World famous in New Zealand: Croydon Aviation Heritage Centre, Mandeville
Who wouldn't enjoy soaring above the Southland countryside, upside-down?
WHERE/WHAT IS IT?
Just 10 minutes from Gore, it's an aviation restoration workshop, it's a museum of vintage aircraft that are nearly all air-worthy and, most excitingly, it's also a place where you can strap on a leather flying helmet and jacket and take to the air in a Tiger Moth for a gentle sight-seeing flight — or, for the more adventurous, some proper aerobatics seen at their most thrilling from your seat in front of the pilot.
The bragging rights of doing a barrel roll or a loop-the-loop in a bright yellow vintage bi-plane are indisputable. You can bore everyone with this for the rest of your life — or, more likely, make them green with envy. Who wouldn't enjoy soaring above the Southland countryside, upside-down, the wind whistling through the wires, your teeth dry as a bone because you can't stop grinning?
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If you prefer to keep your feet on the ground, though, there's a ton of interesting stuff here: the bare wooden bones of planes being restored, beautiful laminated propellers, an airworthy replica of Bert Pither's 1910 homemade monoplane on its bicycle wheels, a Dragonfly, more Tiger Moths, and a Percival Proctor, as flown by Jean Batten. There's even a shop.
There's no denying that there could be some mid-air stomach trauma resulting from all those g-forces, so maybe forgo that big breakfast and save yourself for a self-congratulatory indulgence afterwards at the Miss Cocoa Cafe in the nearby Mandeville Railway Hotel.
ON THE WAY/NEAR BY
Close by is Gore, famous for its leaping trout statue, country music and, as part of the regular museum, the Hokonui Moonshine Museum celebrating the whisky distilled illegally in the hills by parched Scotsmen during 50 years of Prohibition: a lively story, told well. If your tastes are more refined, cross the road to the pretty little Eastern Southland Art Gallery — the "Goreggenheim" — to feast your eyes on Ralph Hotere, Rita Angus and Theo Schoon, as well as a wide range of indigenous art from Australia, Africa and the US.
The Public Gardens near the town centre are always lovely, you can fly-fish for brown trout, or line-dance along to some of that country music they're so fond of here. Or head the other way, to pretty Lumsden, for its heritage houses, quirky cafes and restaurants, and mountain bike trails. Need further recommendation? Bill English was born here.
Tiger Moth joyrides begin at $95 for 10 minutes up to $220 for half an hour. There's also a Fox Moth seating three people in a cabin, and a Dominie Rapide for up to eight passengers. Standard entry to the museum is $10, accompanied children free.
BEST TIME TO GO
For a sky full of vintage aircraft, go to the Mandeville Fly-In which takes place annually on the eighth weekend of the year. To get hands-on, the museum is open every day except for a handful of public holidays. See croydonaircraft.com