A brief comparison of the two towns visited on Wednesday and Thursday of this week.
The drive into Nelson is quite long. Seems longer because of the winding, hilly route.
Blenheim is much easier to get to. A pleasant, flat run that takes you through the Marlborough wine country.
Both greet you with some spectacular mountain scenery complete with snow. In the case of Nelson the peaks are viewed across an enormous, spectacular bay. Near Blenheim the mountains form a backdrop for the extensive vineyards.
The appearance of the town centres (not CBDs, too small I guess) is remarkably similar. The same low buildings and absence of brick and stone construction. We’re getting to be familiar with the local chain stores with names like ‘Cotton On’. There is the open airiness about both places which we now take for granted in NZ towns.
The church in Blenheim is quite striking. Looks to be made of wood and plastic. Pink and cream with a tall, slim spire it is appealing and wouldn’t look out of place on a big cake. Nelson has a disconcertingly stern, grey openwork tower on top of a hill commanding the city centre. Only when you reach the top do you realise that there is a complete cathedral there. It is surrounded by huge trees and has a flight of steps leading up to it on which suntanned young persons, presumably students and backpackers, happily socialise.
What is noticeable in both towns is what we’ve experienced throughout the trip. Anyone we speak to is forthcoming and friendly and direct. There are no airs and graces with the kiwis. No posturing. No brusque surliness.
We missed out on the interior of the cathedral which apparently has excellent stained glass windows. This is because we’d left the New Zealand guide book behind. Silly. For the same reason we missed out on the Suter art gallery which is highly rated. The gallery we did see was less impressive. It was admittedly in an unprepossessing situation. The current show was entitled ‘Day of the Dead’. It had a number of works on the theme of death, most rather obscurely allusive. There was one disturbing piece constructed of actual birds’ wings ‘escaping’ from picture frames. But by and large little use had been made of the space which we felt did have possibilities. Many of the works were quite small and were lost on the large, white walls. As a whole it didn’t work. It did not move you. It was just dismal.
By contrast, on the way back from Blenheim we stopped at the aviation museum at Omaka. This is excellent. It concerns itself with First World War planes. It displays superbly restored aircraft, large scale models and dioramas. That may sound dull, old fashioned museum stuff but it works brilliantly. The space is a large one. The light is very subdued. The figures well made. The staging imaginative. Peter Jackson, he of ‘The Hobbit’, was involved.
We see a workshop where carpenters work on wooden propellers. Having recently flown here in ultra high-tech machines like the A380 it is difficult to believe that these wood and canvas, wire operated contraptions actually flew. And flew to deadly effect. There is a scene where a French flyer’s plane has been brought down and hangs in a tree in the snow. He is chivalrously greeted by his German conqueror while infantrymen look on. The death of the Red Baron after he was shot by an Australian riflemen is depicted. His body lies beside his legendary red triplane. Aussie soldiers are taking his fancy fur boots as trophies. They are cutting the insignia from his plane as souvenirs. One of these actual pieces of fabric is displayed on the wall beside the tableau. Also displayed are the cups that von Richtoffen had made by silversmiths to celebrate his victories. There are more of his belongings and photos of the dashing air ace. There are uniforms and memorabilia. Contemporary photos, posters and diaries. . There is historical, biographical and technical Information in abundance. Movies from the era are shown on the walls. Songs of the time play quietly in the background. The whole era is brought to life.
Ironic, as this display is more starkly and realistically about death than the anaemic show in Nelson.