Blenheim and the Omaka Aviation Heritage Centre

March 24, 2015

A few weeks ago we took a 24 hour trip to Blenheim. If we refer back to a handy map of New Zeaand’s south island, you may note that Blehnheim is not at a distance of which one would usually classify as overnight trip only material. But as it turned out, we needed to be in Blenheim for one night only, so we made the best of it.

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Map of lies. It took every bit of 5 hours to drive up there!

On the way up we stopped in Kaikoura for lunch. So many times I’ve been to Kaikoura in the past it’s been overcast, windy and cold. So that’s how I think of the place. And when everyone raves about it being such a cool little beach town, I kind of do an internal eye-roll and tune out. But this day, it was hot, clear, and stunning. I got a taste of what they were talking about, but we only had time to make a quick pit stop.
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When we reached Blenheim, Scott dropped me and my bike off at the Omaka Aviation Heritage Centre. That’s right, you heard it here first. I’m such a nerd that I chose the airplane museum over wine tasting.
From the outside, it doesn’t look like much:
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Thats my bike with the pink grips there 🙂

The Omaka Aviation Heritage Centre was just a po-dunk little aviation museum, until that one guy that made those 3 movies (and then those 2 more movies, soon to be 3…) got involved. Turns out Sir Peter Jackson is a historical airplane enthusiast, and he teamed up with his own Weta Workshop (of all-things-Hobbit fame) to create massive movie-worthy sets on which to display his own WWI airplanes. The exhibit is called Knights of the Sky, and its phenomenal.
I would go so far to say that even folks who aren’t that interested in WW1 aircraft or history could still appreciate the museum for it’s creativity. Each set looks so real, and is also annoyingly alarmed so no-one tries to touch it and see if it actually is. Below, a miniature airplane model framed against a giant wall photo:
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Omaka Aviation Heritage Centre, Blenheim, New Zealand

Other impressive sets included a muddy scene with an Army nurse arriving to assist a crashed biplane, a snowy scene where the pilots accidentally crashed the plane into a tree, and another muddy scene where the famous Red Baron crashed his plane into a field of crops. Each scene was truly Hollywood worthy, with a replica plane (some actually have flown!) and human sized mannequins that were scary realistic.

The sets were left with no detail missed, from clumps of mud and perfect footprints, to snowy branches in the trees. Unfortunately, they were frustrating as hell to try to photograph, being too large to capture in all their glory. I really needed 2 cameramen and a director to do it justice!

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I spent nearly 3 hours wandering from scene to scene. To break up the larger rooms was a smaller area with thousands of pieces of memorabilia. There were uniforms and medals, letters to and from family, memoirs of air battles- wins and losses. There were lots of stories about individuals from all countries involved, which really made the whole thing feel more like a celebration of an era past than a tribute to a war. Maybe that was the point.

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Just as difficult to photograph: the hallways full of memorabilia.

There was so much information in the hallways that one couldn’t take it all in at once. After three hours of reading and digesting information I was inspired, entertained, educated, and exhausted. I had to breeze past hundreds of letters and stories, paintings and artifacts just to make it through the museum before closing.

Because I don’t know every plane by heart (sorry dad!), and because I experienced major information overload, I started seeing art instead of warcraft. What beautiful pieces of machinery these planes were! So delicate and intricate compared to today’s monster aircraft!

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Obviously no detail was left, the lighting impeccable, the descriptions educational yet interesting. If I haven’t sold it to you yet, it’s probably not gonna happen!

After I got kicked out at 5pm I cycled back to the hotel to meet Scott, and we went out for a quiet dinner. In the morning we rode one of his favorite mountain bike rides, a shorter backcountry ride in native bush just on the north side of Blenheim. By short, I mean only 2 hours climb straight up the side of a mountain, then a fast, rooty, rocky, tight decent down the ridge back to the start. Don’t get me wrong though, it was awesome! We even managed to escape the rain, and then accidentally ended right on the beach!

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I don’t know the next time we’ll find ourselves up Blenheim-way, but when we do I feel I have some unfinished business at the Omaka Aviation Heritage Centre. I have a lot more stories to read, and some photography-redemtion to be had. But thanks for putting up with what I could get with the skills I have, and if you’re in the area, definitely check it out! It’s just incredible.

 

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