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.

Journeys in National Parks: Fiordland

Television, 1987 (Full Length)

In this episode of the Journeys in National Parks series, presenter Peter Hayden looks at the primeval, remote wilderness of Fiordland National Park. We learn of how the god Tu-te-raki-whanoa crafted the fiords out of sheer cliffs with his adze, "so the sea might run in and there'd be quiet places for people to live". On boats and along the Milford Track, Hayden traces the "memory trails" of the few who have braved the area: Māori pounamu collectors, sealers, cray fishermen, early naturalists Georg and Johann Forster, and pioneering conservationist Richard Henry. 

Bandits of the Beech Forest

Television, 1996 (Full Length)

The devastating effects of introduced wasps in New Zealand, particularly on kaka (the forest parrot, here beautifully filmed) remain a serious issue. The horde of yellow and black marauders has left scientists struggling to protect animal and human victims. This film looks at the effect on the ecosystem of wasps, who compete with natives for honeydew and prey upon insects. Bandits of the Beech Forest won the Environment Prize for Best Film Illustrating Protection, Preservation or Conservation of Bird Life at the Festival du Film de l'Oiseau.

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.

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.

The Robin's Return

Television, 1982 (Full Length Episode)

“These three birds are over half the world population of their species.” Peter Hayden’s narration lays bare the stakes for the Chatham Island black robin, and the Wildlife Service team (led by Don Merton) trying to save them. Merton’s innovative methods include removing eggs from nests – to encourage the last two females to lay again – and placing them in riroriro (grey warbler) foster homes. The black robin documentaries helped forge the reputation of TVNZ's Natural History Unit. Paul Stanley Ward writes about the documentaries here, and the mission to save the black robin.

Castles of the Underworld

Television, 1991 (Full Length)

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.