Meet Peter. Peter has dedicated fifty years of his life documenting over two hundred lava caves underneath an urban city in New Zealand. As Peter drags himself through these dark, damp and enclosed spaces beneath our feet, he talks about the unique history these caves offer. But he realises that these 30,000+ year-old caves will be a casualty of the inevitable urban growth.
- Duration:14 min
MEET PETER is a brief insight into a man who has single-handedly photographed and mapped over two hundred lava caves beneath the streets of Auckland, New Zealand.
I first heard of Peter in an article in a local newspaper, searching for my next documentary post a Masters degree in directing for documentary. After a several phone calls and a few months of trying to track Peter down, I had nearly given up when I received a call-back from Peter. Amongst his first questions was “Are you afraid of the dark?” Peter took me on my first caving experience which involved much spider-like crawling to the depths of a 150m cave in a suburban area; in someone’s garden no less. We sat and spoke about how we would shoot a film about caves with darkness being the primary palette and Peter switched off his head-lamp to demonstrate the true meaning of darkness. These caves are literally under our feet but when the torches are turned off, it feels like being in another world. I also discovered I wasn’t afraid of the dark. On the contrary – I knew I wanted to make this film so audiences could perhaps experience what it is to be inside these caves.
What I didn’t know about these caves is that they can boast the lengthy age of 30,000+ years, with the longest cave stretching more than 250m. Making this film found us under city streets, popping manholes, venturing underneath houses or industrial areas, trudging through mud, or crawling over sharp volcanic rock. Each cave has its own history though there are few residents of Auckland that know they exist; many of the caves are inaccessible or their entrances forgotten. And in being an unknown aspect of Auckland’s history, the caves are under threat by urban development. A bulldozer is a lava cave’s master enemy.
Peter’s goal for the last fifty years of his life has been to map and photograph these caves as a way of preserving them. His archive is extensive and he’ll go to extreme lengths to preserve the caves, such as putting manholes in the ground so entrances can’t be covered over, or crawling over piles of hazardous rubbish. Peter is a ‘one-man-band’ on a mission to save these hidden spaces before they disappear.
This films intention is to offer audiences a chance to view these caves through Peter’s eyes, in his words, “before they go”. I’ve been very privileged to have seen these historic spaces and I hope this film creates some awareness of these hidden yet valuable spaces.