Here’s a good question for a quiz night! What is NZ film maker Sir Peter Jackson’s passion – and the answer can’t be Lord of the Rings or his other film making ventures! Correct answer – early aviation.
Testament to that is a remarkable museum that Sir Peter is closely associated with at Blenheim in the Marlborough region of New Zealand’s South Island.
He is Chair of the Omaka Aviation Heritage Centre – an exceptionally wonderful showcase that took flight thanks to Sir Peter and a group of other aviation enthusiasts.
Let me be clear – this is not a homage to war, but to the bravery and inventiveness of people who are caught up in war. Primarily, it pays homage to the early aviators in World War 1 and 11.
Back in 2006, the first section of the Centre opened – ‘KNIGHTS OF THE SKY’ – focused on the amazing efforts of aviators in the First World War. The world’s first successful motor-operated airplane had only been flown for the first time just over ten years before the War. Aviation was still very new and many young men suddenly found themselves flying for the first time in the War. It was, for most, a steep learning curve in fragile aircraft on a most dangerous battlefield.
Sir Peter was a driving force in bringing this Centre to life with stunning life like dioramas that utilised the creative talents of the NZ WingNut Films and and Workshop in Wellington used to create the special effects in his film trilogies – the Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit.
I have had the unique opportunity to be granted a special tour of Weta Workshops with my son, and I can attest to just how real the mannequins created by Weta can be – down to tiny hairs individually attached on hands! I rounded a corner to be confronted by the actor Sam Neil – well, not Sam – but a Sam Neil mannequin used in a NZ movie starring the Kiwi actor. It was so real, I momentarily wondered if the mannequin wasn’t a mannequin – but actually Sam Neil about to spring to life uttering ‘Candid Camera’! But I digress.
There are plenty of remarkable human interest stories detailing great bravery at the Centre too. I was particularly interested in that of a man regarded as New Zealand’s most famous Ace – Military Cross winner Keith Caldwell. Read below how, without a parachute, he climbed out of the cockpit to the wing to stabilise the plane as it went into an uncontrolled spin – a death dive – after colliding with a German plane. Heart thumping stuff! He managed to gain enough control of the aircraft to land it – somersaulting a few times onto the ground, and surviving with bruising and a bleeding lip!
Another story that’s detailed is that of German ace Werner Voss known for his remarkable flying skills and bravery. Just 20 years old when he was killed.
There’s a collection of wonderful photographs too.
Another feature at the Centre is an impressive collection of original, flyable and static aircraft including a Curtiss MF Flying Boat, the Italian time capsule Caproni CA.22 and a colourful Fokker Triplane
Many of the exhibits come from Sir Peter’s own collection of WW1 aircraft and artefacts including genuine personal items owned by Germany’s famous Baron von Richthofen – known as the Red Baron because of the colour of his aircraft and considered by aviators from all sides of the War as the Ace of Aces in the battlefield skies.
To quote from the Centre website:
“Rare memorabilia on display; the envy of any national collection ranges from beautifully crafted ‘trench’ art through to personal items belonging to national flying heroes such as the USA’s Eddie Rickenbacker, France’s René Fonck and Germany’s Red Baron, Manfred von Richthofen and the infamous Hermann Goering.”
When I was visiting, work was being finalised to open the second part of the museum focusing on aviation in the Second World War. It is now open to the public with exhibits including a range of warbirds such as a flyable Griffon powered Mk.XIVe Spitfire, and a Lockheed Hudson that crashed into a Pacific island jungle. I haven’t seen it, but if it’s as good as the WW1 section, you won’t be disappointed. In fact, if Covid ever allows me to get back to NZ, I’ll definitely be checking it out!
The Okaka Aviation Heritage Centre is well worth visiting. It would be a mistake not to see it if you are in New Zealand.
Was the Centre originally on my list of things to see in NZ. I must admit it wasn’t, and I didn’t think it would interest me. I went along because my brother in law recommended it, and my hubby was keen to see it. Lucky for me, because it was one of the most impressive museum centres I’ve encountered. And it really is difficult to be impressed in New Zealand, because the whole country is super impressive!
Omaka is open seven days a week between 10am and 5pm. Allow plenty of time to enjoy it!
Check their website for the latest information at http://www.omaka.org.nz
Recent Blogs: You will find stories and photographs from my travel experiences on Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Iran and Afghanistan. Also my experiences with virtual travel in these Covid times. Check out all my stories at travellingtherese.com