Kia Ora: Omaka

Elisabeth Easther discovers a great place to see magnificent flying machines.
Omaka in Marlborough is all about aviation history -- you can even go for a joyride in a bi-plane.
Omaka in Marlborough is all about aviation history -- you can even go for a joyride in a bi-plane.

Origin of name: Maori for "place of the stream".

Population: 1400.

Local mascot: Mac the cat, the Marlborough Aero Club moggie.

Flying high: This locale is all about aviation, from the world's first recorded topdressing flight by hot air balloon in the 1890s to New Zealand's first air pageant in 1930 at the Omaka aerodrome. A magnet for piloting pioneers, in 1928 the nearby Marlborough Aero Club hosted Charles Kingsford Smith and Charles Ulm following their magnificent crossing of the Tasman Sea, while the beloved Jean Batten brought her Percival Gull to Omaka during her countrywide tour to celebrate her famous solo flight from England.

Homemade hero: As well as welcoming record-breaking aviators from out of town, Omaka produced one of its own - Arthur Clouston - who learned to fly at Omaka and later found fame in 1938 for flying around the world from London (via Australia). After landing at Omaka Aerodrome, he turned around the next day and headed back to England, completing the epic trip in under 11 days

Famous local: 95-year-old Bunty Bunt is one of the volunteer guides at Omaka Aviation Heritage Centre. During World War II Bunty flew Spitfires, Hurricanes and the Boulton Paul Defiant.

Famous benefactor: Thanks in part to the generosity of Sir Peter Jackson, the Omaka Aviation Heritage Centre is a world-class visitor attraction.

Best website:

Source of pride: The Omaka Aviation Heritage Centre is an outstanding facility that has been delighting visitors for nearly 10 years. The Omaka community has worked tirelessly to make the dream a reality. It is continuing to evolve, and visitors are often stunned to find a facility of this quality in such a small place.

Town fiestas: The Classic Fighters Omaka is held every second Easter and sees over 35,000 people flock to the Omaka Aerodrome for an amazing weekend of flying, ground theatre, vehicle displays, pyrotechnics and entertainment. The next show is in 2017.

Best reason to stop: The Omaka Aviation Heritage Centre also houses the world's largest collection of World War I aircraft and memorabilia with dramatically staged static displays alongside aeroplanes that still fly. On long-term loan from Sir Peter Jackson, the aircraft have been brought to life in a series of dioramas created by Wingnut Films and enhanced with lifelike mannequins by Weta Workshop.

Best place to take kids: The best way to get to Omaka is aboard the Blenheim Riverside Railway that sets off from Brayshaw Heritage Park. Once you've had a good explore of the vintage buildings, historic displays and tractor collection, hop on the little train and head for the Omaka Railway Station - but be sure to check the timetable.

Best park: The Omaka Aviation Heritage Centre is a great place to hang out and watch what's happening on the airfield. Will it be a vintage bi-plane, a fighter jet, a helicopter or a Pitts doing mind-boggling aerobatics? If you're really lucky, you might catch a glimpse of the world's only flyable Avro Anson Mk1.

Best walk: Taylor River Walkway goes from Burleigh Bridge to Taylor Dam and passes through Omaka. About 5km long it's mostly flat and is an easy walk.

Watch this space: The Omaka Aviation Heritage Centre is opening its second exhibition, Dangerous Skies (World War II), later this year and it looks set to be a corker.

Best view: Everything looks magnificent from the air - so be sure to take a flight in a historic plane while you're in the region. Pre-booking essential.

Best place to pull over: Anywhere along the airfield. Most days plane-spotters are lined up to enjoy the sights.

Best museum: Aside from the Omaka Aviation Heritage Museum, don't forget to call into Omaka Classic Cars where over 100 beautifully restored vehicles gleam in pristine condition. Chrome heaven.

Cultural outings: Enjoy a taste of Maori culture at Omaka Marae with Maori Experiences, starting each day at 9.30am, your two-hour tour includes a traditional welcome, food, stories and the chance to participate in an activity that might involve weaving, weapons, or music. Bookings essential.

Nice arts: Gerard Roelof Verkaaik specialises in stone, steel, brass, glass and wood. A most engaging chap his studio and sculpture garden are open for perusing.

Top shop: Fly into Classic Wings Aircraft sales where you'll find a rather fetching real life Russian World War II fighter Yak3 - this could be just the impetus you need to sit your pilot licence.

Cream of the coffee: You're guaranteed a decent brew at The Comet Cafe, plus they have delicious slices, cakes and sandwiches.

Baked: Just a stone's throw from Omaka you'll find The Burleigh, a grocery store and deli that's famous for pies - with flavours like pork belly and steak and blue cheese it's easy to see why it's loved by everyone from roadworkers to winemakers - their coffee is top-notch too. NB: they shut at 3pm.

Best food: And within a five-minute drive of Omaka you can sample the culinary delights of Brancott Estate & Highfield Vineyard Restaurant, but be warned, they shut at 4pm so don't dilly-dally.

Wet your whistle: The Marlborough Aero Club's Club House is perfect for meeting up with plane fanciers. They have a long and noble history of knowing how to host a great knees-up. Or stop by the cellar door at Wither Hills Estate. Cheers to that.

Best mountain biking: Omaka is famously flat but, if you care to trundle across to neighbouring Wither Hills you'll find fabulous tracks for cycling and walking. Keep your eyes peeled, as it's ripper for plane-spotting.

Best adventure: Take a joy flight at the Omaka Aviation Heritage Centre, choose between a vintage Boeing Stearman bi-plane, a helicopter or a Yak 3 World War II fighter.

Wildlife: There are little German owls living round here and at night you can hear them hooting.

Safety warnings: Never walk onto the airfield without proper authorisation - that seems like good advice. In the words of The Little Prince: "I fly because it releases my mind from the tyranny of petty things."

- Antoine de Saint-Exupery



Just five minutes' drive from Blenheim/Marlborough Airport.

- NZ Herald

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