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.
In the beginning — of both movies and books — is the word. Many classic Kiwi films and television dramas have come from books (Sleeping Dogs, Whale Rider); and many writers have found new readers, through being celebrated and adapted on screen. This collection showcases Kiwi books and authors on screen. Plus check out booklover Finlay Macdonald's backgrounder.
Naturalist Ramari Stewart never tires of the view from a subantarctic hut. "This is the only place I know where I can see a whale out my window and it’s never let me down." The documentary follows Stewart as she spends a summer and winter monitoring wildlife at remote Northwest Bay in Campbell Island. Southern right whales, Hooker's sea lions and elephant seals all feature. Stewart, who later became a whale expert, displays a jaw-dropping bond with the animals. At the end of the programme, the whales cause a stir when they play perilously close to Stewart's boat.
Harold Beven reckons he’s the luckiest man to serve in the Second World War. Born in a village east of London, he saw plenty of action in the (UK) Royal Navy, but by his own admission, never got his feet wet. Joining up as soon as possible after the outbreak of war, Beven served in almost all the naval theatres. As a Chief Petty Officer, he was involved in the evacuations of Greece and Crete — and later the allied invasions of Sicily and Italy — as well as the D-Day invasion of France. At the age of 96, Beven remembers entire conversations as if it was yesterday.
This Landscape doco looks at the muttonbirding culture of the deep south, as Rakiura (Stewart Island) Māori exercise their customary right to harvest the birds for food, oil and feather down. The hunt begins with a rugged trip to the islands where hundreds of thousands of tītī (or sooty shearwater) arrive annually to breed. The kinship of birding is evident as families (and a poodle) set up camp. Soon the salty kai is plucked from burrows and sent by wire downhill to the ‘pluckhole’. This was an early gig for director Bruce Morrison (Heartland, Shaker Run).
This 1973 film sees poet Alistair Te Ariki Campbell explore the history of Kāpiti Island — from being a stronghold for Māori chief Te Rauparaha, to whaling station and its present form as a bird sanctuary. The film chronicles Campbell’s first visit to the legendary motu, where he feeds a kākā parrot a date from his mouth, and witnesses a remarkable scene where a weka kills a Norway rat. With impressionistic sequences set to verse, director Peter Coates’ ‘poetic realisation’ of the island was called “a remarkable contribution to NZ television” by Listener critic David Weatherall.
This documentary heads to the Southern Ocean to explore New Zealand’s subantarctic islands. The Antipodes, Bounty, Snares, Campbell and Auckland Island groups are remote outposts between Aotearoa and Antarctica, home to vital breeding grounds for millions of seabirds and marine mammals – from penguins to sea lions and albatrosses – plus unique plants like giant tree daisies. Director Conon Fraser also looks at human efforts to live there from whaling depots, to the short-lived Hardwick Settlement. The hour-long NFU film is narrated by Ray Henwood (TV's Gliding On).
Poet Sam Hunt goes "between islands" on a home turf tour. To a backdrop of languid 'good day' Strait's scenery, he yarns with locals about stories of land and sea, and recites poetry: "[it's all about just] standing back and listening ... or watching". He chats with poet Alistair Te Ariki Campbell, goes groper fishing off Mana, and hears of a plan to float on a flax flutterboard across the Strait. Hunt then gets himself across via ferry for whaling stories at Oxley's Rock pub and meets boatbuilders and Cape Jackson farmers. The Costa Botes film includes (brutal) archival whaling footage.
Bill Sevesi was the 'Godfather' of Polynesian music in New Zealand; his impact can be heard in the strum of ukeleles in classrooms across the country. In this 24-minute film Sevesi (born Wilfred Jeffs) narrates his life story, including his childhood in Tonga, making his first guitar, and his role in bringing Pacific Island music into the dance halls of 1940's and 50's New Zealand. Sevesi's bands mixed Hawaiian steel guitar with pop tunes of the day, resulting in sunny hits like 'Kissing Hula'. Watch out for uke player Sione Aleki, Tonga's answer to Jimi Hendrix.
This 1968 Looking at New Zealand episode travels to NZ’s third-largest island: Stewart Island/Rakiura. The history of the people who've faced the “raging southerlies” ranges from Norwegian whalers to the 400-odd modern folk drawn there by a self-reliant way of life. Mod-cons (phone, TV) alleviate the isolation, and the post office, store, wharf and pub are hubs. The booming industry is crayfish and cod fishing (an old mariner wisely feeds an albatross); and the arrival of tourists to enjoy the native birds and wildness anticipates future prospects for the island.