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: Tongariro te Maunga

Television, 1987 (Full Length)

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.

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.

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.

Single on Ice

Television, 1999 (Full Length)

This 1999 documentary goes behind the scenes with veteran Antarctic filmmaker Mike Single, as he films icebergs in the Southern Ocean. To Single they’re "ice creatures" and his mission is to get to their dynamic "essence". He and his crew face time pressure, storms, cabin fever, and challenges shooting underwater. Some of Single's shots of epic ice sculptures, calving glaciers, crabeater seals, gentoo penguins, humpback whales and trademark time-lapse cloudscapes also appeared in his documentaries Crystal Ocean (a 2000 Emmy Award-winner), and Katabatic.

Moa's Ark : Invaders of the Last Ark

Television, 1990 (Full Length)

For 80 million years, Moa's Ark was mammal free. Then, in the last 1000 years, humans arrived from Polynesia and Europe, and as presenter David Bellamy discovers, changed these islands at a rate unparalleled in the peopling of this planet. Bellamy channels Indiana Jones and hangs from old man's beard vines to assess the impact. The episode features footage of a beautiful dawn chorus, of the kiwi and the nocturnal kakapo (the world's largest, rarest parrot), cave drawings of the moa-hunters, plus Māori harakeke weaving and a hangi with Tipene O'Regan.

Wildtrack - From Mountains to Sea Floor

Television, 1990 (Full Length Episode)

Wildtrack was a highly successful nature series for children, running from 1981 through several series to the early 90s. In this episode the presenters check out “dung fungi” in cow pats and walking-on-water-insects (pond skaters) in the studio, and head outside to check out kea alpine parrots who are “too friendly for their own good” (threatened by smuggling and over eager tourists); the West Coast’s black sand beaches; Fiordland’s underwater world; and selective plant breeding that involves washing a bee.