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Sam Neill in Tonga filming landmark series for 250th year of Cook's voyages

Nuku'alofa, Tonga

Photos by Mary Lyn Fonua

Sam Neill meets HSH Prince Kalaniuvalu - The Lord Fotofili, and HSH Princess Kalaniuvalu - The Lady Fotofili, after filming a Fakatu'uta Fatongia (Chiefly Presentation of Gifts) during the mourning period of the Queen Mother, at Pangai. Seated to their left, are Matapules of the Ha'a Tufunga led by Takapu, and to their right, Matapules of the Ha'a Kili led by Uhi.

Actor and story-teller Sam Neill, completed several days filming in Tongatapu on October 2, for a landmark documentary that will be broadcast in 2018.

This 6-part documentary series explores the three voyages of Captain James Cook using a contemporary journey across the Pacific Ocean. Sam (Jurassic Park, Dead Calm, The Piano) is the host.

"Uncharted – With Sam Neill" will be a major television event broadcast on the Foxtel history channel and NZ Prime TV in 2018 to mark the 250th anniversary of Cook's first voyage to the Pacific.

Sam is on a voyage, both physical and psychological, to re-see the Pacific. He is following Cook's journeys – from the Arctic to the Antarctic, as well as the journey from Tahiti to Australia and New Zealand. His travels include Vanuatu, Tonga and Hawai'i. It is Sam’s desire to tell the story from both perspectives of the beach, with a strong focus on the cultural stories of the people and places Cook encountered.

Sam's experiences in modern Tonga will be shown in the fifth episode of the series.

"We loved our time in Tonga," Sam said on October 3, posting some of his photos on his twitter account @Two Paddocks.

The Tonga filming was Directed by Kriv Stenders, with Writer-Producer Owen Hughes. Production is by Essential Media and Entertainment, one of Australia’s leading independent producers of high quality screen content

With such an epic scope of locations, the series’ producers promise that visually it will be something special, with stunning aerial photography, on land and sea.

Cook's journals recorded much about Tonga during the time of the Tu'i Tonga Pau.

On his first visit in 1773, Cook was in Tonga for less than a week, from October 2-7. He came back in 1774, but for only four days, anchoring off the north side of the island of Nomuka in Ha'apai to get water and fresh food. Cook's most important stay was during his third voyage of 1777 when he was in Tonga from April 28 to July 17, a stay of two and a half months. The drawings of John Webber, an English artist who accompanied Cook on his third Pacific expedition aboard H.M.S. Resolution, captured the magnificent entertainment Cook witnessed in Ha'apai and the special 'Inasi presentations he saw in Tongatapu.

It was significant during the filming of "Uncharted", that Sam Neill witnessed a Fakatu'uta Fataongia (Chiefly Presentation of Gifts) during the Royal Family's observation of a one year mourning period for the Queen Mother, when nobles presented gifts to HM King Tupou VI. On September 30 at Pangai, the people from the estate of HRH the Crown Prince Tupouto'a 'Ulukalala were presenting on behalf of the Crown Prince. Because HM King Tupou VI was unable to be present, an 'Eiki took his place to receive the presentation on the ground next to the Royal Palace. HSH Prince Kalaniuvalu Fotofili was appointed to receive this presentation. According to a ceremonial expert, Takapu, at the Palace Office, this was the first time that the ranking chiefly title of the Tu'i Tonga lineage from Lapaha has represented the Tu'i Kanokupolu at the Tu'i Kanokupolu's mala'e.

HM King Tupou VI had extended his travels to Thailand, after addressing the United Nations General Assembly in New York on September 22.