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Project Takahē

Television, 1981 (Full Length Episode)

When the takahē was rediscovered in the Murchison mountains in 1948, it made world headlines as a back from extinction story. This documentary checks in on the big flightless birds three decades later, with their future under threat (by deer, stoats and breeding failure). Doctor Geoffrey Orbell recalls the 1948 expedition. Project Takahē was the first Wild South documentary made by TVNZ’s Natural History Unit (later NHNZ). The images of takahē – blue, green and red, plodding in the snowy tussock – marked the first time most New Zealanders had seen the bird in the wild.    

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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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Birdland - First Episode

Television, 2009 (Full Length Episode)

Nearly mammal free, pre-human New Zealand was a land of birds, many of them found nowhere else. In Birdland, Jeremy Wells (Eating Media Lunch) explores all things avian in Aotearoa. In this opening episode he visits Hauraki Gulf island sanctuary Tiritiri Matangi and Christchurch’s Peacock Springs. Putting the wry into wrybill, Wells muses on manu matters from twitching to tākahe poop. Dominion Post’s Linda Burgess praised Mike Single's "marvellous camera work", and Wells’ celebration of ordinary people "who work to protect and enhance what we still have".

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Primeval New Zealand

Television, 2012 (Full Length)

This one-off documentary from NHNZ reveals new information about the origins of the iconic kiwi. Presenter Peter Elliott travels the country investigating how "evolutionary mutants" — like giant meat-eating snails, kiwi, and tuatara — evolved over 20 million years in the face of massive tectonic upheavals and extreme isolation.  Elliott answers why Aotearoa has the "weirdest creatures", such as birds that don't fly and mammals that do. Company Weta Workshop used computer graphics to create images of extinct creatures for this TV One programme.  

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Weekly Review No. 437 - Ornithology ... Notornis Expedition

Short Film, 1950 (Full Length)

In November 1948 New Zealand got its own Lost World story, when a population of takahē — a large flightless rail, long thought extinct — was found in a remote part of Fiordland. The rediscovery of ‘notornis’ (a cousin of the pūkeko), by Southland doctor Geoffrey Orbell, generated international interest. This episode of the NFU’s Weekly Review newsreel series treks from Lake Te Anau high into the Murchison Mountains, where the team (including naturalist Robert Falla) find sea shell fossils, evidence of moa-hunter campsites, and the dodo-like takahē itself.

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The Mighty Moa

Television, 1998 (Full Length)

The giant, flightless moa, could stretch up to three metres tall and weighed up to 275kg. This documentary tells the story of the "mighty moa". It covers the bird's 19th Century rediscovery by English naturalist Richard Owen who surmised that the moa existed from bone evidence (leading to ‘moa mania' bone-trade); through ignition of hope that moa may still be alive when takahe (thought as dead as the dodo) were discovered in Fiordland in 1948; to digging up bird skeletons and remains of moa hunter culture in South Island swamps.

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Series

Hidden Places

Television, 1978

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.

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Kapiti Hono Tatati Hono - My Island, My Home

Television, 2007 (Full Length)

This documentary explores the stories of the people who live at Waiorua Bay on bird sanctuary Kāpiti Island. John Barrett talks about his Kāpiti tipuna, from bloody iwi battles, whaling and farming, to his whānau's consciousness of their kaitiakitanga (guardianship) role. It looks at DIY island life (exercycle-powered water pumps) and its development as an unique eco-tourism destination where kākā parrots and kererū flock, and kiwi and dodo-like takahē wander freely. Says Amo Barrett: "we've got a treasure here that we should share with others".

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Pictorial Parade No. 164 - Miss World in NZ

Short Film, 1965 (Full Length)

This episode of Pictorial Parade, a long-running National Film Unit newsreel series, presents three events: at Mt Bruce, a native bird reserve is opened, the New Zealand Cricket Team’s tour of India is lost 1-0, and Miss World, Ann Sidney (UK), leads the way in fashion at the 1965 Wool Award and Fashion Parade in Lower Hutt. Watch for takahē feeding from the hand, a disconsolate kiwi being held by the Minster of Internal Affairs, Miss Hutt Valley Wool Princess finalists sashaying in the latest fashions, and the New Zealand cricket team sightseeing in India.

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The Early Days

Short Film, 1971 (Full Length)

Made for the Post Office, this 1971 National Film Unit documentary offers a potted history of New Zealand, using postage stamps as the frame. Director David Sims ranges from Māori rock drawings, to Tasman and Cook. Once Pākehā settlers arrive, the film offers a narrative of progress (aside from two world wars) leading to nationhood and industry. Archive photographs, paintings, Edwardian-era scenes and reenactments add to the subjects illustrated on the stamps. The stamps include New Zealand’s first: a full-face portrait of Queen Victoria by Alfred Edward Chalon.