Rebecca Barry-Hill: Doco series that'll get you hooked

By Rebecca Barry Hill

Oscar hosts TV show Coast New Zealand.
Oscar hosts TV show Coast New Zealand.

For a brief moment, as the crayfishers' boat bobbed on the rough waters of the Dusky Sound, I felt seasick. I wasn't even on the boat.

According to the men, this was a mere 2/10 swell. My lounge was still as could be. Yet, by this point in the first episode of Coast New Zealand (Tuesdays, 8.30pm, TV One), I was hooked, much like the plate-sized crustaceans hauled on to the vessel.

(The bigger ones went back - apparently in the world of the gourmand, you can have too much of a good thing.)

This was the strangely irresistible local version of the Bafta-winning BBC series that has previously explored the coastlines of the UK and Australia. Unlike some locally conceived takes on international shows, it's no unimaginative riff on a silly idea, but a slick, insightful and well executed production, despite its familiar subject matter.

Yes, there was something odd about watching Scottish archeologist and historian Neil Oliver, in a brogue thicker than whale oil, tell us about our own coastline.

Just as it was hearing him describe our country as adolescent, in geological terms, as his teenager hair flapped around in the South Island gale.

But his lyrical enunciation of the "depp blurh, glassiah-cooht cahsms" and "fierrious volceenoss" only made him more entertaining, and his inquisitive enthusiasm for some of the loneliest parts of the country was infectious.

It also helped that the Kiwi experts - among them archeologists, geologists, historians, authors - were very good on camera.

The first episode has plenty of aerial shots set to Sweeping Music for Breathtaking Scenery Volumes I-VI. Photo / Supplied
The first episode has plenty of aerial shots set to Sweeping Music for Breathtaking Scenery Volumes I-VI. Photo / Supplied

Would it tell us anything we didn't already know? Well perhaps it was a deliberate move to start the six-part series in the depths of Fiordland. Aside from the local experts interviewed about Captain Cook, the early settlers, the gold miners, there was barely anyone else there.

So unless you've made a special trip, it's fair to say most of us know less about this part of Godzone than we do of, say, Cape Reinga or Nelson, both of which will feature in later episodes.

Regardless, it stirred an appreciation for our supermodel islands with its stunning footage and interesting factoids. Just below the surface of the cold fiord waters, lives a black coral that anywhere else, would be found at greater depths.

Why so shallow? Because of the area's high rainfall washing a layer of tannins onto the top layer of the water, blocking the light.

The first episode has plenty of aerial shots set to Sweeping Music for Breathtaking Scenery Volumes I-VI. Photo / Supplied
The first episode has plenty of aerial shots set to Sweeping Music for Breathtaking Scenery Volumes I-VI. Photo / Supplied

Another interesting nugget to tuck away for trivia night: the bottlenose dolphins that live in these waters have adapted to the cold by growing larger. There's something comforting about a good factoid, particularly one that plays up to our national narcissism about being clean and green.

At the other end of the scale, graphics helpfully illustrated the early settler scene of the grotesque practice of whaling. If you visit the remote Preservation Inlet, where convicts once harpooned humpbacks and sperm whales, you can still find remnants of their old gin bottles.

Another poignant impression came from the former lighthouse keeper at Puysegur Point. Returning after 30 years, former keeper Paul Trevethick said he'd take up the post again in a heartbeat.

The first episode has plenty of aerial shots set to Sweeping Music for Breathtaking Scenery Volumes I-VI. Photo / Supplied
The first episode has plenty of aerial shots set to Sweeping Music for Breathtaking Scenery Volumes I-VI. Photo / Supplied

His tales of life on this exposed outpost were the stuff of novels: walls of white water smashing against the rocks, winds so fierce he'd have to pull the table away from the wall because it shuddered so much, the legend of his predecessor who spent 21 years stationed there without a day off.

The lighthouse keeper's job has long since been automated. This made Paul sad; a computer couldn't look after the land and invite you in for a hot bath and a cup of tea.

Neither can Coast New Zealand of course. But if you're lucky it might just make you seasick. Or homesick. Or both.

- TimeOut

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