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Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Famous fighter planes stars of New Zealand museum

Picture the scene: The famous World War I fighter ace, Baron Manfred von Richthofen, a.k.a. the Red Baron, has just crashed his equally famous dreidekker (triple-winged) red Fokker Dr1 aeroplane.

He lies dead alongside the wreck. Aussie soldiers gather around it and start ripping souvenirs from it.

You don’t have to imagine: You can see it, just as it really was on 21 April, 1918, in a dramatic diorama at the Omaka Aviation Heritage Museum, about 5 minutes from the centre of Blenheim in Marlborough, New Zealand.

The museum, opened in 2006 by a couple of aircraft enthusiasts, Jane and Graham Orphan, has 21 World War I fighters on display. Some of them are replicas built for various movies, others are original and include some that are the last remaining examples of their type in the world.

They are on loan from film director Peter Jackson's own air armada - believed to be the largest private collection in the world. He chairs the 14-18 Aviation Heritage Trust that manages the collection. His team of set-builders, who were responsible for Academy-award winning films Lord of the Rings and King Kong, built dramatic museum dioramas so realistic you expect to see the figures move at any moment.

It’s not just the aircraft that are on show. Among other treasures is a cloth cross cut from the starboard (right) side of von Richthofen’s plane by those same scavenging Aussies, a napkin ring made from fuel intake pipes on his plane and silver trophies he kept as souvenirs of his 80 kills.

Many of the aircraft at the museum are in flying condition and are the stars of the Classic Fighters airshow set for Easter Weekend 2009, April 10-12.

Learn more about the Omaka Aviation Heritage Museum at

For more information on Blenheim and Marlborough go to

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Auckland, New Zealand, is tops for quality of life, and cheap too.

Its official: Auckland, New Zealand, is not only one of the best cities of the world in which to live, according to a recently published report from the international consulting group Mercer, but it's also cheap living.

On the quality of life index Auckland ranked 5th behind Zurich, Vienna, Geneva and Vancouver . . . not bad company to be keeping.

It ranked well ahead of Sydney (10th), Melbourne (17th) and Wellington, New Zealand.

Cities were ranked on such considerations as personal safety, schools and education, climate, personal freedom and political stability as well as quality of life and housing.

Which only goes to prove what Aucklanders have known all along. It really is a great place to work, live and visit.

Mercer’s most recently announced worldwide study, the cost of living in various places, puts Auckland well down the list at 78th which puts the lie to claims one hears occasionally that the cost of living here is on a par with that in Britain and Europe. In fact it is slightly cheaper than San Francisco and keeps company with cities like Beirut and Casablanca.

For more on Auckland's attractions have a look at

For more on the Mercer study go to