In the evening of Monday, March 30th, we pulled into Nga Manu Reserve (aka paradise). We couldn’t quite believe we were staying at the gorgeous Theo’s Cottage. We were instantly off exploring, meeting pukekos, waterfowl, cheery fantails and ancient swamp forest within two or three steps. Jane went to ascend the watchtower and have a wee cry at the serenity. Meanwhile I tried to capture the evening in a timelapse. Pleasingly, there was a moon angling through the frame.
Serenity is however not easy to ‘get’, and many a timelapse was simply a compromise- as I have a knack for ‘missing the moment’ (due to my being transfixed by amazingness in every direction, followed by becoming indecisive about what to point the camera at).
Jane and I were about to do lots, and learn lots more on this trip.
Although we couldn’t wait to begin working with what we think is the most extraordinarily beautiful animal, we began with a lesson in patience the following morning.
The Rate of Becoming Hungry in tuataras is very very slow. To get all scientific on it, they have a very low metabolic rate. This means there are not many chances to film one eating anything before budget & schedule rear their ugly heads. As Murphy’s Law would have it, our film star tuatara ate a weta sort of by mistake on our first day of filming. We were enticing the tuatara into moving a few steps (tuataras, if you’re lucky, sometimes snap at moving things, including twigs). Maggots hadn’t quite worked in getting a “enter shot right, exit shot left moving uphill” (though Jane loved her experience of throwing wriggling maggots to land in front of the tuatara’s nose). The weta card was pulled. “They’re like MacDonalds for tuatara”, assured Rhys, our supervisor. After prising the weta from his finger (big male tree variety, all jaws pretty much), Rhys deftly placed it near the tuatara so she’d move towards it. Crawl, (great)…shuffle, run, look…head tilt, and …snap! Gone. Damn! It all happened so fast and left camerawoman Jane a bit flustered.
Ten days later we tried again, probably four times, to get a nice front-on shot of The Munch. No luck. It’s autumn now and their slow metabolisms are getting, you guessed it even slower. I got pretty good at weta control though, and we learned to recognise tuatara body language indicating she is seriously not hungry. Like when she threw it off her face, the weta having proceeded to crawl all over her. And when she walked off away from the weta, numerous times.
It was only when we had the guts to look at the footage that we found we actually DID catch the snap that first day, with the wrestles, and the chomping; nicely framed and focussed. Phew!
The Rate of becoming Hungry in staff at Nga Manu is fortunately much more predictable. Every morning we’d stop for morning tea (smoko) and a bit of jovial chat, and pretty soon we discovered they like cream cakes. These seemed to work like a passport to all manner of extras. Rhys produced a Peripatus (velvet worm) for us after hearing our intense excitement talking about them. Velvet worms are my new second favourite animal (after tuatara of course). While playing with it gently, to my surprise it spat a gooey white web onto the stick I was ‘steering’ it with; obviously it didn’t feel the same affection for me!
Rhys would also tirelessly fetch more maggots, search for wetas, help dig holes, act, and would generally drop everything and be there for us. Constantly. Even before the cream cakes. He’d turn up at our doorstep to show us a bucket of giant Kokopu (rare fish). He made us some props (eggs) before we even thought of the idea. Mind you, that might have been because he was keen to see if we’d actually carry out the scene he’d dreamt up- black ship rats….20 of them…storming a nest…
So began Jane’s immersion in rats.
They say all good teams use the strengths of individuals. At this point in time I realised my height was a disadvantage. The height difference between Jane and I is like 2 feet. Subsequently I didn’t fit into the rat cage but Jane did. She jumped into overalls and jumped in there like a contestant on Who Dares Wins. Two hours later the rats had snuffled around a bit, but hadn’t trusted themselves to devour the peanut-butter loaded nest like we needed them to… Jane emerged with mites down the overalls, dusty but proud. Especially when Rhys said, “I don’t know many Kiwis who’d have done that”. Oooh.
Eventually we left the camera unattended in there, rolling. It did work, though there are a few times on tape when the camera wobbles and is snuffled on- by rats, figuring out how to eat the camera.