The Unnatural History of the Kākāpō

Film, 2009 (Excerpts)

This documentary tells the tenuous survivor story of the kākāpō: the nocturnal flightless green parrot with "big sideburns and Victorian gentlemen's face" (as comedian Stephen Fry put it). A sole breeding population for the evolutionary oddity (the world's largest parrot; it can live up to 120 years) is marooned on remote Codfish Island. The award-winning film had rare access to the recovery programme and its dramatic challenges. This excerpt sees a rugged journey to the island to search for a kākāpō named 'Bill', and witnesses the "bizarre ballad" of its mating boom.

Interview

Michael Stedman: Natural History New Zealand boss...

Credits: Interview, Camera & Editing – Andrew Whiteside

With over 30 years experience in the television industry, Michael Stedman has done just about everything behind the cameras. He began as an editor and moved on to directing and producing for TVNZ. While there he produced shows such as Beauty and the Beast, University Challenge and numerous sport and news programmes. He has held senior positions at television networks in New Zealand and Australia, and is currently the Managing Director at Natural History New Zealand.

Interview

Neil Harraway: A passion for natural history filmmaking...

Interview, Camera and Editing – Andrew Whiteside

Producer/director Neil Harraway helped set up the Natural History Unit for TVNZ, which later became company NHNZ. Harraway worked for them for the next three decades, making spectacular nature documentaries including Under the Ice, Emperors of Antarctica and Journeys across Latitude 45 South. These days Harraway runs his own wildlife tourism business in Dunedin.

Collection

The Nature Collection

Curated by Peter Hayden

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.

Ghosts of Gondwana

Television, 2001 (Full Length)

Long isolated, New Zealand contains a world of Alice Through the Looking Glass natural oddities: birds, insects and plants like nowhere else. Scientist Jared Diamond remarked "it is the nearest approach to life on another planet". Palaeontology (from Professor Michael Archer) and Māori myth (told by Hirini Melbourne) reveal these 'Ghosts of Gondwana'. Then cutting edge camera techniques (earning a Merit Award at 2002 International Wildlife Film Festival) delve into a night world of bat-filled tree trunk saunas, “demon grasshopper” wētā, and furry kiwi with chopstick bills.

Journeys Across Latitude 45 South (part four) - Atawhenua Shadowland

Television, 1985 (Full Length Episode)

This final installment of Hayden’s traverse across latitude 45 finds him in the ice-sculpted isolation of Fiordland. In this episode he travels through diverse flora (lush and verdant thanks to astonishingly high rainfall); and with botanist Dr Brian Molloy follows the footsteps of early bird conservationist Richard Henry. Mohua (yellowhead), takahe, weka and tiny rock wrens feature in the fauna camp. Reaching the sea, the underworld depths of George Sound house a world teeming with abundant life.

Mount Cook - Footsteps to the Sky

Television, 1994 (Full Length)

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.

Emperors of Antarctica

Television, 1992 (Full Length)

This film tells the story of Antarctica’s emperor penguin (the inspiration behind Happy Feet) and how they survive vicious blizzards and -50°C temperatures. It also retraces the epic “worst journey in the world” which explorer Edward Wilson made to discover these remarkable birds. Max Quinn won a best director award at the 1994 NZ Television Awards for the Antarctic Trilogy Emperors was part of. The trilogy helped establish NHNZ’s relationship with Discovery Channel. As this backgrounder explains, the scene of a penguin falling through ice (clip one) became a YouTube hit.

Journeys in National Parks: Hauraki Gulf

Television, 1987 (Full Length)

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.

Series

Wildtrack

Television, 1981–1991

Wildtrack was a highly successful nature series for children, combining a Dunedin studio set with reporting from the field. Produced by TVNZ’s Natural History Unit, it ran from 1981 until the early 1990s. Producer Michael Stedman sought to produce a series where “children can be excited and entertained with genuine information, while not neglecting adults”. Wildtrack won the Feltex Television Award for the best children's programme, three years running (1982 - 1984).