Into the Wild New Zealand (2022) s01e02 Episode Script

Untamed West

The west coast of
new zealand’s south island
is like no other place on earth.
Hemmed in by giant
mountains on one side
and the roaring
ocean on the other,
this strip of almost
untouched wilderness
hides a host of endemic
animals, every one of them
a rare ecological Jewel.
A 24-hour journey
along the west coast
reveals the beauty of this land,
and the trials and tribulations
of the wildlife that live here.
It’s morning on the west coast
of new zealand’s south island,
one of the most inaccessible
regions of one of the most
remote countries on earth.
The west coast faces stoically
into the prevailing winds,
Taking the brunt of every
storm that lashes the island.
It’s one of the wettest
places on the planet.
Creating a primeval land of
dense temperate rainforest
wedged between the
coastline and the formidable alps
that rise up behind.
It’s September and the
southern hemisphere
winter is on the wane.
Today’s weather
report is settled and cool,
until the next storm arrives.
For the New
Zealand forest gecko,
the day’s weather
matters little.
He’s nocturnal, so 8:00 am
is close to bedtime for him.
New Zealand has about
40 species of gecko.
They live further
from the equator
than any other geckos on earth.
Their ancient relatives
set up shop in New Zealand
more than 85 million
years ago during
the warm cretaceous period.
And they’ve adapted over
time as the climate changed
and new zealand’s conditions
became hotter and colder.
He’s a master of camouflage.
He can change his body
patterns to mimic his surroundings.
This near invisible assassin
is waiting for a final meal
before bedtime.
The wise predator that
he is, he knows not to
snap at the first thing
that comes his way.
He lets the spider pass by.
There are bigger
meals to be caught.
This hunter has his eyes
on something a lot slower
and fatter, wax moth grubs.
His eyes are
exquisitely sensitive,
and even in the dark of
night, he can see in full color.
So he misses
very little, as long
as he keeps his eyes clear.
Most geckos don’t have
eyelids and can’t blink.
So he uses his tongue
to keep his eyes clean.
Stealth is everything.
With his slow
reptilian metabolism,
the wax moth grub will
sustain him for several days.
Hunger satisfied, he
blends back into the moss
of the west coast forest,
and bunkers down until night
comes again.
As the sun climbs
a little higher,
it warms the icy peaks of
the island’s southern alps.
The mountain chain runs
the length of the island,
covering approximately
60% of the land mass.
They’re the
result of the pacific
and Australian plates colliding
and scraping past each other.
Pushed up from below, they’ve
created a barrier that catches
the full brunt of the winds that
roar in across the tasman sea.
It’s calm pleasant
and now, but the clouds
above hint that a change
in weather is on its way.
The winds that
hit the west coast
are known as the roaring
40s, strong westerly winds that
plague the southern
hemisphere between 40
and 50 degrees south.
Foul weather arrives
fast and furious here.
But until then, the inhabitants
make the most of the day.
A kea is out for
a morning stroll
and looking for breakfast.
The kea is the world’s
only alpine parrot,
and is endemic
to the south island.
With only 6,000
of them alive today,
the species is endangered.
They’re survivors in a place
where no parrot should be.
Another tropical
animal, like the gecko,
whose ancestors
adapted to live in new
zealand’s chilly latitudes.
Playful, smart, and belligerent
birds, these 18-inch inch,
2-pound parrots are
icons of the mountains.
The bird’s powerful curved
beak is an important tool
for digging, pulling
apart bark and prying up
the frozen ground.
His feet double up
as grasping tools
and for clambering around
on slippery rock surfaces.
Their diet includes more
than 200 different species
of plants and animals.
This morning, it
appears to be moss that’s
tickling this guy’s fancy, or
more likely what’s under it.
But even animals like
sheep, deer, and goats
are on the menu.
Their habit of attacking
livestock at night
is one of the reasons
they’re endangered.
Farmers used to
shoot them on sight.
This ability to exploit
so many food sources
is a testament to
their intelligence.
Some scientists believe
that keas might be as
smart as a four-year-old human.
Their ability to learn from
each other is phenomenal.
This male and female are
pair bonding through play.
The behavior is
known as locking bills.
It’s arm wrestling for keas.
Kea play can look
rough, but these two birds
are lifelong partners, and
this kind of play fighting
is part of their
ongoing courtship.
Two juveniles rush
up behind to watch.
They have the yellow marks
of youth around their bills.
This is how they’ll learn
to court their own partners
in the future.
On one of the west coast’s
most southerly beaches,
a straggler comes ashore
in the mid-morning light.
He could be hunting
at sea all day long,
but he can only
afford a quick bite
before he comes back to shore.
Because around here,
the early bird gets a nest.
Fiordland crested penguins
are one of three penguin species
that call New Zealand home.
Their mating season
has already begun,
so this young male
needs to find a nest spot,
and most importantly,
find a mate.
There’s only one problem.
It’s first in, best dressed,
and he’s a latecomer.
The easy access seaside
property here is at a premium.
And the best spots
are already taken.
On every doorstep,
the imperious eye
of a high-value property owner
warns off the nouveau riffraff.
Fiordland crested penguins
want as much space as possible
between their nest
and the neighbors.
So it’s going to be a long
climb up the property ladder
before this young male
locates a nesting spot.
Above him, the
land keeps rising.
Through rainforest,
to the mountain peaks
beyond, rising as
high as 12,000 feet,
the alps are the first barrier
the southern circumpolar
winds hit after leaving south
america, more than half a world
Delivering up to 400
inches of precipitation
to the west coast every year,
a phenomenal 33 feet of rain.
Water is the driving
force in this region.
Just 12 miles of riverbed
separate the melting snow line
from the beach.
Okarito lagoon is a huge
catchment for this water,
covering almost five
square miles of coastline.
Ordered by New
Zealand flax bushes,
fed by both the
rivers and the sea,
this lagoon provides
security and an endless supply
of food for many animals.
The rainwater and snow-melt
flowing into the lagoon system
is filtered and cleaned
by thousands of freshwater
mussels, creating
a pristine habitat
for many other aquatic
species, including one of
new zealand’s
strangest creatures.
Growing as long
as 6 and 1/2 feet,
the endemic longfin eel is
one of the largest eels on earth.
The white mucus drifting
in the water this morning
is where the eels and the
mussels’ life cycles intersect.
The mucus is full of glochidia,
the parasitic larval stage
of the mussels.
Each one the size
of a grain of sand,
glochidia attach to the
eels where they’ll form cysts,
sucking nutrients
from their host.
About three weeks
from now, they’ll
drop off wherever
the eel may be,
and settle onto the
lagoon bed, transforming
into their adult stage.
Scientists believe the mussels
use this technique to disperse
and avoid overcrowding.
But these glochidia
are going to get a longer
trip than they bargained for.
Tonight, the eels
will embark on one
of the least
understood migrations
in the animal kingdom.
At 60 degrees, the day is
as warm as it’s going to get.
It’s the time for the
early morning feeders
to return to their
nests, and take it
easy until the late afternoon.
That includes more than
70 species of native birds,
as well as migrants
from across the seas.
This feather duster of a
bird is a male white heron.
The native maori call it
’te kotukuk rerenga tahi,
bird of a single
flight, a description
of how often a person is
likely to see one in their lifetime.
New Zealand has as
few as 150 white herons.
The only place in
the country they breed
is here, near the
okarito lagoon.
Like grooms and brides
at a mass wedding,
they roost here among
the tree ferns and broadleaf,
with their entourage of
tuxedoed shags as onlookers.
The spectacular plumes have
just one purpose, attracting a mate,
and the time is now.
These herons’ black beaks
and green faces are signs
that they’re ready to partner.
Throughout the
rest of the years,
both males and females have
yellow beaks and white faces.
They fly from one
part of the colony
to another, looking to see
who’s in the market for a mate.
Herons don’t mate for life.
They have to win
over another bird’s
affection every year anew.
It’s a courtly process with
highly elaborate formalities.
Beak clappering is a
common part of courtship.
It’s as close as you
can get to heron kiss.
The wooing can take days.
Eventually, she
allows him to mate.
If this careful balancing
act is successful,
she’ll lay fertilized eggs
in just two or three days.
And they’ll have chicks
less than a month from now.
High on a cliff side, the young
male fiordland crested penguin
is still looking for
a likely spot to nest.
He’s left the rocky
coast far below,
and climbed up among
the grass and tussock.
But even here, the neighborhood
is not always welcoming.
It’s not that he’s a new
homemaker looking for a place
to start, the problem
is he’s a single male.
All the other males know he’s
looking for a home and a mate.
And that mate could
be the female they’ve
already shacked up with.
None of these settled
males want a buff
playboy building his love
nest and their quiet suburb.
Evil eyes are aplenty.
But the bachelor
hasn’t even noticed.
He shows off his
brilliant plumage,
and flashes its
guns to the females.
There are a couple of interested
eyes from some of the ladies.
The penguin version
of neighborhood watch
is going to fix this and fast.
The penguin dating
pool just dried up,
and the lone male
heads back to the ocean.
High above the cliffs,
a strengthening breeze
blows through the forest.
It’s the afternoon westerly.
The warmth of the day
and the prevailing winds
conspire to bring the
inevitable to the west coast.
As the warm moisture laden
air blows in off the ocean
and up the mountainside,
it cools and condenses.
It’s just another drop in
the bucket for this place,
one of the world’s wettest.
It rains on more than
half the days of the year.
High in the alps,
the temperature
drops with the rain.
That’s good news for the kea.
They don’t like
heat, and will avoid
it by going somewhere cool.
A gentle rain, low temperatures,
and a field of soft moss
is one of their happy places.
This flock is treasure
hunting for worms and insects
that might be hiding
beneath the moss carpet.
Adults and juveniles aren’t
usually together like this.
The adults pair up as
monogamous couples,
and prefer to live their lives
separate from the other birds.
Only when a flock
of juveniles passes
through an adult
couple’s territory
will they all gather together.
A social structure
known as fission-fusion,
splitting and joining.
For the juveniles, it’s
an opportunity to watch
and learn how adults live.
The first drops of rain
fall on the mountains.
But soon, the building
rain clouds extend
back down towards the coast.
Okarito lagoon falls
under a fine drizzle.
It leaves the little shags
looking disheveled,
even more so against
their glamorous neighbors
the white herons.
Little shag roosts former
ringed around almost every hair
and nest.
An unfortunate
position, because there’s
more than just rain
falling on them from above
when the herons defecate.
The shags for their part
are resilient in the face
of this trickle-down economy.
If it all gets too much, they
can always escape to the water.
Little shags are part
of the cormorant family,
so most of their food
comes from this water
Frogs, tadpoles, even eels.
Though at a certain size,
the eel becomes the predator,
and the bird becomes the meal.
These longfin eels have found
a dead paradise sheldrake,
one of new zealand’s
five species of native duck.
Longfin eels are
generally active hunters,
and catch and feed
on living animals
such as fish and crayfish.
But for these eels, this might
be the last meal they ever have,
so they’re not fussy.
Longfin eels can live to
as old as 100, a century,
preparing for an epic journey.
Their last act in their old
age is to migrate and mate
more than 3,000 miles from here,
somewhere in the
middle of the pacific ocean.
Exactly where
they go is a mystery
that’s never been solved.
All scientists know is that each
year, some of these freshwater
eels will eat a final meal,
and leave New Zealand
shores never to be seen again.
But their offspring
return to New Zealand
on the ocean currents,
approximately 18 months later.
In the trees just above,
mating has already begun.
In the heron world, sticks
are the currency of devotion.
The females want them.
So the males have to get them.
In this relationship,
there’s no breadwinner.
There’s no bringing
home the bacon.
There’s just sticks,
twigs, and branches,
all nest-building materials.
And the females are
preeminent nest builders.
Weaving together a home
more than a yard across.
Even after the nest is
built and the eggs are laid,
the male of the
household continues
to dutifully return to
the nest with sticks
as part of a greeting ceremony.
In the heron world,
without a proper greeting,
he won’t be allowed
onto the nest,
though some sticks are just
too good to part with easily.
By 3:00 in the afternoon,
the rain is gone,
and parts of the west coast
are again under blue skies.
The sun shines strongly on
the pancake rocks of punakaiki.
Their horizontal banding is
evidence of the long struggle
new zealand’s animals have
faced in order to make this land
their home, because new
Zealand has had a very
up and down
existence, literally.
Across millions of years,
much of New Zealand
has sunk beneath
the waves, only to rise,
then sink again,
repeatedly banishing
animals to the mountaintops
or condemning them to death.
The banded rock
formations of punakaiki
show the vertical
travels of the landscape.
They were laid down during
the oligocene, which began
more than 30 million years ago.
The horizontal ridges are hard
bands of limestone, composed
of the skeletal fragments of
the marine animals that lived here
when this was a
deepwater seabed.
The eroded bands
between are softer mud
stone, laid down each
time the sea level dropped.
Today, the striking
formations make
a perfect home
for spotted shags,
another endemic
New Zealand species.
New Zealand has one of
the highest rates of threatened
natives in the world.
But this spotted shag is
one species in good health.
There may be as many
as 50,000 breeding pairs,
all dotted along the
coastline of the south island.
Their precarious roosts may
be their secret to their survival.
It’s introduced species such
as rats, stoats, and possums
that threaten birds by
competing for food in habitat
and by hunting
birds and their eggs.
But with a preference for
inaccessible coastal ledges
and sea stacks,
very few predators
can trouble the spotted shags.
It leaves this shag to
focus on his main task in life,
The white stripe down
his face and his crest
show it’s his mating season too.
As soon as his
partner lays their eggs,
he’ll start to lose
these features.
And by the time his chicks
hatch, they’ll be gone.
By 5:00 pm, the
sun is low in the sky,
and the shadows
are growing long.
The light levels are dropping.
The vanquished young male is
making his way up a new stretch
of beach, and with
a female at aside
he’s not looking
so defeated now.
These birds have evolved to
return to the same nesting area
each year to breed.
But population
pressures, like the male
encountered this
morning, will force them
to explore new territories.
It’s one of the ways that
penguins, which originally
evolved in New Zealand, have
spread throughout the southern
Here, it’s much less crowded
and this newly minted couple
has a chance of making a home
among the boulders and tussock.
They need to find a hidey hole,
where no other penguins will
see them.
They might look awkward,
but with strong feet and nails
to grip the rocks, penguins
are surprisingly well
adapted to clambering
over rough terrain.
Small mishaps are just part
and parcel of this journey.
For these penguins, courtship
is always an awkward affair.
Fiordland crested
penguins are the least social
of all penguins.
Outside of mating season, they
spend their lives alone at sea.
Even on land, fiordland
crested penguins want little to do
with others of their kind.
So maintaining a
quality relationship
takes some extra effort.
Grooming is an
integral part of bonding.
But to make a
penguin really happy,
you have to get into
those inaccessible spots.
Who hasn’t won a female
over by removing her ticks?
Elsewhere on the coast are
the results of all this bonding.
These penguins have a
long breeding season that
lasts from July to December.
Some early starters
already have chicks.
The first few weeks are
when the parent skills
are really put to the test.
After hatching, chicks are
weak and completely reliant
on their parents.
They need full-time
care, which in fiordland
crested penguins is always
provided by the males.
While they stay to
protect their offspring,
the females head out to sea
and return each day with fish.
But it’s only for the chicks.
This male will starve for
three weeks, until his chick
has grown enough
that he can leave it
and fish for his own meals.
When they are
finished parenting,
this couple will molt, and
then head back to the sea.
They may not touch land
again until next mating season.
As the sun sinks on the
west coast of New Zealand,
many of its animals
will hunker down
to wait out the long
cold night, but not all.
Dusk brings a change of shift.
The night crew
will soon be arising
and beginning its dark day.
At 9:00 pm the forest
is more alive than ever.
It still rings with birdsong.
In one of the hilly
forests of the west coast,
a New Zealand icon
is already foraging.
He got up when
the sun went down.
It’s the haast
tokoeka, the rarest
species of kiwi in the world.
He’s young and
still honing his skills,
searching for his evening
meal of earthworms
and other invertebrates.
Kiwis have poor
eyesight, so it might seem
strange that he’s nocturnal.
But his sensory world
is not one of vision.
It’s one of touch and smell.
Long feathers on his
face act like cat’s whiskers,
helping him to feel his
way through the forest.
And two minute nostrils
at the tip of his beak
allow him to sniff and probe
underground for a meal.
Kiwis are the only birds
with nostrils at the end,
instead of the
base of their beaks.
They can smell an earthworm
several inches on the ground.
With their strong
sense of smell,
their fur-like feathers,
and their heavy marrow
filled bones, kiwis
are sometimes
described as honorary mammals.
For this little bird, life is an
increasingly lonely existence.
The tokoeka’s estimated
population is just 400.
That he exists
at all is a wonder.
Only 5 out of 100
tokoeka chicks will survive
their first year in the wild.
If this one has
luck on his side,
he might make it to
the ripe old age of 50
before he shuffles off.
At 4:00 am in the quiet darkness
of pre-dawn, and animal ancient
in years leaves its watery home.
It’s on the journey
of a lifetime.
This longfin eel is
almost ready to die.
It slides across the rocks in
a quest for the open ocean,
breathing oxygen
through its slimy skin.
This fish out of water slithers
across a rocky west coast
beach, and into
the crashing surf.
Headed somewhere
out into the vast ocean
where its final act
before death will
be to mate to produce new life.
Isolated long ago from
the rest of the world,
New Zealand became
a place of rarity,
where the animals
evolved unusual ways
to suit their environment.
While many have
since disappeared,
the west coast, with its
walls of mountains on one side
and a wild sea on
the other, remains
a sanctuary where
we can still witness
this unique and ancient world.
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