Hollywood actor Cliff Curtis and other top actors are behind a new Maori drama series being filmed in Rotorua that aims to boost the city's reputation as a top film and television location.

This Is Piki is an eight-part half-hour drama series for Maori Television being shot in Rotorua and Auckland. The brainchild of Rotorua-based actor Curtis, This Is Piki started filming at Mitai yesterday and will take in some of Rotorua's top destinations, including the Government Gardens, the Lakefront, Skyline Rotorua, Rotorua i-site and the Glenn Hawkins & Associates building.

Co-producers Lara Northcroft from Velvet Stone Media in Rotorua and Kerry Warkia from Brown Sugar Apple Grunt in Auckland have come together with Curtis, the executive producer, to put the series together.

"It started from a conversation Cliff and I had when we were talking about building the capacity for the local industry in Rotorua. We wanted to base it around something we knew. We wanted to co-produce a show that highlights Maori culture and tourism, and brings into it a contemporary young person's perspective."


Funded by Te Mangai Paho and written by Briar Grace Smith and Victor Rodger, the series is centred around a young Maori girl called Piki (Hinerauwhiri Paki) who embarks on a voyage of self-discovery that leads her to Hamilton and Auckland and back again.

The series will screen on Maori television in mid-2016. The cast features Rotorua's other Hollywood star Temuera Morrison, Born To Dance star Tia-Taharoa Maipi and former Shortland Street actors Calvin Tuteao and Vanessa Rare. Top New Zealand musicians are also involved.

Lady 6, Ria Hall, Rob Ruha and Maisey Rika have all written songs for the series which will soon be recorded in a studio with the view to release on an album.

Ms Northcroft said the show was a great start to pushing Maori drama on television and making a show that was different to documentaries and reality shows. "The high calibre of creatives working on the series will ensure it is of an international quality and will be recognised in New Zealand as a ground-breaking new series."

The series will be shot in Rotorua for two weeks and two weeks in Auckland.

She said they had been working closely with Destination Rotorua general manager Oscar Nathan to expose Rotorua's beautiful locations.

"There is international potential for the project because it's attracting attention to our landmarks and everything that is beautiful in Rotorua."

Kerry Warkia said filming in Rotorua was an enjoyable experience.

"Rotorua is an amazing location because it has so many aspects to it. Everything is literally five minutes away."

She said the series featured a "gorgeous young cast" as well as established actors.

"It's a great thing for Maori drama and Maori and Pasifika storytelling."

Mr Nathan said it was great to see Rotorua's appeal as a desirable film location continuing to grow.

"Productions such as This Is Piki not only allow us to showcase the spectacular natural scenery we have here in abundance but also the depth of local talent both behind and in front of the screen."

Last year the region featured heavily in the filming of Disney's Pete's Dragon, which would give Rotorua "fantastic" international exposure when it was released later in the year, Mr Nathan said.

"With Rotorua names like Cliff Curtis and Lara Northcroft involved with some of Aotearoa's most exciting new and upcoming talent - this is definitely a production we look forward to seeing reach our screens in months to come."

The cast:

* Piki - Hinerauwhiri Paki

* Carl - Tia-Taharoa Maipi

* Rickylee Waikawa-Russell

* Rongo - Edz Eramiha

* Te Maru - Calvin Tuteao

* Bill Mercer - Temuera Morrison

* Huia - Aroha Hathaway

* Tarnz - Vanessa Rare

* Louie - Kimo Houltham

* May - Maiau Houltham

* Kura - Te Ahorangi Winitana