The outskirts of Blenheim, a small town at the top of the South Island, is the unexpected home of a world-class collection of planes from WW1 and WW2. The Omaka Aviation Heritge Centre opened in 2006 and has probably the best displayed collection of aircraft I’ve seen anywhere, deploying the talents of Sir Peter Jackson’s Wingnut Films and Weta Workshop to bring the exhibits to life.
It opened with ‘Knights of the Sky’, one of the world’s largest collections of World War I aircraft and memorabilia. Many of these beautifully preserved and restored planes are still airworthy and take part in an annual airshow. Some are displayed in a straightforward fashion, though with effective lighting.
Others though are brought to life with realistic mannequins and evocative dioramas.
Particularly that depicting the aftermath of Baron von Richthofen’s plane being shot down and stripped for mementos, some of which are on display around the diorama.
Even better in my opinion is ‘Dangerous Skies’, which opened in 2016 and features varied planes from WW2. It opens with the eye catching sight of a Hawker Hurricane on fire above while it’s pilot below joins a garden party, based on the true story of a Kiwi pilot.
Round the corner is a Supermarine Spitfire and model of the huts typical at RAF bases.
Across from which the Germans are represented with a Focke-Wulf Fw-190, a Messerschmitt Bf108, and a dramatically hanging Junkers Ju 87 Stuka.
The Russians are represented with a Yak-3Ua accompanied by a hyper realistic model of Lydia Litvyak, the leading female fighter pilot during WW2.
Beyond which the Stalingrad Experience tells the story of this turning point in WW2 in an immersive environment.
The final exhibit is a striking downed Lockheed Hudson in the jungles of the Pacific. Amazingly this is an intact plane which has been staged to look like wreckage, but could be reassembled.