The picturesque setting features mostly aircraft from the 1920s and 30s, including a nationally significant collection of de Havilland aircraft, and unique in that nearly all of the aircraft on display actually fly.
Many of the aircraft have been restored and are maintained by the Mandeville-based Croydon Aircraft Company. You might even be able to see restoration work in action at the workshop. Their mantra is retaining a legacy of the golden era of aviation by the preservation, maintenance and operation of early historical aircraft – both the stories of pioneer aviators and their equally colourful machines.
You’d be forgiven for feeling a little nostalgic as you listen to the rumble and roar of a propeller spinning into action, before taking in the spectacular sight of elegant biplanes soaring through the Eastern Southland sky.
Among the stunning museum collection is a Tiger Moth, a Dragonfly, a replica 1910 Pither, and a slightly more modern Aermacchi - the Italian-made jet trainers that gave a generation of RNZAF Air Force pilots their introduction to fast jet flying. Grab a seat on board the twin-engine bi-plane de Havilland 89 Dragon Rapide/Dominie "Tui", that seats up to 8 passengers. Built in 1943, it was operated by the Royal New Zealand Air Force for communications and navigation training duties. For the slightly more adventurous, pop some goggles on, jump in the two-seater Tiger Moth, and enjoy thrilling views from the open cockpit. For the daredevils out there, there’s also the option for some acrobatics, complete with rolls and loops.
Back on the ground, the rhythmic clunking motion of a traction engine fires up alongside a raft of other vintage machinery and car displays, plus food stalls and great entertainment. Steam billows out from underneath the engines of the crown jewel in the Waimea Plains Railway Trust collection - the Rogers K92 Steam Locomotive - while the smokestack sends billowing clouds out into the sky. It’s hard to believe she languished on the bed of the Oreti River from 1926 to 1985 before being recovered and painstakingly restored.
Climb on board the immaculately restored carriage for a magnificent dose of grandeur from the golden age of steam. The wood-lined carriage is decked out with rows of leather seats, while above you an ornate ceiling tells of an age where attention to detail mattered. Coal-fired boilers fire the massive locomotive along the yard tracks. The piercing shrill ring of the steam-powered whistle cuts through the air.
Sit back and relax with an amazing coffee and some tasty fare from Miss Cocoa at the Moth, while watching a Tiger Moth take flight outside. And for those who like a browse around the shops, check out the wide selection of clothing, homeware and gifts on sale at Money For Wine, a boutique shop adjacent to the café, or pick up a special memento at the museum gift shop - all situated within the beautiful, rural Mandeville setting.
Make sure you give yourself time to check out the many other cultural and historic nuggets of the Gore district. You’ll be charmed. Just wait and see.