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  • Writer's pictureDonna Zabel

Wings Over Omaka--the Magic of Aviation from the Master of Fantasy

Updated: Oct 26, 2020

Every traveler to New Zealand knows the reasons for crossing the Marlborough Sound from the North to the South Island include enjoying the region’s hundred plus wineries. It is easy to spend hours or days driving from one luscious vineyard to the next, flying slightly high on alcoholic fuel, but the true flying magic is in nearby Picton, at the Omaka Aviation Heritage Center.

photo: Donna Zabel, CC BY 3.0

The guardian angel and supporter of this amazing tribute to early aviation and the classic machines of WWI is better known for his imagination and interpretation of beloved Tolkien classics. Peter Jackson’s commitment to the history of flying started when he was a youngster, long before his movie making stardom, when he began collecting whatever artifacts he could. The result is possibly the most comprehensive collection of historical objects, restored planes, and recreated dioramas of WWI in the world. There are medals and uniforms, propellers and aircraft parts, displays that convey the extraordinary adventure that was combat flying in its early days. Throughout the museum are grim reminders of the often forgotten dangers, including a largely accurate display of the Red Baron’s fatal crash.

photo: Donna Zabel, CC BY 3.0

photo: Donna Zabel, CC BY 3.0

With Peter Jackson’s collection and story-telling abilities, I found the museum almost overwhelming. Even with all the equipment details, the museum is clearly about the people as well as the machines and aviation history. At one end of the museum is the 5000 Poppies exhibit, a tribute to the men and women who served, and the huge loss of life New Zealanders suffered. Among the 5000 handmade red poppies are 3 in purple, representing the beloved horses lost. Kiwis care about their animals and their people.

photo: Donna Zabel, CC BY 3.0

Beyond Omaka the vineyards were still waiting for me, and deliciously refreshing on our warm sunny day. As was New Zealand’s most famous chocolate factory where everything is meticulously made by hand with no preservatives. The wines never made it past the tasting room or the lunch table. The only question is whether the pretty boxes of luscious Makana Chocolates will make it home. At least my beautiful book on Omaka will.

photo: Donna Zabel, CC BY 3.0


· Day trips the Omaka Heritage Center leave from the visitors center in Picton and often include a couple of vineyards. They last about 6 hours.

· The museum offers guided tours of the WWI and WWII exhibits. Choose the WWI for an hour with a knowledgeable guide and then some free time to roam the exhibits.

· A perfect lunch stop is the Allan Scott Winemakers. Try a few of the delicious wines before settling into a lunch of New Zealand mussels chowder under the garden canopy.

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