Presenter truly wild about New Zealand

Last updated 09:16 05/09/2013
Gus Roxburgh
DREAM GIG: Former Nelson man Gus Roxburgh is the presenter for a new TV One series filmed with Natural History New Zealand (NHNZ) called Wild About New Zealand.

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Nelsonian Gus Roxburgh is the presenter of a new TV One series on New Zealand's national parks Wild About New Zealand.

The series is filmed in conjunction with Natural History New Zealand and features an episode on the Abel Tasman and Nelson Lakes national parks.

Gus has been away from Nelson since leaving Nelson College, but thinks of it as his turangawaewae (where he belongs). He takes two minutes from his busy schedule to talk to The Leader about the series and what he is up to now.

How often do you get back to Nelson?

I usually get back a couple of times a year, mainly to see my parents Jim and Alison Roxburgh and friends, but I also love to get out to the amazing outdoors that is on tap as well when I'm back there, whether it is mountain biking in the hills behind Nelson, kite surfing at Tahunanui or venturing into the parks on Nelson's doorstep.

What have you been up to since you left?

I've been away since I finished school at Nelson College and I've been up to a fair bit in that time.

I studied and travelled before returning to Lincoln University to do a Masters in Natural Resource Management. I worked in that field for a while and also worked as a helicopter skiing guide for about 12 winters and gradually transitioned into working more in television.

Over the last six years I've been based in Santa Monica where I have been running a small independent production company, focused on documentaries and non-fiction television. During that time we earned an Emmy nomination for Best Documentary and had an Oscar short-listed film.

It's been a fascinating time working in Los Angeles, which is undoubtedly the entertainment capital of the world. I've learnt a huge amount, not just about producing films and television, but also about the business of producing films and television.

And being here now is a particularly interesting time because the entire industry is being disrupted by digital media - that means a lot of uncertainty and a lot of jobs being lost - but it also presents some exciting new opportunities.

How did you get involved in the TV One series on national parks Wild About New Zealand?

Most of my career I am behind the camera working as a director or producer but I did work as a presenter for several TVNZ series, including Human Potential, Brain Power and Wicked Weather, the latter being produced by NHNZ.

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When I heard about Wild About New Zealand I contacted them to express my interest in working on the series and ironically was initially talking to them about working as a producer on it - and then the presenting role came up.

It was great to work with the NHNZ team again - I grew up watching their Wild South documentaries and they were some of the shows, along with other classics like Jacques Cousteau's shows that inspired me to get into television in the first place. And Wild About New Zealand has pretty much been the dream gig for me.

What was filming like in the Abel Tasman and Nelson Lakes National Parks? Any stories about the filming that won't make it to the small screen?

We had a fantastic shoot - or two shoots actually. We shot some footage in March 2012 and then completed filming the Abel Tasman/Nelson Lakes episode just before Christmas last year.

Naturally, being Nelson we had fantastic weather - which is always a huge help on a completely outdoor-based shoot like this. For me, it was very much returning to my old stomping grounds - places I'd spent my childhood running around.

I can remember when there were no kayaks on the Abel Tasman coast . . . I'm that old! I also spent a lot of time in Nelson Lakes as when I was growing up we were lucky enough to have a family bach at Rotoiti. And although I knew the parks pretty well, we still got to some places I'd never been that absolutely blew me away.

The recently opened Abel Tasman canyoning trip was a real highlight - just a fantastic day out and takes you into a completely different part of the park that most people ignore as they tend to stick to the beaches, the coastal track and the coastline.

Learning more about the Maori history of the area was a highlight for me too. The relatively recent Project Janszoon initiative was another great thing to see - it's great seeing the amazing volunteer efforts of Kiwis all over the country to help the conservation cause (the local Birdsong Trust and the Friends of Rotoiti being great examples), but for a New Zealand family to step up with literally millions of dollars of funding to help restore the Abel Tasman environment is amazing to see and I think it's going to be a game-changer!

A real highlight in Nelson Lakes was getting to Blue Lake (Rotomairewhenua) - I had no idea it had been measured as being the clearest freshwater in the world! Just a stunningly beautiful place.

What lessons do you think people should take from the show?

The biggest takeaway is how special these places are and how much we need to look after them. I hope everyone watching the series gets that message as our parks face some big threats from things like introduced pests and predators, not to mention political and funding pressures.

Most of all, I hope people are inspired to get out there and experience our parks for themselves because I think when you experience something for yourself, that's when you care about it and are motivated to look after it!

What are you up to now?

Since completing work on Wild About New Zealand I have been freelance producing and directing. I'm currently doing a project on a summer basketball league called the Drew League that has run in a very rough gang-infested part of South Central Los Angeles for 40 years and has saved many young men from gangs and sent them to college and given them careers in basketball.

Consequently, this little gym in South Central LA frequently attracts some of the top NBA players in the world. It's been a great project and I'm working on it with NBA All-Star Baron Davis.

I've also been producing content for a website that my wife and I invested in that has become the top health and wellness website on the web called mindbodygreen.com.

What interests do you have outside of your work?

I love travelling and being based in California means I'm able to do a lot of road trips around the western US and get down to Central and South America fairly easily. I live a pretty active life here - I'm just a few blocks from the beach so I'm able to get out surfing, stand up paddling and kite surfing most weeks.

Los Angeles is actually a surprisingly good city for outdoor activities and the hiking and mountain biking on the hills just five minutes' drive away is also great. My first love is probably the mountains, however, so I get up to the Sierras and into the Rockies whenever I can.

What is something that people might not know about you?

I love reading and books and have a minor addiction to buying books on Amazon. I also just became a father.

What are your future plans?

I love working in television and telling stories that hopefully make a small difference in the world - and I feel lucky to do so. It's something that has allowed me to have adventures in some of the most incredible places around the world and meet a cross-section of fascinating people so I intend to keep working in this medium, and stay passionate about what I am doing.

- Nelson

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