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.
While Rawiri Paratene was directing TV's Korero Mai, conversation turned to Intrepid Journeys, and he mentioned offhandedly that he'd love to be a presenter. At the end of the day Paratene got an urgent message to call his agent: the Intrepid producers wanted him to guide an episode. Weeks later he found himself in Nicaragua, engaging with the people, places and troubled history of the country. But as this excerpt shows, it is the children who will live on in his memory. Paratene proves himself a generous host, revealing something of himself as much as Nicaragua.
This 1952 film ventures off the Bay of Plenty coast to New Zealand’s most active volcano: White Island. The National Film Unit production joins a team of DSIR scientists, supposedly the first humans in more than a decade to to view this “fantastic laboratory of nature”. They camp in the ruins of a sulphur mill, where the acidic fumes have disintegrated factory engines. Steam in fumeroles destroys thermometers — “mapping the land brings the party to many a scene like this: a scene from The Inferno”. Elsewhere, gannets nest, defying the inhospitable environment.
This edition of the 60s Sunday night magazine show travels to New Zealand’s most active volcano: White Island, situated offshore in the Bay of Plenty. The thermal activity on the privately owned scenic reserve is vividly captured as the camera roams the roaring, shuddering landscape and ventures past seething fumaroles into the crater. The tenuous history of human engagement with ‘Whakaari’ is covered: from Maui and Māori myth to the derelict remains of sulphur mining; including a 1914 eruption that killed 11 miners (with their black cat the only survivor).
While convalescing down under Sir Charles Pemberton (Terence Cooper) schemes to build a thermal spa in the town of Wainamu c.1900. Conflict ensues as the spa’s planned location is on Māori land. The action is seen through the eyes of youngsters: hotelier’s son Tom, and Pemberton’s granddaughter Sarah Jane; who — along with an erupting volcano — eventually impart on Sir Charles a lesson about colonial hubris. The 13-part series was a marquee title from a golden age of Kiwi kidult telly-making: it won multiple Feltex awards, and screened on the BBC in 1980.
On a holiday to Mt Tarawera with her scientist parents, teenager Jenny (Katrina Hobbs) finds an odd shard of metal. By touching it she unwittingly awakens 'Drom' — a survivor of an alien mission to deactivate a planet-annihilating space gun (aka the volcano!). Local kids Tessa and Lloyd also own key pieces; if Drom and the teen trio can't defeat the gun-toting mechanoid ... human and alien species extinction is imminent! The internationally successful six part series was a South Pacific Pictures and Canadian co-production; it screened in 1991.
Musician, DJ and accomplished sailor Andrew Fagan heads to Indonesia with guitar in hand — plus some miniature sail boats. The trip includes an active volcano, a dodgy riverboat, the peaceful vibe of an Islamic festival, and some catchy Fagan tunes. The result is a standout episode, thanks partly to an enthusiastic and straight-talking host: a man who makes the most of each moment, without turning his head away from the realities of poverty, or the after-effects of terrorist bombing. Warning: animal lovers may want to avoid certain scenes.
This 1955 film looks at the “savage” geology of the North Island volcanic region, and its human settlement. Te Arawa myth introduces the steaming valleys of volcano and quake god Rūaumoko. The film then surveys geothermal activity and its exploitation by Māori and Pākehā, from cooking to heating hospital radiators. It ends with a dramatic geyser display in front of tourists. Guide Rangi cameos. It screened at the Edinburgh Film Festival, and was John Feeney’s last National Film Unit gig before directing Oscar-nominated films for the National Film Board of Canada.
This 1993 documentary surveys the world’s southernmost volcano, Mount Erebus. Cameras travel to never before filmed depths, 400 metres below the sea ice. They also go 3500 metres above sea level into the erupting crater. The film charts what is able to survive in the otherworldly environment, from seals to moss. Solid Water was the third part of an acclaimed Wild South trilogy on Antarctica, which helped establish a relationship between Discovery Channel and TVNZ’s Natural History Unit (later NHNZ). It was awarded for Best Camera at the 1994 New Zealand TV Awards.
Raoul Island is nearly 1000 kilometres northeast of New Zealand. For this Christmas Day 1988 report, TV One's Kurt Sanders paid a visit to the four-person NZ meteorological team serving there (plus Smelly the dog — “the unchallenged King of the Kermadecs”). Sanders follows future One News weather presenter Karen Olsen (then Karen Fisher) as she milks the cow, and heads through the nikau to take readings in the crater of Raoul’s active volcano. The uniquely-evolved island is now the Department of Conservation's most remote reserve.