To celebrate NZ's unique natural taonga, Peter Hayden has curated a highlights collection from three decades of NHNZ productions. Aotearoa's landforms and its magnificent menagerie of natural oddities - birds, insects, trees like nowhere else on the planet - are showcased in 15 award-winning titles. From Discovery Channel and David Bellamy, to Wild South and Our World classics.
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.
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.
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".
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 1949; to digging up bird skeletons and remains of moa hunter culture in South Island swamps.
Made for the UN's first 'Earth Summit' in Stockholm in 1971, the film explores what the future holds for NZ’s environment. Director Hugh Macdonald (This is New Zealand) presents an impressionistic ecosystem: mixing shots of native natural wonder, urbanisation, and pollution with abstract montages and predictions from futurologists — such as Cousteau’s “underwater man”. Before climate change heated up 21st Century Doomsday debates, this film (made for the Ministry of Works!) places stock in individual responsibility. The score aptly enlists the French nursery rhyme ‘Are You Sleeping?’.
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.
This 1962 National Film Unit short uses the relationship between Māori and manu (birds) as a platform to celebrate New Zealand bush birds — from food source and key roles in myth, to their general character. Legend of Birds was filmed on Kāpiti and Little Barrier Islands. Many of the images were captured by noted nature photographers Kenneth and Jean Bigwood, and the score is by composer Larry Pruden. The narration includes a rap-style tribute to the kākā parrot: “squarks about his indigestion, population and congestion … politics the current question”.
In this award-winning tourism promo, an easy-going narrator guides us through a land of contrasts — “where else would you find golf and geysers?”. The sights range from frozen to boiling lakes, characterful cities to odd natives (kiwi, takahē, carnivorous snails). Visual highlights include quirky road-signs (“beware of wind”, “slow workmen ahead”), toheroa digging and a flotilla of capsizing optimists. Directed by NFU veteran Ron Bowie, the film won an award at the 1963 Venice Film Festival, before headlining a special Amazing New Zealand season of shorts in NZ cinemas.
This final installment of Hayden’s traverse across latitude 45 finds him in the ice-sculpted isolation of Fiordland. In this episode he travels through diverse flora (lush and verdant thanks to astonishingly high rainfall); and with botanist Dr Brian Molloy follows the footsteps of early bird conservationist Richard Henry. Mohua (yellowhead), takahe, weka and tiny rock wrens feature in the fauna camp. Reaching the sea, the underworld depths of George Sound house a world teeming with abundant life.