Filming has taken place in the Maungataniwha Native Forest in inland Hawke’s Bay for a television documentary called Modern Dinosaurs that looks set to take New Zealand into the homes and hearts of people all around the world.
Modern Dinosaurs is a six-part series to be broadcast on The Discovery Channel in 2018 and later on Prime Television. It examines how New Zealand’s unique geographical isolation has led it to become “a storehouse for discontinued zoological species.”
It will show a global audience some of New Zealand’s bizarre animal species, geological wonders that have created some of the most amazing scenery on Earth, and forests where you can literally travel back in time to meet living dinosaurs.
“These are animals unique to New Zealand, such as tuatara, whose ancestors walked the earth with dinosaurs,” said producer Polly Fryer of Auckland-based Making Movies.
New Zealand once boasted the world’s largest bird. It’s still home to the world’s oldest reptile and rarest dolphin. The giant weta is the world’s heaviest insect, fist-sized carnivorous snails eat giant worms, and the forest floor is home to a giant parrot so heavy it can’t even fly. And in our snow-capped mountains, carnivorous parrots feed on the kidneys of live sheep.
“Many of us who live here forget that our islands are home to bizarre and unique creatures that leave much of the rest of the world spell-bound,” Ms Fryer said.
The Forest Lifeforce Restoration Trust’s property at Maungataniwha is where the first dinosaur fossils to be discovered in New Zealand were found by renowned palaeontologist Joan Wiffen. It continues to reveal a trove of fossilised riches; in June 2014 walkers stumbled across the fossil of an unusually large ammonite, a squid-like animal that lived in the sea during the time of the dinosaurs. And in March 2015 the fossilised jaw of a mosasaur was found there.
So Maungataniwha was a natural filming spot for Modern Dinosaurs, which also explores New Zealand’s extraordinary fossil record found among some of the world’s most breathtaking landscapes.
“If any one place is the epicentre of New Zealand palaeontology, Maungataniwha is probably it,” Ms Fryer said.
The Making Movies film crew were shown around Maungataniwha by Forest Lifeforce Restoration Trust forestry manager Pete Shaw who has discovered some of the more recent fossil records on the property.
“The crew were looking at the story of how, for a long time, scientists didn’t believe dinosaurs had roamed our landscape,” Mr Shaw said. “Joan certainly put them right on that score and the team were tracing her footprints across the streambeds and hillsides of inland Hawke’s Bay.”