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.
Why is New Zealand's landscape and flora and fauna so unique? In four-part series Moa's Ark, renowned English naturalist David Bellamy, with his impassioned enthusiasm and trademark beard (of "old man's beard must go" fame) goes on a journey to discover the answer. Directed and produced by Peter Hayden, this 1990 TV series was produced by Television New Zealand's award-winning Natural History Unit (now independent production company NHNZ). Read more about the series here.
‘Moa's Ark' set sail 80 million years ago. David Bellamy becomes an ancient mariner and retraces the voyage of the islands of New Zealand (using contemporary science as his guide). In this first episode he finds out why New Zealand is called the Shaky Isles, gets face to face with the "living fossil" the tuatara, is inspired by meat pies, and discovers geography as he competes in the annual Coast to Coast race over the Southern Alps — with directional and gorse eradication aid coming from legendary race organiser Robin Judkins.
Predators (possums, rats, rabbits, deer) forced much of the cargo of 'Moa's Ark' to abandon ship and live on off-shore island lifeboats. Moa's Ark presenter David Bellamy visits them (and recently-established mainland 'islands'), and tells some of New Zealand's most dramatic conservation stories. In the fourth clip, he praises the pioneering leadership of Don Merton. The episode includes footage of kōkako and its haunting song, cheeky kaka parrots, tieke (saddleback), hoiho (yellow-eyed penguin), black robins, fierce-looking giant wētā, and the Castle Hill buttercup (the world's rarest).
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.
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.
This six-part series about Aotearoa's flora and fauna marked the first set of documentaries to be made by the BCNZ's freshly born Natural History Unit. The 15 minute episodes showcase White Island, bird life in Ōkārito, the flightless takahē, Waipoua Forest in Northland, wetlands near Dunedin and winter wildlife in Central Otago. Many of the filmmakers went on to make a mark — including directors Neil Harraway and Robin Scholes, and cameraman Robert Brown (The Living Planet). Hidden Places - Ōkārito was named Best Documentary at the 1979 Feltex Television Awards.
“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.
For over 25 years Rod Morris worked with TVNZ’s Natural History Unit and its successor NHNZ, documenting the wildlife of New Zealand. His passion for the natural world lead to his involvement in award-winning documentary series The Black Robin, and Wild South, as well as numerous one-off documentaries including The Devil’s Playground, Wild Asia, Ghosts of Gondwana and Dragons of Komodo. Since leaving NHNZ, Morris has worked on many wildlife books.
As a mountainous island nation, Aotearoa has a famously diverse range of weather. This NZ Screen Award nominated NHNZ series looks at three influential types of weather systems: wind, sun and snow. Filmmaker and adventurer Gus Roxburgh guides viewers through the science behind the weather, and the impact it has on our lives. Wicked Weather screened on TV One in late 2005 in three one-hour episodes. Roxburgh would go on to present an NHNZ series on National Parks, Wild About New Zealand (2013). MetService legend Bob McDavitt was a Wicked Weather consultant.