NZ nature on screen

Last week on NZ On Screen we celebrated our unique natural heritage with the launch of a Nature collection. Aotearoa’s landforms and its magnificent menagerie of natural oddities – birds, insects, and trees like nowhere else on the planet – are showcased in 15 award-winning NHNZ productions – all full length and free to view. From Discovery Channel and David Bellamy documentaries, to Wild South and Our World classics.

The Nature Collection has been curated for NZ On Screen by long-time presenter of TV nature programmes Peter Hayden – who now works behind-the-scenes at internationally renowned NHNZ  (Natural History New Zealand). Peter has written a great background piece giving his personal perspective on over 30 years of bringing NZ nature to screen, and what motivates him:

“A parrot that can’t fly, lives in the dark and blows itself up like a football? What about a hairy dwarf, a killer parrot, a reptile with a third eye and giant meat-eating snails? New Zealand is a land of evolutionary oddballs, and that’s why I love it, and have been so privileged to have been part of a team that has turned these often shy creatures into stars of the small screen.”

I’m something of a ngā manu nut myself: regularly dragging my two year old daughter through pockets of remnant bush and to Zealandia most weeks to hang with kaka and tuatara. Growing up as a kid in the 80s, series like Our World and Wild South were formative in my personal connection to Aotearoa’s birds’n’bush. The iconic stories of the black robin and kōkako, were exciting and intriguing and inspired me to “go bush” and get amongst efforts to help out our feathered ark-mates.

So, it’s been a real pleasure to work with Peter in compiling and preparing the collection. And NHNZ deserve a special acknowledgement for their generosity in sharing these titles.

Black robin

Black robin

Many of them are Kiwi classics and have been rarely seen since they screened. My personal favourite is one of the first Wild South documentaries, Seven Black Robins. By 1976 there were only seven Chatham Islands’ black robins left. It was the world’s rarest bird. In this documentary, in a desperate bid to save the species, the wee birds are taken from one island to another in a cliff-top rescue mission. There’s Old Blue (just Blue here) and other characters and with the stakes so high the drama is evident; so is the passion of the people – such as conservation hero Don Merton – striving to save them.

Kaka (bush parrot) cavorting in the rain beside Lake Rotoiti in Bandits of the Beech Forest are gloriously filmed, but there is remarkable footage contained throughout the collection, from a bat-filled tree trunk sauna, carnivorous giant snails, lost whale, and Happy Feet penguins, to the otherworldy depths of fiords and horror movie-like footage of a kea eating a live sheep at night!

The collection features the series Moa’s Ark (presented by David “old man’s beard must go” Bellamy), the Hayden-presented series Journeys in National Parks and Journeys across Latitude 45 (Screened as part of Our World); along with popular children’s nature series Wildtrack.

The one-off docos are Wild South classics: Seven Black Robins and The Black Stilt, and acclaimed films: Kea Mountain Parrot, Under the Ice, Bandits of the Beech Forest, Emperors of Antarctica, Lost Whales, Mirror World, Ghosts of Gondwana, and Exhuming Adams.

Overall the collection leaves one feeling inspired and in awe of our unique natural heritage. It reaffirms the committed efforts of projects like Zealandia (Karori Sanctuary) that mean you can go for a run in the scrub above Brooklyn – 10 minutes from Wellington city – and encounter tieke (saddleback). Courtesy of Karori (and council pest control efforts) we also have kaka screeching above our Newtown house and can see an ecstasy of tui (yes, the correct term for a flock of tui is an ‘ecstasy’!) flouncing around Cuba St. Sweet as manuka honey!

But many of the films are also tragedies, pervaded with sadness. They’re a lament for a birdland that is now lost forever. As Peter says:

“The nature of this land of ours, astounds me. Many species are survivors of ice ages, near-drowning, eruptions and earthquakes. But can they survive us.”

Watch and decide where you stand!

Paul Ward
Editor, NZ On Screen

NZ On Screen is the NZ On Air-funded website set up last year to archive and showcase New Zealand television and film. It won Best Entertainment Website at the 2009 Qantas Media Awards. You can see the Nature Collection, and over 700 other titles, free of charge at

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