Do we care enough about the goings-on in the islands of the Hauraki Gulf to watch even a single hour-long documentary about them, let alone an entire series? When it comes to the gulf islands, surely we're just after the maritime weather update and an interactive Waiheke wine trail map and she's all go?

So it was a bit of a surprise that TVNZ 1 last Saturday aired the first episode of the second full series in our nation's history to be called Islands of the Gulf.

The first series, made in 1964, written, produced, directed and presented by pioneering broadcaster Shirley Maddock, is significant for being New Zealand's first homemade docu-series, and the new series is significant for being not just a loving homage to the original but the host is Maddock's daughter - writer and former Shortland Street baddie Elisabeth Easther.

This means we're trading in nostalgia and our shared connections as much as in informational interviews and lush aerial photography. Easther revisits places her mum went and talks to the descendants of people she met. We see matched side-by-side shots, from then and now, showing how things have changed and how they've stayed the same. It's nice, it's touching, it's classic Kiwi heartland television set in an increasingly expensive bit of Auckland's waterscape.


The regular references and old footage may drive you, as they did me, to the NZ on Screen archives to watch the entire first episode from Easther's mum's 1964 series. Once there, you'll realise, as I did, that you've stumbled on a small masterpiece.

Maddock dances with the revellers at a 21st party ("The twist was refreshingly absent"), goes to a wedding, goes to an outdoor church service (by boat), watches the volunteer fire brigade run a drill in which they jump from moving cars, spends an afternoon at the local bowling club ("Perhaps because they've pushed as many barrows and brewed countless thousand pots of tea, women members may play here on Saturdays") and conducts interviews.

On a pier, she talks to a man called Bob, who is smoking a cigarette and offering opinions on the future of the island, which then had about 2000 inhabitants. He tells her that recently completed subdivisions allow for a population of 40,000, and says excitedly that that's just in one small part of the island. He predicts that Waiheke will soon become a dormitory suburb of Auckland.

The 1964 acquisition of a hydrofoil ferry called Manu Wai was going to slash travel time between Auckland and Waiheke to less than half an hour. Bob said it would soon be quicker to get to the city from Waiheke than from Papatoetoe.

At the last census, Waiheke had grown to 8340 residents. The Manu Wai hydrofoil stopped running in 1973, considered too uneconomical. From Waiheke to the city via ferry now takes 40 minutes. From Papatoetoe to the city it's about half an hour, unless it's rush hour, in which case you'd be better off checking into a motel.

The predictions might not have held up, but everything else has. Islands of the Gulf is a documentary series worth watching from both the beginning and the end.


Islands in the Gulf, Saturdays, TVNZ 1, 7pm