World famous in New Zealand: Omaka Aviation Heritage Centre, Blenheim
This priceless collection of military aircraft from both World Wars is worth the visit.
Near Blenheim Airport, inside two standard-issue hangars, is a collection of military aircraft from both World Wars, displayed in brilliantly realistic dioramas created by the magic of Weta Workshop and WingNut Films.
Not just planes: there are personal belongings here once owned by Hermann Goering and the Red Baron.
Sir Peter Jackson has invested so much time (and money) collecting all this stuff, it would be rude not to. His fascination with the Great War has enabled this Knights of the Sky exhibition, one of the biggest collections of World War 1 aircraft in the world, made up of more than 20 planes – many of them original, plus rebuilds, reproductions and models.
Dramatically lit, and authentically displayed complete with bullet holes and dents, they are so real that it's even more incredible that men actually flew and fought in these flimsy machines.
There's a plane crashed into a snowy tree, another being flown by the pilot (a Kiwi) standing on the wing, one mired in a muddy field, a wooden flying boat, another crash-landed, its injured pilot being pulled from the cockpit. In the centre is a diorama showing the crashed plane of Baron von Richthofen, the Red Baron, being souvenired by Aussie Diggers, and in the display cases around it are some of his belongings including letters, trophies and even a tattered piece of his plane's canvas covering showing the Iron Cross.
All of these artefacts, and those belonging to Goering and other flying aces, are meticulously labelled, telling fascinating stories. In the second hangar, Dangerous Skies features World War II aircraft, most of them air worthy, with a terrifyingly realistic reproduction of what it was like to be on the ground in Stalingrad during a Luftwaffe air raid.
Allow at least two hours, preferably three. If you're feeling bold, two of you can put on flying helmets and squeeze into the front seats of a vintage biplane for a 10-minute joyride over the surrounding wine country.
ON THE WAY/NEAR BY
Next door is Omaka Classic Cars; and close by are more than 40 of Marlborough's cellar doors, including Cloudy Bay, Brancott Estate, Wither Hills, Villa Maria… Or try Moa Brewery for a change of tipple: there's a full range of craft beers (and cider), including some surprises. How about a Cherry Sour wheat beer?
Or for something sweeter, get to the Makana Confections factory and start drooling. Yes, that handmade chocolate is gorgeous, but you mustn't miss the macadamia brittle.
For the World War I exhibition, it's $25 for adults, $12 for children. For both exhibitions, it's $39 and $16. There are family and senior concessions available, under 5s free. For $5 extra per exhibition, you can join a guided highlight tour.
BEST TIME TO GO
It's open 9-5pm every day, except Christmas, with winter hours slightly shorter. To see the aircraft in action, there's a biennial (odd years) Air Show at Easter when most of the World War II planes are flown. Flying Days are held throughout the summer. See omaka.org.nz