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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Moa's Ark : Stamp of the Giants

Television, 1990 (Full Length)

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.

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Seven Black Robins

Television, 1981 (Full Length)

By 1976 there were only seven Chatham Islands black robins left. It was the world's rarest bird. In a bid to save the species, the surviving birds were taken from one island to another more hospitable island in a desperate rescue mission. This was part of an incredible conservation success story led by Don Merton and his NZ Wildlife Service team. Seven Black Robins and Project Takahē captured viewers' imaginations as part of an acclaimed series of 'rare bird' films that screened on TV series Wild South. They helped forge the reputation of TVNZ’s Natural History Unit (later NHNZ).

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The Black Stilt

Television, 1983 (Full Length)

This film tells the story of the world’s rarest wading bird, the black stilt (kakī). With its precise beak and long pink legs the stilt is superbly adapted to the stony braided riverbeads of the McKenzie Country, but it is tragically unable to deal with new threats (rats, ferrets, habitat loss). An early doco for TVNZ’s Natural History Unit, the magnificently filmed drama of the stilt’s struggle for survival makes it “stand out as a classic of its genre” (Russell Campbell). It won the Gold Award at New York’s International Film & TV Festival (1984).

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Series

Journeys in National Parks

Television, 1987

In this five part series presenter Peter Hayden travels through some of New Zealand's most varied, awe-inspiring and spiritual environments. Though there is superbly filmed flora and fauna, geology and other standard natural history documentary staples, it is the history of people's relationship with these sublime landscapes and a genial New Zealand passion for the environment, that makes a lasting impression. At the 1988 Listener Film and TV Awards Hayden won Best Writer in a Non-Drama Category for the series.

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Wicked Weather - The Wind

Television, 2005 (Full Length Episode)

Produced by NHNZ, this NZ Screen Award-nominated 2005 TVNZ series looks at Aotearoa’s diverse weather. This first episode (of three) explores "the main driving force behind all our weather" — the wind — from the science behind where it comes from, to its impact on people (from sport to the economy). Presenter Gus Roxburgh contends with Wellington’s infamous wind, and with Auckland’s tornadoes and cyclones. He looks at when weather is good (wind farms, windsurfing) and when weather goes bad (the Wahine disaster, Cyclone Bola, landing at Wellington Airport). 

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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.