A beginner’s guide to Tassie Shipwrecks

Nowadays King Island is a windy and lush haven of tranquillity, away from the city crowds and filled with beautiful scenery, great food, a world class golf course and fantastic surf, only a short flight from Melbourne International airport but a world away from your favourite #firstworldproblems. Our recent shoot for Kirkhope Aviation let us explore the island and its friendly two- and four-legged inhabitants under blue skies and transported around in great comfort. Things weren’t always that rosy though, for apart from cheese and outdoor activities in untouched landscapes, King Island also boasts a savage reputation for being the resting place of over a hundred shipwrecks.


British history books tell us that King Island was first discovered in 1798 by Captain Reed, although we can’t be sure some local Australians didn’t make it there first, rocked up, had a look around and thought ‘well f*ck that’ before returning to the Great Ocean Road. To keep it in the family, the Island was named after NWS colonial governor Philip Gidley King in 1801. Due to the island’s position slap bang in the middle of the Roaring Fourties and the relatively narrow passage into the Bass Strait, there was a lot of potential for collision with either the western shores of King Island or the western Victorian coast. The construction of Cape Wickham lighthouse in 1861 in response the Cataraqui disaster may have contributed to further wreckage as lighthouses usually signal safety, not sharp rocks, and the space between the Victorian mainland Cape Otway lighthouse and the Cape Wickham lighthouse (open ocean suitable for ships) was often mistaken for the space between the Cape Wickham lighthouse and the Currie lighthouse (sharp pointy rocks and solid land, not so suitable for ships). Intriguing stories are so deeply wound into these disasters – here are some of the most notable ones:



1) Cataraqui, August 1845: The Mega-Catastrophe


Built in Quebec, the Cataraqui was chartered by the Land and Emigration Commissioners to carry emigrants to Melbourne under the bounty system, which encouraged British skilled and responsible workers to move to Australia. After three months at sea the Cataraqui ran into rough weather, combined with the captain believing he was way further North than he actually was, resulted in a serious clash of ship and shore, which distorted the hull so badly it imprisoned hundreds of emigrants including many women and children below deck. Over two hundred were reported to be clinging to the outside of the wreckage as salvaging efforts took place overnight, but after the ship broke in two in heavy storms, only nine people (the Chief Officer, six seamen, one apprentice and one emigrant named Brown) made it to land alive. Over a month later, the Constable of the Strait David Howie visited the wreckage and had a total of 342 washed up bodies buried in five main graves. Over one hundred and sixty years on, the wrecking of the Cataraqui still rates as Australia’s greatest civil disaster.


Due to the exposed nature of the wreckage site a mere 4m underwater, little remains of the ship itself on the seabed. Memorial plaques mark the site on the south-west shore of King Island and a number of items, including a canon, that were removed from the wreck by divers can be seen at the King Island Museum, Currie.



2) Neva, May 1835: Nothing like Orange is the New Black


Built in London, the Neva was en route from Cork to Sydney with 150 women convicts, 9 voluntary emigrants, officers, crew and 45 children on board when she hit the pointy end of Navarino Reef with such force that the prison doors burst open, resulting in a mass exit into the lifeboats and subsequent capsizing of the latter. A massive wave that broke and sunk the Neva swept passengers far and wide, with only 15 finally drifting ashore several miles from the scene of the disaster. The survivors sustained themselves with salvaged provisions before being met by the survivors of another wreck, the Tartar, which had met a similar fate on another part of King Island at roughly the same time. It is believed that at least 218 of the Neva’s passengers lost their lives, making it one of the worst wreckages of Australian history.


The Neva sunk just north off Cape Wickham but not remains are visible. Some graves were accidentally dug up in the dunes and a plaque has been installed to commemorate the victims.



3) British Admiral, May 1874: Blaming your tools…


Built in Liverpool and made out of iron, the British Admiral survived a previous extensive battering in the Bay of Biscay and was all fixed and pimped up ready for years of service, when she crashed into rocks four miles south of Currie with 49 passengers and 39 crew aboard only four months later. Only nine survived to tell the tale of a ship that was over-rigged (i.e had too much sail area in proportion to the body mass), had a faulty compass and an unreliable chronometer. Bodies and cargo washed up along twenty kilometers of beach, burials took place in more mass graves (King Island, looking a little bit sinister now?) and diving gangs spent the next twelve months recovering cargo from the seabed. So much for shoddy workmanship.


The British Admiral wreck location is roughly four miles south west of Currie and not accessible for diving. In fact, only 10% of wrecks in Tasmania have been found. If you walk to the southern end of the beach, you’ll find a memorial plaque though.



4) Carnarvon Bay, Sep 1910: The Phantom Ship


Built in Scotland, the Carnarvon Bay weighed 1932 tons and was the largest ship to be wrecked in King Island. Unlucky it had 4000 tons of cargo on board when it was blown to the South in a huge storm on a Sydney-Liverpool trip and developed a list that threatened to flood her. To boats made it off the ship and landed at Cape Liptrap in eastern Victoria and the other in Launceston, Tasmania. The Carvanon Bay sank completely and has never been seen again. Spooky.


You can’t find it cause no one ever has. On to the next one.



5) Loch Leven, Oct 1871: The Unfortunate Family Line


Built in Glasgow, the Loch Leven was one of 25 ships of the same family that happened to have a reputation of bad fortune, despite all being inventively named after Scottish Lochs. Yes, there was a ship called Loch Ness. Of the 25 only 5 ended up not sinking in accidents, disappearing, getting wrecked or torpedoed in oceans and ports around the globe. Fortunately for the Loch Leven though, she hit Harbinger Reef in thick fog about two kilometers south-east of Cape Wickham, presenting a magnificent picture lying there on an even keel with all sails set. Or so said the crew who all landed safely. The captain however went back for his papers and subsequently drowned when his boat capsized. Poor man. The cargo of wool valued at £150,000 (worth roughly a gazillion pounds in modern money) was recovered.


The Loch Leven’s resting place was obvious enough for some bright spark to mark it on a map, so you can dive the wreck on a calm day. Yey!



6) Flying Arrow, Nov 1855: Phoenix from the Ashes


Weirdly, the Flying Arrow was found abandoned off Fitzmaurice Bay with no one aboard to explain her condition. Anchors missing and chain cables hanging loose, it was assumed that she had been anchored somewhere whilst the crew landed on King Island. Finally finding someone connected to the boat in Melbourne, it was decided to forget about the embarrassing incident and keep on sailing business as usual. She was re-named Wings of the Wind just in case anyone started asking questions.


You can’t find it cause it was de-wrecked. How’s that for a curve ball?



7) Netherby, Jul 1866: The Happy Ending?


Built in Liverpool, the Netherby was on her way from London to Brisbane when without warning she struck on the East coast near Currie. All 452 passengers (most emigrants) reached shore using a boat hauled back and forth on a rope between the boat and a rock on the beach. Not one life was lost, indeed, thee were gained as a female passenger gave birth to twins soon after landing and another baby was born the following day. The Cape Wickham lighthouse whaleboat was sent to fetch transport for all passengers and whilst most were assisted by the Queensland emigration program, most decided to stay in Victoria (founding the township of Netherby in North-West Victoria) and some decedents still live on King Island today. Unfortunately though, during the salvage operation a heavy iron bar slipped and crashed into one of the boats with six men, of which only three made it back to land. Eye witnesses reported “The water was tinged with blood and it was thought they had been torn to pieces by sharks.” Well, you did want to learn about shipwrecks, they had to be in here somewhere…


After all cargo and equipment had been salvaged, nothing was left of the Netherby other than a few rotting timber beams. There has recently been a 150 year celebration and commemoration, so in a way, the remains of the Netherby can be seen everywhere on King Island.

What does your world sound like?

Every kid nowadays has a camera. In fact, most humans carry around cameras in their jacket pockets, ready to flip one out at a moment’s notice to contribute to the grass roots, democratised, limitless documentation of the human experience on earth. It’s quite an incredible social experiment if you think about it. Plus you get to watch your holiday back, forever – in all its glory.


Later you’re in your editing program – you’ve got all your best GoPro shots and mix them up with some from your DSLR and your phone when you needed a selfie stick. Amazing, that was such a funny moment when Johnno fell in the pool. Ooh and there’s that cute feral puppy licking your fingers sniffing at the lens. And boy did that sunrise look awesome on the top of that hill you reluctantly climbed after a big night out. You better find your favourite music track to sum up the trip and overlay all the clips because you certainly can’t listen to the sound from the actual camera. It’s all a big crackly mess, you can’t hear what people are saying, because it was so windy, and your thumb was over the tiny microphone hole making it sound like you’re rubbing body parts against the bathtub. It doesn’t matter though; music is the way forward. Music adds mood and energy and personality – because you chose the track personally, because you love it. So why would anyone ever bother with sound?


Imagine for a second, that you’re sitting on a long-haul flight and both the screen in front and the screen next to you are faulty? Your one has bad picture quality – everything looks green. When you move up one seat and plug in your headphones, the picture is great, but there is a constant buzz on the audio. Which screen are you going to up putting up with? Sound is one of the least appreciated parts of the film making process, until it goes wrong. Sound is actually incredibly important when building an emotional connection from the character on screen, through the lens, to the viewer. When someone on screen falls off a bike and breaks an arm, you don’t even need to see it happening. You feel instantly uncomfortable just by the sound of the bone crunching. It’s the sound of birds singing or wind whistling that can turn the same shot of a person walking through the woods from happy and calm to mysterious and threatening. And what happens when something on screen has no sound of it’s own? Like computer generated animation ‘Inside Out’?


This is where sound design comes in. The art of creating the right soundscape to enhance or even drive the story is as old as the first talking film. Through the years, sound designers worked tirelessly to layer ambient background sound with specific elements to make the viewer feel like there was no difference between the real world and the world on screen. Except that what is on screen was so cleverly created to tell a story on not just one, but hundreds of levels.


Take for example a battle scene in Lord of the Rings. Legolas is firing his arrow at an orc whilst Aragorn is drawing his sword to chop someone’s head off. You have probably never drawn a sword before, so the next time you have access to one, you’ll expect it to make a characteristic ‘shhhhhhht-iing’ sound when you get it out of it’s scabbard – just like Aragorn’s does. Here’s a classic piece of sound design that is telling you something: Aragorn’s sword is super sharp, so sharp it makes a ‘sharp’ sounding noise. The characteristic ‘shhhhhhht-iing’ sound would be caused by the metal sword scraping against another hard surface, such as stone or another piece of metal. Scabbards were made of metal for heavy swords or for ornamental reasons, but for light, portable swords like Aragorn’s they are more likely to be made of leather, so as to not blunt the sword when you get it out to chop someone’s head off. Metal on leather action doesn’t sound ‘sharp’ enough for movies though. Even a metal scabbard would not produce a ‘shhhhhhht-iing’ sound that can be heard over battle noise.


The sound of Aragorn’s sword is telling us how sharp it is, the ‘thuunkkk’ of Legolas’ arrows hitting wooden orc shields is telling us how solid the shield is but how powerful Legolas’ arrow is if we could only get past the shield. The shield on set is probably made out of painted polymer but it doesn’t matter – so long as it SOUNDS like it’s made out of wood, we’ll believe it, and it becomes part of the original story. Thus hundreds and hundreds of little sounds are recorded, and layered over a shot to create a full picture of what’s going on. Why not just record what was on set? Because dialogue was the most important thing to capture cleanly, so all other sounds take a lower priority whilst you’re paying an actor for his or her time. Later on in post-production, ‘seamlessly’ intercutting camera angles without losing the flow is only possible with an overall soundscape for the scene, which is layered separately from dialogue.


Animations are a whole new world as characters and spaces don’t produce any sounds as of themselves. Again, sound designers create entire worlds from scratch to make a final edit feel real, although it is obviously an animation. It’s all about emotional storytelling on a non-verbal level. Remember the kid who fell off his bike? Thanks to good sound design, you can feel just as squeamish hearing a cartoon character break an arm, whilst knowing full well that they don’t exist.


Back to the real world, the one we operate most in. If you’re filming something as straightforward as a nature documentary, where all the sounds are ‘real’ and you have an on-board microphone, it shouldn’t be a problem, right? You may have filmed one croc in the morning, and the same croc in the evening. Same day, same location, but boy does it sound different. The croc may be doing the same thing but different bugs are chirping in the mornings and evenings, the wind may have picked up ever so slightly causing an ambient rustle in the trees or a group of warthogs has just decided to kick off a party around the corner. In order for a sequence to work, you’ll have to put in the hours in post-production. In addition, things like shooting stars don’t make a sound, but your eyes notice them so much more if you add a little ‘swoosh’ in the edit.


We love sound design, as it connects our audiences on a whole new level with what we do. We love capturing real experiences in real destinations and take extra care to record on location so we can later layer everything we heard that made that particular moment special. We find sound design adds hugely to our films, especially when capturing the essence of a place. When the Kookaburras get going, or you hear samba floating through the air from a nearby party, you know exactly where you are in the world. And this, dear readers, is storytelling on a global scale.


PS: Check out our Shhhhhh… – Australia film, 2 minutes of Down Under in glorious HD, no music. Can you tell which shots have just the original recorded audio and which have been sound designed?

10 whale facts to bend your mind

We’ve had a lot of lucky run-ins with whales whilst filming projects on the East Coast recently. It’s the middle of whale season, so anytime you find yourself our at sea on a boat, kayak or surfboard, chances are you’ll spot whales nearby. Make sure to not approach them closer than 100m or from the front, but if you get really lucky, they might swim over to see what you are up to.


We’ve had a few whales come over to check us out filming for THL and ocean kayaks this year, and it’s been incredible. Reading up on them afterwards blew our minds even more, so here are our favorite weird & wonderful whale facts:


1)  The blue whale is the largest ever animal to have lived on planet earth. Yes, that’s larger than any dinosaur. Its newborn baby weighs as much as an adult Asian elephant. Interestingly, that’s about the same weight as a fully-grown adult blue whale’s tongue.


2)  Sound travels roughly 4x faster in water as it does in air, so on a good day, blue whales can communicate over thousands of kilometres creating low frequency pulses. The sounds are well off the human hearing spectrum, which is probably a very good thing as the chatterbox pulses make them one of the loudest animals on earth.


3)  Humpback whale songs have striking similarity with human musical tradition. Unlike linear bird song, humpbacks will sing notes in a distinct hierarchical structure, creating sub-phrases that group into phrases, which are repeated over and over for 2-4 minutes. This theme is then combined with other themes to create a song, which can last around half an hour. The whale hums this song to itself and others over the course of hours or even days. Other whales in the area will join in or create their own variations.


4)  Whales can hear you above water, and if it they feel comfortable will respond positively to humans cheering, gently waving and making whale-like singing sounds. No joke, we’ve seen it happen. A beluga in captivity called NOC has been recorded mimicking human speech.


5)  Beluga whales have been documented to be very curious about human music in particular, showing great interest in underwater mics, people playing instruments near where they are swimming and even bobbing their heads to the rhythm.


6)  Whales are split into two groups. One group has teeth (sperm whales, belugas, orcas etc.), the other has brush like keratinous plates called baleen (humpbacks, right whales and blue whales), that are used to sift through water for tiny plankton. Interestingly, the toothed whale species are able to echolocate using sonar, but baleen whales generally can’t.


7)  Whales have small ears, but use their large, hollow, fat filled lower jawbones to pick up sound waves that get transmitted straight to the brain. So it’s like having an ear for a chin.


8)  Whales get sunburn. Blue whales are most susceptible and dark skinned fin whales the least.


9)  The East Coast of Australia is on of the best places to spot whales, as migrating adults travelling north stay within 10km of the coast to avoid the southbound 7km/h pull of the East Australian Current (EAC), made famous by Crush and his family of turtles in Finding Nemo.


10)  Sperm Whales sleep standing up, and only between 6pm and midnight. Check it out!

Wonder why Aussie weather is so spectacular?

We just happened to look up from our editing machines as the lightning struck full pelt across the horizon. Ominous black clouds rushed across the skyline as Melbourne’s corporate tower blocks were swallowed one by one by the encroaching bank of torrential rain. It may have been 2pm, but the sky was so dark our screens had automatically adjusted to twilight settings. No wonder our eyes were straining. We looked up at each other puzzled. Hadn’t it been blazing sunshine just half an hour ago?


Melbourne has the reputation of having four seasons in one day. Popular TV panel show The Gruen Transfer even made a point back in 2013 of advertising nearby Tasmania as the most cost effective destination for the 2024 Olympics as you could hold both the summer and winter Olympics in the same venues, on the same day. Two for the price of one you may say.


This volatile climate is mainly down to two factors: wind direction and topography. Wind from the south comes straight over the ocean from the arctic and creates wonderful ski slopes around Mt Buller east of Melbourne. Yes, you can ski in Australia. Google it. Wind from the north comes straight from the hot desert where the first three Mad Max films were shot. As Melbourne is by the sea, and air warms and cools at different rates over land and the ocean, wind is common. Add a lack of mountains (such as the Rockies along west coast USA) to hold hot or cold air pockets in place and you get days where the wind suddenly changes causing a 38 degree day to turn into a 21 degree afternoon. And vice versa – this is what makes it all so exciting. Yes, it’s not for everyone. It gets cold, but it also gets really hot and having a good mixture ensures we never get too bored with either. And with a floor to ceiling panoramic view from the top floor of our studio & living space, we thoroughly enjoy the show.


Melbourne isn’t the only place in Oz with rather spectacular choreographies going on in the skies. Perth’s extremely hot, super-dry summers, inherently unstable atmosphere and close proximity to the dusty, iron-ore-red outback have brought forth spectacular dust storm cloud formations. Slap one of those rust-orange towering walls topped with a froth of swirling charcoal thundercloud above the azure ocean and you’ll see where Fury Road got its colour palette. Perth also boasts the most costly natural disaster in Western Australia’s history, when a particularly ferocious storm cell on the 22nd of March 2010 caused over $1 billion damage.


The 27th of November 2014 saw another vicious weather system hit Brisbane. Huge tennis-ball sized hail showered down on parts of the city, smashing all windows on one side of our Dragon’s brother’s house and pock marking cars all along the street. Ominous dark, swirling clouds eventually passed, leaving what has until hours before been an early summer’s evening looking like it had been hit by a freak blizzard. More than 100,000 homes lost power supply due to 642 power lines brought down, 39 people were injured and a number of planes were flipped over at Archerfield Airport. Over 500,000 insurance claims for hail-damaged cars took over a year to process and repair. Brisbane is otherwise a lovely city with wonderful warm weather. Just don’t mention the 2013 ocean foam buildup on the nearby sunshine coast that blanketed roads, resorts, caravan parks, back yards, houses, cars, dogs, gerbil cages and unsuspecting German tourists in what looked like a 2m deep Ibiza club foam party. Just a few big-ish waves and rough seas during a cyclone, that’s all. Nothing to see – move along!


To steer clear of severe weather, all you need to do is avoid the East Coast, West Coast, South Coast, Tasmania and the centre of the Australian continent. The Northern Territory may be home to an abundance of man-eating crocs, but at least the climate is friendly. That is if you are a being from hell. For Australia is rather well known for its devastating bushfires that in the case of a 2003 alpine fire, destroyed 41 homes and over 1.3 million hectares of land. The most fire prone areas may be in the southern states (Victoria being the heaviest hit), but one plucky cameraman in Alice Springs managed to capture the moment a fire was sucked up into a tornado. Yeah Sharknado might have been fun, but this shit is real!


Australia’s extreme weather is destructive, no question about it. However, as with most things in life, there is another side to the bat-shit crazy weather that is incredibly creative. Certain plants such as the Banksia have evolved to rely on bush fires for re-production, where seed pods only open due to presence of extreme heat. Indigenous Australians have used fire to cultivate grassland and create tracks in dense bushland, allowing for plants and animals to thrive, making bush fires an essential part of Australia’s ecology. For us mere humans, being able to ski, surf huge waves, relax on tropical beaches and trek through rust-red deserts and dramatic wind-swept rock formations all in one country makes Australia an incredible place to be. Don’t even get us started on the clouds…

Forget Jurassic Park T-Rex. This is way more scary.

That goat scene will never leave your memory. What had the goat done to deserve this anyway? But it could also have ended so beautifully – like that Tiger in Russia who decided to not eat his takeaway-goat-dinner but befriend it instead. But according to Spielberg, it’s the dinosaurs who are out to get us. Well, we have news for you. For on two islands in the South Pacific, whose rainforest covered mountains, treacherous gorges and snow-capped peaks have fascinated humankind since their arrival over 800 years ago, it was the birds you really have to worry about.


New Zealand’s 65 million years of isolation from any other landmass and consequent lack of mammals (apart from bats that flew over the sea at some point and some seals that swam there) meant the islands’ native flora and fauna is unique to say the least. Where Africa boasts large mammal carnivores that keep the eco-system healthy and Europe’s soils are kept fertile by burrowing moles, New Zealand didn’t have as much as a single wallaby to stop the shrubs from taking over. Nevertheless, the Kiwi eco system is incredibly complex and diverse thanks to birds, reptiles and insects taking over ecological niches usually filled by mammals.


When humans first arrived in New Zealand, there were as many as 131 species of terrestrial, freshwater and coastal birds as well as another 65 species of seabirds, of which 115 were only found in New Zealand. If at this point you’re like “meh, I know what a pigeon looks like”, then take in a face-full of these awesome creatures:



1) The Kakapo


Yeah, its name might make you snigger, but so will video footage of it shamelessly humping Stephen Fry’s cameraman. This flightless, nocturnal parrot isn’t only the world’s largest and longest living, but also the world’s only non-monogamous parrot (which means he’s a bit of a slag). Its name actually translates from Maori to Kaka (“parrot”) + po (“night”) and only uses its flightless wings to balance or break its fall should it leap the wrong direction out of a tree. Not needing them for flight makes the Kakapos feathers extremely soft, which unfortunately meant they were often made into items of clothing by the Maoris, which on top of being easily hunted and eaten straight off the ground by settlers pets such as dogs, cats or ferrets, resulted in the Kakapo becoming critically endangered. Bummer. Randomly, Kakapos are also said to smell really nice (no irony here).



2) The Kea


Staying with roughly the same kind of bird, let New Zealand introduce you to the Kea, the world’s only alpine parrot. About 48cm long and mostly olive green and grey, it feeds on all kind of stuff, including sheep. Or so farmers from the 1860s believed so they could kill it for bounty. Luckily keas are rather smart and flew back into the mountains, helping each other out and preparing and using tools to get what they need to survive. Yup, it’s all caught on camera. As of 1993, so is a group of kea attacking sheep. So the farmers were right after all – Sir David Attenborough says it. Seriously. These are your sheep-killing parrot-predators.


On this note, a group of kea is referred to as a ‘circus’ and they are rarely found on the North Island, debunking claims they actually want to get somewhere warmer but are just a bit lost. Often called “the clown of the mountains”, keas will do what all parrots do: wreak havoc. Investigating backpacks, skis, snowboards, boots, clothes, cars, flying off with anything that’s light and not bolted down (including one unfortunate Scottish man’s passport) and generally trashing places are only a few reasons they are no longer kept as pets.



 3) The Moa


Another bird you probably don’t want as a pet is a moa. Mainly because it was up to 3.6m tall and weighted up to 230kg. That’s a lot of bird feed per week. Moas also display different sizes for males and females, with one being up to 150% taller and 280% heavier than the other. Interestingly, it’s the female that’s the larger one. Hellooooo ladiiieeees. The difference was so big that until 2003, the bones were attributed to distinct species but those clever DNA people at CSI Miami quickly cleared that one up. Despite their size, moas fed on plants, twigs, leaves from trees, shrubs and your mum’s rose bushes. Think of filling the niche of a prairie-wondering giraffe, deer or buffalo. They swallowed several kilos of stones to help them digest coarse material and you can still find them on the beach today if you know what to looks for (ask Jonny at the Purangi winery for tips!).


The other main reason you won’t want a moa as a pet is that it will be dead. Due to over-hunting, the last living moa to grace the face of this earth kicked the bucket around 1445 AD. There are, however, thirty six whole moa eggs still in existence in museum collections, so if you want to run your own Jurassic Park style re-animation-breeding program, we’re sure there’s a kickstarter audience out there for you. In fact, Jonny has it on good authority that someone has already succeeded in his neck of the woods. There have been sightings… don’t shoot the messenger. Remember you didn’t believe the sheep-eating parrot thing either, before Sir Dave confirmed it.



4) The Haast’s Eagle


We have established that at 3.6m height and 230kg, moas are massive. Think the body mass of an average pony. So what on God’s green earth could the main predator that hunts moa look like? A tiger? A bear? An eagle? … hang on… EAGLE? You heard correctly, the answer to New Zealand’s lack of large mammal predators is… stick some massive wings on a massive raptor’s body and voila: you have your apex killer.


Interestingly, DNA evidence shows that both the haast’s eagle and the moa used to be way smaller but were able to just get larger and larger due to lack of competition. This is called “island gigantism” and resulted in a bird weighing over 16kg and a compact but nevertheless impressive wingspan of 3m. To give you a comparison, a haast’s eagle’s lower beak bone has been measured at 11.4cm vs the largest beak of modern day eagles only get up to 7cm long. We have to say ‘modern day’ eagles as unfortunately, as moas were turned into fancy new Maori handbags in the 15th century, haast’s eagles lost their main food source and died out.



5) The Kiwi


Kiwis are awesome. We saw Atu and her friend Kevin, a great spotted and brown Kiwi in Otogohanga’s Kiwi House, who were so surprisingly fluffy, cute and actively bopping around their little night time forest enclosures, we didn’t realize half an hour had passes since we started watching them. It may surprise you to learn that kiwis are related to ostriches, emus and cassowaries, but at the size of a domestic chicken. Furthermore, kiwis more closely related to huge Malagasy elephant birds than they are to native moas. They are the only bird to have nostrils at he end of their beaks, possess bone marrow and lay the largest eggs in relation to their body size of any bird in the world. An egg will be 20% of the female’s body weight. Compare that to an ostrich’s measly 2%.



Just like Brett in Flight of the Conchords, New Zealand’s birds have got it going o-oh-ooohhhn. The Islands’ unique setting cut off from the rest of the world has made it’s animals and plants incredibly creative, so when you visit, it will look like nothing else on the planet. And if you take a closer look at these amazing creatures, their dinosaur ancestry suddenly becomes apparent. Maybe it’s the dinosaurs (in modern form) you need to be afraid of after all.

Skydivers doing awesome stuff

We’ve been researching a lot about skydivers recently. Last September, our project for Skydive Australia started to open up a whole new world to us, which ain’t a mean feet – we’ve been quite a few places already. We were both surprised and in awe by what you can do in the sky and how accessible and inclusive skydiving really is. We also stumbled across a whole bunch of amazing feats fliers have achieved, so, without further ado (and shamelessly un-paraphrased off Wikipedia), we simply HAD to share a definitive list of skydiving world records.



  • On October 24, 2014, Alan Eustace achieved the highest parachute jump in history, jumping from 135,890 feet(41,422 m) and drogue-falling for 4 and a half minutes. The previous height record was set on October 14, 2012 by Felix Baumgartner who still holds records for the longest and fastest free-fall by breaking the speed of sound achieving Mach 1.25 jumping from 127,852 feet (38,970 m) as part of the Red Bull Stratos U.S. Air Force Captain Joe W. Kittinger, the 4th highest jumper (102,800 feet (31,330 m), August 16, 1960), served as mission control for Baumgartner.


  • World’s record for themost tandem parachute jumps in a 24-hour period is 103. This record was set in 2009 by Chip Bowlin and Kristine Gould.


  • World’slargest formation in free-fall: 8 February 2006 in Udon Thani, Thailand (400 linked persons in freefall).


  • World’slargest female-only formationJump for the Cause, 181 women from 26 countries who jumped from nine planes at 17,000 feet (5150 meters), in 2009.


  • World’s largest head down formation (vertical formation): 31 July 2015 at Skydive Chicago in Ottawa, Illinois, U.S. (164 linked skydivers in head to Earth attitude):


  • Largest female head down formation (vertical formation): 30 November 2013 at Skydive Arizona in Eloy, Arizona, U.S. (63 linked skydivers in head to Earth attitude).


  • European record: 13 August 2010, Włocławek, Poland. Polish skydivers broke a record when 102 people created a formation in the air during the Big Way Camp Euro 2010. The skydive was their fifteenth attempt at breaking the record.


  • World’slargest canopy formation: 100, set on 21 November 2007 in Lake Wales, Florida, U.S.



  • In 1929, U.S. Army Sergeant R. W. Bottriell held the world’s record for most parachute jumps with 500. At that number, Bottriell stopped parachuting and became a ground instructor.


  • Australian stunt parachutist, Captain Vincent Taylor, received the unofficial record for a lowest-level jump in 1929 when he jumped off a bridge over the San Francisco Bay whose center section had been raised to 135 feet (41 meters).


  • Don Kellner holds the record for the most parachute jumps, with a total of over 40,000 jumps.


  • Cheryl Stearns (U.S.) holds the record for the most parachute descents by a woman, with a total of 20,000 in August 2014, as well as the most parachute jumps made in a 24-hour period by a woman—352 jumps from 8–9 November 1995.


  • Erin Hogan became the world’s youngest sky diver as of 2002, when she tandem jumped at age 5.


  • Bill Dause holds the record for the most accumulated freefall time with over 420 hours (30,000+ jumps).


  • Jay Stokes holds the record for most parachute descents in a single day at 640.


  • The Oldest Skydiver: Frank Moody, aged 101, made a tandem jump on 6 June 2004 at Skydive Cairns. The Tandem Master was Karl Eitrich. Previously, the record was unofficially generally credited (at least in the U.S.) to “Smitty the Jumper” (H. Truesdell Smith) — from around 1959 (age 61) through his last solo jump in 1974 (211th jump, age 75), to his last tandem jump in 1990 (221st jump, age 91), and even until his death in 1995 (age 96).


  • Largest all-blind skydiving formation: 2, with Dan Rossi and John “BJ” Fleming on September 13, 2003.



If this is all pretty amazing but sounds a little unachievable, don’t worry. Check out who we met during our project and tell us again that skydiving’s beyond your abilities…

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