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Frontier Of Dreams

Sundays 6.40am | TV ONE

Episode One: The Last Place on Earth prehistory-c.1300

The premier episode of Frontier of Dreams tells the dramatic story of the formation of the New Zealand landmass itself and how ancient peoples sailed the vast distances of the Pacific to eventually find these islands, "the last place on earth."

We begin with an important New Zealander, Harold Wellman.  He worked out that the South Island's Alpine Fault is in constant motion, and later linked this discovery to the idea that the earth's surface is floating on huge tectonic plates that collide and drift apart.

Over 100 million years ago New Zealand was part of a super-continent, Gondwana. We look at how New Zealand broke away and slowly moved east to become isolated islands. At this point the land was low-lying and had its own dinosaurs.  We see dinosaur hunter, Joan Wiffen, cutting their fossil bones from Hawkes Bay rock.

But the tectonic plates we sit on are always a battlefield.  Gigantic forces clash to create mountain chains, volcanoes and earthquakes.  And glaciers and rivers add their own violence to shape our country.

New Zealand was unstable land in its unique pre-human isolation.  The islands were covered in dense forest and were rich with unusual wildlife.  Without land mammals, New Zealand became a place of birds, some large and flightless like the kiwi and the now extinct moa.  We also evolved birds that graze like cattle, bats like rats and strange insects, the giants of their world.

4,000 years ago our human ancestors were on their way.  Recent DNA research shows that the forefathers of the Polynesians originally lived in Taiwan.  They moved south, through the Philippines and into the Pacific.  A new culture called the Lapita people emerged, echoes of their language and ideas can be heard in te reo Maori today.

We explore a dramatic discovery at a recently excavated burial site in Vanuatu.  The Lapita people were known for their beautiful pottery, but the site demonstrates that their large pots were used as burial urns. The Lapita people were among the greatest seafarers the world has ever seen.  They discovered hundreds of remote islands across the Pacific and sailed vast distances to settle much of Melanesia and all of Polynesia.

In Polynesia another distinctive culture developed.  Polynesian explorers even sailed to South America and returned with a staple crop, the kumara. To see how these early voyagers were able to travel so far, modern sailors re-enact their travels in reconstructions of the old canoes.

Why they made their great voyages remains a mystery.  But we know they were deliberate, not accidental.  So, when eventually Polynesians set sail for New Zealand, they were coming with a bold plan, to settle and thrive in this isolated land.