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Most of us agree that this tiny prov­ince pro­duces some of the world’s best Sauvi­gnon Blanc but I was un­pre­pared for the scale of the wine in­dus­try in the re­gion. You’d strug­gle to com­pre­hend that there are some 150 vine­yards here, un­less of course you get your­self air­borne, as I did, in a vin­tage aero­plane! The rush of fresh air from the open cock­pit and the crys­tal clear skies was quite an eye opener. It also al­lowed me to gain a sense of the vast spread of par­al­lel rows of colour, seen at their bril­liant best on this beau­ti­ful au­tumn morn­ing.

Ven­tur­ing to the north you find your­self over the spec­tac­u­lar Marl­bor­ough Sounds. Most visi­tors get a glimpse of this aquatic won­der­land as they sail into Queen Char­lotte Sound aboard the ferry or fly into Marl­bor­ough on one of the small com­mer­cial flights that pro­vide regular ser­vices into Blen­heim Air­port. If how­ever, you are able to fly over the ‘Sounds and spend some time ven­tur­ing around these beau­ti­ful wa­ter­ways, you are once again prone to pleas­ant sur­prise as you get the im­pres­sion that this vast snakes and lad­ders board of wa­ter­ways

could keep a boat owner oc­cu­pied for sev­eral life­times with­out ever be­com­ing repet­i­tive. It would be very dif­fi­cult to find a more at­trac­tive maze to serve as a play­ground for those with a love of the wa­ter.

Now the vin­tage air­craft flights avail­able in Marl­bor­ough op­er­ate not from the main air­port but from the his­toric all-over grass cov­ered Omaka Air­field to the south­west of the city. And here we find an­other of Marl­bor­ough’s unique sur­prises.

Omaka Avi­a­tion Her­itage Cen­tre is a mu­seum like no other I’ve ever seen be­fore. I have been to many mu­se­ums, in­clud­ing avi­a­tion mu­se­ums, but this is some­thing en­tirely dif­fer­ent. It is not so much a col­lec­tion of old aero­planes, that would not de­scribe it at all, but in­stead, an im­mer­sion ex­pe­ri­ence in which the vis­i­tor is taken on a four year jour­ney back into The Great War of 1914-18, when avi­a­tion was still in its in­fancy and the war was a prov­ing ground for rad­i­cal new tech­nol­ogy.

En­ter­ing the main dis­play build­ing af­fords an­other sur­prise, as the vis­i­tor is plunged into near dark­ness, al­low­ing dra­matic the­atri­cal light­ing to high­light the in­di­vid­ual dis­plays. I was lit­er­ally gob-smacked by the mix of over 20 air­craft from the WW-I pe­riod, some of them orig­i­nals in ‘time-cap­sule’ con­di­tion, and oth­ers repli­cas, not just ca­pa­ble of flight, but ac­tu­ally flown at times, es­pe­cially dur­ing the bi­en­nial ‘Clas­sic Fight­ers’ Easter air­show that oc­curs here dur­ing the odd years. Other air­craft are dis­played in won­der­fully creative dio­ra­mas that de­pict in very pow­er­ful re­al­ism, some of the chal­lenges that these young air­borne ad­ven­tur­ers were asked to face in the skies above France and Bel­gium a hun­dred years ago. These dis­plays are re­mark­ably re­al­is­tic and the many man­nequins that fea­ture within the scenes are so re­al­is­tic as to be al­most scary. No sur­prise then to learn that these were sup­plied by Sir Richard Tay­lor’s Weta Work­shops, sup­port­ing the the­atri­cal dis­plays pro­duced by Wingnut Films. It tran­spires that one of the found­ing Trus­tees of this or­ga­ni­za­tion was Peter Jack­son (long be­fore adding the ‘Sir’) and the air­craft be­long to

the 14-18 Her­itage Trust, of which Sir Peter is Chair­man.

Per­haps the most as­ton­ish­ing as­pect of this re­mark­able fa­cil­ity is the col­lec­tion of ut­terly priceless orig­i­nal WW-I mem­o­ra­bilia that can be seen in the dis­play cases. Fly­ing ap­parel, medals and tro­phies be­long­ing to the great­est pi­lots of the Great War, can be seen beau­ti­fully pre­sented in the cab­i­nets. Mu­seum staff told me that it is of­ten the visi­tors from the USA, UK and Europe who are the most sur­prised by these ex­hibits, sim­ply be­cause they are here in Marl­bor­ough, New Zealand, rather than in the Smith­so­nian in Wash­ing­ton D.C. or at the Im­pe­rial War Mu­seum in Lon­don.

That theme of sur­prise was won­der­fully well il­lus­trated by Prime Min­is­ter John Key when he first vis­ited the mu­seum in 2012. Af­ter a whirl­wind visit on a tight timetable he emerged from the dis­play hall with a huge smile on his face and ut­tered the words “I had no idea!” More re­cently, Mr. Key re­turned with his lovely wife Bron­agh and gave her a tour of the dis­plays as the cou­ple

formed part of the en­tourage that joined their Royal High­nesses the Duke and Duchess of Cam­bridge on their visit here on 10th April. Sir Peter Jack­son was there in per­son to serve as tour guide on this oc­ca­sion, tak­ing the Royal cou­ple through the fa­cil­ity and ex­plain­ing what was be­hind the air­craft and other dis­plays. This one mu­seum in small-town New Zealand at­tracted quite a gath­er­ing of sig­nif­i­cant peo­ple and now I have seen the Omaka Avi­a­tion Her­itage Cen­tre for my­self, I can to­tally un­der­stand why.

As I leave Marl­bor­ough, there is one more el­e­ment of sur­prise that I can’t ig­nore. I’d planned to be here for just a cou­ple of days but I have stayed for nearly a week. There is a sur­pris­ing range of things to do here in Marl­bor­ough, and the qual­ity of food, wine, accommodation, ac­tiv­i­ties and at­trac­tions will en­sure that I shall be re­turn­ing be­fore too long, to be sur­prised all over again!

Prince Wil­liam and Kate with Sir Peter Jack­son

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