of Phantom of the Opera-style organ music accompanies the tour party as they enter Waitomo’s limestone grottos, then float down an eerie underground river. Meanwhile the narrator reimagines earlier cave explorations — by English surveyor Fred Mace and local chief Tane Tinorau — into a tale of one lone white man and his candle.
This Feltex Award-winning documentary dives, abseils and squeezes under the mountain — Mt Arthur in Kahurangi National Park — to record the exploration of the subterranean world of the Nettlebed Cave System. At nearly one kilometre underground the system is New Zealand’s deepest cave, and a mecca for cavers from around the world. The cavers relay their motivations and anxieties as they negotiate the uncharted water-carved limestone labyrinth. Directed by Ian Taylor, it screened in the Lookout series. Claustrophobes beware: there are no lattes at Soft Rock Cafe.
This 1982 Kaleidoscope report interviews artist Theo Schoon, on his return to New Zealand after a decade in Sydney and Bali. Schoon was a pioneer as a Pākehā engaging with Māori design, melding modernist and Māori motifs (e.g. moko and kowhaiwhai patterns). He discusses his earlier estrangement from the New Zealand art world ("talking to the deaf"), his eight years documenting Māori cave drawings ("art galleries of a sort, art galleries that I'd never been conscious of"), growing and carving gourds, and being inspired by Rotorua’s geothermal activity. Schoon died in 1985.
The early 80s were the apex of the local beauty pageant — Lorraine Downes won Miss Universe in 1983, and more Kiwis watched the 1981 Miss New Zealand contest on TV than Charles and Di’s wedding. This 1984 Miss World New Zealand live telecast was legendary for host Peter Sinclair announcing the wrong winner (clip six). Miss Auckland Barbara McDowell’s runner up sash is swiftly swapped for a crown and she is (eventually) made the first part-Samoan Miss NZ. A retro delight is the beauties dancing to Cyndi Lauper’s ‘Girls Just Want to Have Fun’ in an Oamaru quarry.
Painter Grahame Sydney has been pigeonholed by some as a landscape artist, but this doumentary contends that his evocative depictions of his Central Otago surroundings are much more than just exercises in realism. Fellow locals, poet Brian Turner and actor Sam Neill discuss the emotional and artistic resonance his work holds for them. Sydney's portraits and figure studies are also examined. The production of one of his lithographs is followed from inception — as a sketch on a slab of Bavarian limestone brought to NZ over 200 years ago — to fully fledged print.
Released in February 1969, this National Film Unit documentary offers an impressionistic view on the making of sheet glass. Director Lynton Diggle follows the raw materials (sand, limestone, dolomite) to a Whangarei factory, where they’re combined with broken glass. There, men in protective gear look like they’re enacting an alchemical ritual, as the ‘frit’ mixture is melted in the “punishing heat” of a crucible. Then it’s transferred to the drawing chamber where a toffee-like wall of glass is pulled up for cooling and slicing. Ambient sounds are used to forge a percussive score.