[The following was written about series 2 of First Crossings]
What can we expect?
Well if you liked First Crossings 1 then you'll love this because its more of the same. More cracking NZ pioneer stories from the last century, and some not so pioneer stories. This time we go right up to Kelly Tarlton's diving on the Elingamite wreck in the Three Kings Islands in the 1960s and 70s. We also do a story about the young RNZAF cadet's E. P. Hillary's attempt on Mt Tapuae-o-Uenuku in 1944.
So what are the episodes?
You will hear about Alphonse Barrington's insane four month gold prospecting odyssey around the Hollyford valley and how he was let down by his treacherous dog and became so hungry he ate rat. I mean so hungry he 'enjoyed' eating rat. My advice for eating rat is that it has to be cooked until its well done - it can't be Bearly Grylled.
Then there is an amazing story in the same area about Jack Holloway, the university student who in the 1930s overcame two enormous mountain ranges to find one of the last remaining white spaces on the map of New Zealand. We say 'vertical walls of rock' often on the show, but it couldn't be more relevant in this episode. You will see alpine NZ scenery at its very, very best. You will want to hang this episode on the wall.
The complete opposite of this was the episode on the discovery and exploration of Harwood's Hole in Takaka hill near Nelson. This caving trip starts with a 200m descent down a rope. I think you skipped over that sentence a bit quickly, so I'm going to repeat it - a TWO HUNDRED METRE DESCENT down a rope. That's like abseiling off the observation deck on the Skytower. When you are half-way down, the rope looks like a tiny bit of dental floss in this vast cavern. The scale is out of control. Then a few hours later you are squeezing through tiny cracks in the darkness in 4 degrees C. Some of the travel was so extreme we had to shoot it on an iPhone in a waterproof case. Forget what I said about Holloway, it might this episode that is the most visually stunning and there is a surprise, tragic twist at the end.
At least we are back up in the sun for the Motu river episode. In 1920 the Fisher Brothers and three friends made their way down the Motu river in three wooden punts. So we take this on in replica boats and experience pretty much everything that they went through. The rapids start small and scary and end up very big and very scary. We are in a race against time in what is perhaps our most thrilling episode that we have shot.
In 1944, E. P Hillary rode out of the Blenheim air force training camp on the back of an old motorbike to take on what he was to later call his 'first decent climb'. He would take on the highest mountain outside of the Southern Alps, solo and in winter. It was a huge thrill to walk in his footsteps, but when the whiteout rolled in at the end, just like it did for him, it started to get a little too real!
Kelly Tarlton is NZ's very own Jacques Cousteau, and I kept hearing a French accent saying 'the myriad tiny citizens of the sea' when we dived at the Poor Knights and Three Kings as we unravelled the mystery of the Elingamite. We were diving using the same diving gear as he did, and tested out the same technology that he used to raise silver and gold bullion from the Elingamite. The scenes of the air vent sucking up sand are some of my favourite.
Ebenezer Teichelman was a doctor on the West Coast at the turn of the century who was incredibly important to the history of NZ mountain climbing. For a few years he pretty much kept the sport going, making a number of first ascents including the first crossing of Harper saddle as he travelled from the West coast down to the Hermitage. The highlight for me was when the horse fell over with me on top.
Charlie Douglas was an extraordinary explorer who lived like a hermit when he wasn't deep in the valleys of South West Fiordland. We recreated one of his survey expeditions up the Arawhata valley, including an ascent of the beautiful Mt Ionia, a first in its time. You remember in the first series where we uncover the walls of what was probably the original 1810 hut built by the sealers on the Open Bay Islands. We have a moment like this on this trip, that makes it one of the most special episodes of the series.
What was the scariest moment?
There's an abseil in the Holloway episode that springs to mind. But then there was when my mask got knocked off in the Tarlton episode, then I never thought I would get out of Harwoods hole. And then the rapids near the end of the Motu were out of control. It was really spooky at the top of Harper Saddle, and so cold my lips weren't working very well. We did a very steep ascent up a snow face in the Hillary episode that could have gone badly wrong, but if I had to pick one thing it would be the descent into Harwood's hole. Have a look at my face.
Do you still fall over a lot?
At least once an episode!