Thursday, October 4, 2018

Mainland tour, Day 8 - PJ's planes and (other) PJ's car

With thanks to Destination Marlborough
Furneaux Lodge was pretty full last night, and a lot of the guests are walking the Queen Charlotte Trail to its end in Picton but, ever the skimmer, yesterday was my only taster of the track and this morning we took the water taxi back to town. Water taxis have been this year's great discovery for me, by the way: in this part of the country they are very big business, skimming along the coast all day, every day. I was astonished in January to see them everywhere when I was in Abel Tasman NP, and now here in Queen Charlotte Sound they're just as ubiquitous - and essential.
It was nice, though, that the drivers/pilots/captains don't take their quite remarkably beautiful work space for granted and, when we came across a pod of bottlenose dolphins, we detoured to hang out with them for a bit, which we all enjoyed (er, can't actually speak for the dolphins). After several drop-offs at various bays, we got back to Picton and headed straight off to Omaka, driving through endless vineyards with the Kaikoura mountains as their backdrop, with Tapuae-O-Uenuku peeking (peaking?) above them, bright with snow.
We were going to the Omaka Aviation Heritage Centre for the second time because our first visit, last year on a cruise tour, was too rushed. This time we could take as long as we wanted. We had the same guide as before, for the first hangar, Knights of the Sky. This displays Peter Jackson's extensive, not to say obsessive, collection of WW1 aircraft and memorabilia, all presented with typically imaginative perfection. Not that OWM John thought I would connect with most of it, kindly drawing me over to one glass case and saying, "This will interest you". It was a collection of embroidered purses that servicemen bought in France to send home to their womenfolk.
Once we'd got rid of him, we had a proper look around at not just the dramatic stagings of aviation adventures, but also unique items like a bit of tattered canvas from the Red Baron's plane, and a touching tribute to the invaluable contribution of the carrier pigeon (also celebrated, regular readers 😃 will remember, at Bletchley Park). You could spend ages here, and we did, but eventually emerged blinking in the sunshine to visit the second hangar, Dangerous Skies, which covers WW2. This one is the work of a group of enthusiastic collectors and doesn't have quite the same panache (and large budget) of PJ's exhibition, but is still well done and worth visiting.
Our guide here, Brian, was much jollier and woke, and gave us a good tour. There was a pretty impressive staging of the attack on Stalingrad from the perspective of a terrified civilian but for me the most affecting bit was the display at the end of the mortality numbers, by nationality, which ended with Russia, the red symbols rolling up the screen - up, and up, and up, and up: 8.7 million of them. And apparently the real total could be twice that. Incredible.
After all that, I was especially appreciative of the excellent carrot cake in the café, and the moment of personal delight in seeing an orange Mini 1000 displayed outside the neighbouring Classic Car collection hall - the spitting image of my own very first car. And then we drove to the Marlborough Vintner's Hotel, which was friendly and elegant, our garden view suite surrounded by vast vineyards that not only looked marvellously neat in the late evening sunshine, but had a lovely soundtrack of thrushes singing. We were pleased too that our very tasty dinner - lamb, tarte tatin - coincided with that of a tour group, so we not only eavesdropped on all the Forrest family and vineyard info, but managed to score a couple of wine tastings too.

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