Long isolated, New Zealand contains a world of Alice Through the Looking Glass natural oddities: birds, insects and plants like nowhere else. Scientist Jared Diamond remarked "it is the nearest approach to life on another planet". Palaeontology (from Professor Michael Archer) and Māori myth (told by Hirini Melbourne) reveal these 'Ghosts of Gondwana'. Then cutting edge camera techniques (earning a Merit Award at 2002 International Wildlife Film Festival) delve into a night world of bat-filled tree trunk saunas, “demon grasshopper” wētā, and furry kiwi with chopstick bills.
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 award-winning 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 documentary.
For over 25 years Rod Morris worked with TVNZ’s Natural History Unit and its successor NHNZ, documenting the wildlife of New Zealand. His passion for the natural world lead to his involvement in award-winning documentary series The Black Robin, and Wild South, as well as numerous one-off documentaries including The Devil’s Playground, Wild Asia, Ghosts of Gondwana and Dragons of Komodo. Since leaving NHNZ, Morris has worked on many wildlife books.
Rod Morris has more than three decades experience as a wildlife photographer and filmmaker. After working on the quest to save the Chatham Island black robin, he joined TVNZ's Natural History Unit (now independent company NHNZ) in 1980. His name is found on more than 30 books, and his photography has helped spur generations of Kiwis to share his passion for the natural world.
Veteran producer Michael Stedman, ONZM, was commander of Dunedin's Natural History Unit and head of programme production for TVNZ — at the same time. In 1997 he helped arrange the deal that saw the unit sold to Fox Television and renamed NHNZ, while still keeping its main base in New Zealand. Stedman became managing director of one of the world's largest producers of wildlife and factual programming.
Stephen Downes had never shot a film before meeting director Robert Sarkies in an Otago University cafe; he wound up framing a trio of Sarkies’ short films, plus his breakout feature Scarfies. With a zoology degree under his belt, Downes has also forged a prolific career as an international wildlife filmmaker, from capturing kaka parrots in his lens to "chasing wild ass" in India. He is co-founder of 5 to 9 productions.
Peter Hayden’s long storytelling career spans fact, fiction, feather and fur. Hayden has worked extensively behind the scenes on a run of nature documentaries, made for company NHNZ. His acting career includes roles in classic goldmining drama Illustrious Energy and Maurice Gee series The Fire-Raiser. In 2017 Hayden was made a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit, for services to film and television.
The versatile Peter Young began writing and directing at TVNZ's Natural History Unit in 1989. After moving into camerawork, he launched his own company Fisheye Films in 1997. Since then Young has shot images around the world, directed acclaimed passion projects about post-quake Christchurch and the Ross Sea, and helmed TV series showcasing local landscapes and cuisine (Hunger for the Wild, Get Fresh with Al Brown).
On stage, actor George Henare has played everyone from Lenin and King Lear, to Snoopy and Dracula. On screen, his extensive resume spans 70s TV landmark The Governor, 90s classic Once Were Warriors, and an award-winning role on 2010's Kaitangata Twitch.