Peter Jackson uses his creative genius to tell aviation stories, writes Shandelle Battersby.

In a vast, dimly lit space a few minutes out of Blenheim, some of the greatest stories of World War I are told by one of the world's greatest storytellers.

The Omaka Aviation Heritage Centre's Knights of the Sky exhibition combines the remarkable private Great War collection of Kiwi film-maker Sir Peter Jackson with his cinematic expertise — and that of his colleagues at WingNut Films and Weta Workshop — to vividly recount war-time tales via detailed, life-sized dioramas.

World War I, Sir Peter explains in the exhibition book, has fascinated him since he was a boy. "It was perhaps the last era of chivalry," he writes, "and this was no more evident than in the aerial jousting between young men who'd not long swapped their cavalry mounts for aeroplanes".

His vast collection, which he started at the age of 12, includes original and replica aircraft as well as memorabilia, including letters, uniforms, medals and personal items.


The centre made headlines after it was included on Kate and William's itinerary when they visited New Zealand last year. Sir Peter showed them around himself.

The first — and most precious — plane in the display is the only one of its kind left in the world, a 1914 Caproni CA. 22. Built by an Italian count, Gianni Caproni, the observation aircraft was ground-breaking for its ability to tilt its wing to change the angle of attack and, with its simple body and wooden propeller, shows how far aviation has developed in just over 100 years.

Towards the end of the exhibition is a large diorama that depicts the final flight of the Red Baron, Manfred von Richthofen, near the French town of Corbie in 1918.

Richthofen, who downed 80 aircraft during the war, was shot in the chest while chasing an aircraft over the Somme Valley. He managed to land his Fokker triplane in a beet field occupied by an Australian gunnery unit, but died soon afterwards.

The Australians quickly sized up the situation and began stripping the plane — and the Baron's body — for souvenirs, and one of the prized black crosses on cloth that adorned the plane is on display next to the diorama of a soldier cutting it off the fuselage with his bayonet.

You don't have to be an aviation enthusiast to enjoy the displays at Omaka, which has just been named the second-best museum in the South Pacific for 2015 by TripAdvisor, coming in behind Wellington's Te Papa.

Next on the centre's agenda is World War II — construction is under way for an adjoining hangar, which will display rare aircraft from 1939-45. It's scheduled to open next June.

Details: Omaka Aviation Heritage Centre is 5km from Blenheim's CBD at 79 Aerodrome Rd, Omaka, Marlborough. Open seven days from 10am-5pm. You can also go for a vintage plane ride in a Boeing Stearman with Classic Wings.


The writer travelled courtesy of Heritage Hotels and visited the centre courtesy of Omaka.