From politicians and super spies to authors, adventurers and foster mothers - Kiwi women have played an integral role in shaping our history and changing the world for those who've come after them.

Next week, the New Zealand Herald will celebrate just some of those incredible stories, when it launches Trailblazers: 125 Kiwi Women Who Changed the World to coincide with the 125th suffrage anniversary.

The project, which will feature 125 written profiles of empowered Kiwi women, will also feature a 12-episode video series, sharing the stories of some of our brightest trailblazers.

"The remarkable thing about this series - and the whole Trailblazer project - is how many of these stories are unknown," says executive producer Joanna Hunkin.


"These incredible, strong women whose stories have gone untold. People like Helen Thayer - a world record-setting adventurer who was taught to mountain climb by Sir Ed.

"Or Beatrice Tinsley, who was one of the greatest minds in science - as significant as Einstein or Newton. And yet so few people know about her."

The series also features more familiar names and faces - such as Dame Whina Cooper, Georgina Beyer and Helen Clark - focusing on what drove them to succeed.

"With each of these stories, we wanted to capture the drive behind these women," says Hunkin. "Even with the women you know, you will come away learning something new about them."

The series, which was funded by New Zealand on Air, stands out for its unique style, featuring a combination of interviews and hand-illustrated animations created by Kiwi artist Rebecca Hart and her brother Ian.

Produced by industry veteran Irene Gardiner, the series also championed women off-screen, using three rising female film-makers to direct the series.

Mentored by award-winning director Melanie Rakena (who helmed three episodes herself), Sophie Musgrove, Sarah Boddy and Rochelle Umaga each directed three Trailblazer episodes.

Musgrove, who recently worked as associate director on the Netflix series Dark Tourist, said working on Trailblazers was an incredible learning experience.

"I felt so empowered listening to the stories of Helen Clark and Helen Thayer first-hand, their advice will stick with me for life. And telling Nancy Wake's incredible story of bravery was a real privilege."

For Umaga, sharing the stories of lesser-known women was especially moving, including foster mother Wanda Messam and tennis champion Ruia Morrison.

"She was such a pioneer in New Zealand tennis, and for a young Māori woman to play at Wimbledon back then was extraordinary. But her story isn't all that well known here. And Wanda Messam is such a special, unsung hero."

The full Trailblazers series will debut on from Monday. Plus, you can tune in for a special live broadcast from the New Zealand Herald newsroom on Tuesday night, where Jacinda Ardern will be guest editing the newspaper.

Hosted by Joanna Hunkin and Laura McGoldrick, the broadcast will capture all the action from the newsroom, as well as exploring the story behind the Trailblazer project.

The Trailblazer special will be streaming live on and across our social channels from 7pm on Tuesday.