Our Big Blue Backyard a welcome return of the Kiwi nature doco.

Barnacles have the biggest penises on earth apparently, though only in relation to their size, and barnacles aren't exactly statuesque.

But those barnacle penises were still impressive, waving about on television on Sunday evening.

Outstanding actually, along with pretty much the whole of the show the barnacles co-starred in. It's called Our Big Blue Backyard (TV One, 7.30pm) and it's one of those rare things these days, a locally made TV nature show. This one was the first of a series of six, each week exploring life under, over and around the edges of a particular New Zealand harbour. On Sunday it was Northland's Hokianga.

Nature is the lonely area in TV-making where New Zealand has, for a long time, punched well above its weight and, going by that first episode on Sunday, Our Big Blue Backyard is an eye-whackingly gorgeous example of that.


It's made by NHNZ, which started its long and illustrious life in the 1970s as TVNZ's Natural History Unit. Of course, being the sort of beast it is, TVNZ eventually discarded it, as the broadcaster continues to discard units to this very day. What next, news?

But the old Natural History Unit went on to become the Dunedin-based Natural History New Zealand (and then simply NHNZ) and drift through various talented hands, much of its work going award-winningly global.

This new series brings them back home with a splash - thanks to finance from New Zealand on Air's platinum fund. And you can certainly see the taxpayers' money on screen this time.

Doing that daring thing, Our Big Blue Backyard sets out to patch together a neighbourhood vibe in the harbour among the denizens of the not-so deep and the assorted and quite astonishing birdlife.

It's a rough neighbourhood, with killer whales chasing rays for dinner and spoonbills and white-faced herons eating anything going, while the tide powers in and out, changing the world every few hours.

Those underwater cameras are so eye-bogglingly sharp and get in so close that we see the death twitch of a ray the orca have just playfully torn apart and fading look in the eye of an octopus starving to death in service to the countless eggs she has laid in her lair down there under a rock. Until that moment, which came towards the end of the episode, I didn't think it was possible to become emotionally involved with an octopus. Now I know differently.

Almost equally, I found myself helplessly entranced by the insight into orca family life and its almost human strands. They share dinner, for goodness sake, and can live to 90. Who knew?

And there was a terrific sequence following a tiny emerald-green mangrove seed, coming in with the tide, feeling for an anchorage, unfurling as it travelled, joining the forest on the water's edge.

The voice-over, though well delivered by Michael Hurst, was a tad stuffy in the way these sorts of shows can't help - "It's a spring morning in beautiful Hokianga Harbour" or it's "tidal and teeming" or "weird and wonderful".

But the music was terrific, a quick shuffle for the crabs, something big and dramatic for the orca and something sad, so sad, when the mother octopus died.

Thankfully, they stopped short of giving the animals names, which would have been ridiculous for the bi-valves. And thankfully there are still five episodes to go. Try not to miss it.