We are currently staying at Blenheim, a small town in the Marlborough area. The town was named after the Battle of Blenheim (1704), where troops led by John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlborough defeated a combined French and Bavarian force. Blenheim is the focal point for the Marlborough wine growing region, and well known for producing Sauvignon Blanc. It is New Zealand’s largest winemaking region with around 65 wineries and 290 grape growers and over 4000 hectares planted in grapes, mainly Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Riesling, Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris and Gewurztraminer.
Just one of the many local vineyards
We are camping at the Waterlea Racecourse together with 30 or so vans and campers, this is a very popular stop-over. There is nice grass to camp on, toilets, water and a dump station on site, together with a laundry. Now and again we see the horses put through their paces, which is always interesting.
Camping at the race course
Today we went to the Omaka Aviation Heritage Centre to see the exhibition “Dangerous Skies” about WW11. Just like magic, a tiny little vintage bi-plane taxied in to the Aero club next door as we were getting out of the car, obviously someone had just returned from a joy ride. With the wind whistling through the open cockpit, it must have been a thrilling ride indeed.
Like World War One’s Knights of the Sky, Dangerous Skies features mannequins by Weta Workshop and original, flyable static aircraft in larger than life dioramas capturing specific snapshots in history. This new exhibition had only been up and running for a year, so we were very pleased to be here to see it.
There was quite a range of war posters displayed on the wall as we entered.
Then into the exhibition – dim lighting with the sounds of planes overhead. It was a great atmosphere. The exhibition told the tales of real fighting men, such as James Hayter from Timaru, known to his friends as Spud. He escaped his burning Hurricane above Kent during the Battle of Britain, landing on the grounds of Great Swifts Estate. On convincing the grounds man who challenged him with a hay fork that he was with the RAF and not one of the enemy, James was welcomed to the cocktail party taking place at the manor.His minor head wound was dressed by a lady doctor, one of the guests, but surprisingly she later sent him an account for her services.
James Hayter gate crashing the cocktail party.
The huge MK.1. Avro Anson (named after British Admiral George Anson) seemed to dominate this part of the exhibition. By the outbreak of the Second World War, the Anson was soon found to have become obsolete in front line combat roles. However, large numbers of the type were put to use as a multi-engined aircrew trainer, having been found to be suitable for the role, and became the mainstay of the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan.
MK.1. Avro Anson
The Dispersal Hut was sobering. Seats outside while resting, ready to scramble once the call was received. There was a blackboard showing the pilot’s names, with many of them never to return from their mission.
There were many info boards around the exhibition, and it was interesting to read where the Battle of Britain pilots originated from. 135 came from New Zealand, making the third largest contribution after Great Britain and Poland.
The Curtiss P-40 Warhawk is an American single-engined, single-seat, all-metal fighter and ground-attack aircraft that first flew in 1938. P-40 Warhawk was also known as the Tomahawk and Kittyhawk.
Curtiss P-40 Warhawk
The Mk XIV Spitfire could climb to 20,000 ft (6,100 m) in just over five minutes and its top speed. Wing Commander Peter Brothers, O/C Culmhead Wing in 1944–1945 and a Battle of Britain veteran stated, “It was truly an impressive machine, being able to climb almost vertically – it gave many Luftwaffe pilots the shock of their lives when, having thought they had bounced you from a superior height, they were astonished to find the Mk XIV climbing up to tackle them head-on, throttle wide open!”
Our visit concluded with the “Stalingrad Experience”, an eight minute audio visual sequence, shown on curved screens. Stalingrad was in ruins, and planes roared overhead, dropping bombs on the already devastated city.
Bombing of Stalingrad
This was a very interesting exhibition, and we can certainly recommend it - senior discounts are available, as well as a café for a pick-me-up coffee and snack afterwards.