Award-winner Hidden Places: Ōkārito marked an early milestone for the Natural History Unit (later to become NHNZ) — it was part of the first series made by the unit. The 15 minute episode follows birds, such as white heron, Russian godwits and royal spoonbills, all of them flocking to Ōkārito's "unique world of sea, lagoon, rivers and forests". Logging of kahikatea, the tallest endemic forest tree, also features. Robin Scholes, later to produce movie Once Were Warriors, wrote and directed this episode. It won Best Documentary at the 1979 Feltex Television Awards.
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.
This 1973 TV drama is inspired by events which led to a major riot on the West Coast during the 1860s gold rush. After prospector Albert Hunt (Ron Burt) registers a gold claim near Ōkārito, he finds himself accompanied by hundreds of fellow miners — who refuse to let Hunt out of their sights, as he returns to the site via water-logged forests and beaches. The darkly poetic tale of what men can do after they smell gold was partly shot on location on the West Coast. The opening features Sam Neill and Close to Home veteran Tony Curran, among Hunt's fireside colleagues.
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.
Renowned ornithologist and Dominion Museum head Robert Falla goes into the field to present this first edition of National Film Unit’s Land of Birds. His subject is the kōtuku or white heron, nesting in swamp forest by Ōkārito Lagoon, Westland — the only New Zealand breeding colony. In Māori lore the heron is the sacred 'He kotuku rerenga tahi' or 'bird of single flight', owing to its rare sightings. Grant Foster’s beautifully shot survey of the kōtuku’s Ōkārito summer housing screened on TV in 1972, and won a 1973 Feltex Award for Best Natural History Programme.
Gaylene Preston's documentary on writer Keri Hulme — filmed two years after Hulme shot to global fame on the back of her Booker Prize-winning novel The Bone People — is both a poetic travelogue of Okarito (the township where she resided for 40 years), and a sampler-box of affable musings on her writing process, whitebait fishing, the supernatural, and the 1200 pages of notes for her next novel, the elusive Bait. Leon Narbey's camera is aptly alert to the magical qualities of the coast, from the resident kotuku to the surf and birdsong peppering Hulme’s crib.
This documentary turns the lens on acclaimed photographer Andris Apse. The Latvian war refugee later joined the Forest Service, where he was inspired by lensman John Johns and Fiordland; a chance break taking scenic shots for Air New Zealand empowered Apse to pursue his passion: wilderness photography. From his Okarito home and in the wild, Apse muses on the rugged demands of capturing an image and the "stubborn determination" of his craft. From Time to National Geographic, his photos have helped define Aotearoa as a theatre country of epic, elemental landscapes.
This short National Film Unit documentary travels to Westland to meet the kōtuku or white heron. In Aotearoa, the kōtuku is known for its beauty and scarcity (the bird’s only NZ breeding colony is near Okarito Lagoon). The black and white film joins the ranger to go whitebaiting, as kōtuku arrive in spring. Kōtuku’s special place in Māori mythology is recounted, and legendary ornithologist Robert Falla checks out chicks in a crowded ponga fern nest. Directed by John Feeney, the film premiered in Christchurch in front of Queen Elizabeth, on her Coronation Tour.
Winter is going. This impressionistic take on spring in Aotearoa focuses on details of regeneration, from the mountains to the sea. Director Ron Bowie and cameraman Grant Foster capture signs of the season: ice melt like tadpoles under snow grass, gannets nesting on their Cape Kidnappers tenement, fern koru unfurling, kōtuku and royal spoonbills perched in Ōkārito trees like Dr Suess characters, willow buds and kōwhai flowers. And of course, lambs and daffodils. The camera aptly obeys the title to end. Patrick Flynn (Don’t Let it Get You) composed the score.
Land of Birds was a series of 10 films looking at Aotearoa’s manu or native birds. Produced by the National Film Unit, the series was written, directed and largely photographed by Grant Foster. It was New Zealand’s first natural history film series, showing on NZ TV and internationally. The first instalment — Bird of a Single Flight (presented by Dr Robert Falla, on the kōtuku colony at Ōkārito) — won a 1973 Feltex Award for Best Natural History Programme. Other topics included Royal Albatross (toroa), and The Honeyeaters (tui, bellbird/korimako, stichbird/hihi).