Rustless in Wanaka

By: Liz Light, Photography by: Liz Light


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MCD visits The National Transport and Toy Museum and Warbirds and Wheels in Wanaka

Rustless in Wanaka
Rustless In Wanaka

Wanaka has a dry climate, low humidity, and no salty sea air. This means that metal doesn’t rust, making it ideal for vintage car collections. The rustless factor and the airport make it perfect for classic aeroplanes.

The National Transport and Toy Museum

The National Transport and Toy Museum (NTTM) in Wanaka has more than 650 vehicles, mostly cars, but there are also trucks, fire engines, and construction vehicles such as cranes and steam rollers.

It has motorbikes and aeroplanes as well, all crammed into four hangars on flat land near the airport. This car collection is a mind blast, primarily because of the number of cars and that they are so squeezed in next to each other—all shiny paint and chrome—that one can barely walk between them. And, for me, it is like reliving my past in cars.

There are Morris Minors just like the one I pashed my first boyfriend in, a Vauxhall (the same as the one I learnt to dive in), a Humber 80 that I wrote off a Mini Cooper with, and old VW Beetles like those I clattered around in when I was at university.

To keep the kids happy and take grown-ups on another nostalgia trip, there is a toy collection. This too, is of gigantic proportions with more than 30,000 toys, including 500 variations of Barbie and friends, many of them still in their boxes, untouched by sticky little fingers. A collection of 30,000 toys can be somewhat numbing, especially as many of them are cheek to cheek in bulging display cases. But what I enjoyed the most, among the clutter, were the lovely vintage pedal cars and a glorious collection of rocking horses.

Gerald Rhodes, a self-confessed obsessive collector for most of his 79 years, started NTTM in Wanaka in 1994. He had a car and truck wrecking business in Christchurch, so was well-placed to rescue the best of them.

Collections can go viral, and over the years, many people have donated their collections to that of the Rhodes family, hence there are randomly disconnected things such as the teaspoon collection, the many salt and pepper shakers that look like vegetables, and the assortment of happy cow ornaments.

NTTM is eccentric and wonderful and worth keeping an eye on. Out the back, there is a massive hole in the ground that will eventually become a five-storey hangar, big and strong enough to suspend aeroplanes from the ceiling. It will more than double the available space.

Warbirds and Wheels

Just down the road, Warbirds and Wheels, a collection of military aircraft and classic cars is different and complementary to NTTM. Here, there are just 30 cars but they are luxury cars and are all meticulously restored. There are six members of the Packard family, including a 1937 Packard Super 8 Convertible, and 12 Fords, including a 1941 Ford Super Deluxe Coupe, a couple of Mustangs, and a Thunderbird. A 1934 Rolls Royce and a 1929 Cadillac add glitz to the already glossy group, but the star is the 1934 Duesenberg, whose original owner was actress Carole Lombard, who shared her passion for luxury cars with her husband Clark Gable. 

There are five warbirds from the WWI SE-5A through to more modern jets such as the A-4 Skyhawk. Besides the planes, there is a wall devoted to the 800 men who flew them—the New Zealand Fighter Aces and their crew—making the ultimate sacrifice during the world wars.

Warbirds and Wheels owes its existence to Tim Wallis, an aviation legend, farmer, entrepreneur, and vintage military aircraft enthusiast. Tim, a pioneer of deer farming, started flying helicopters doing live deer recovery in the Southern Alps but is more famous as founder of the Warbirds Over Wanaka air show.

His biography, on a wall display, shows he had at least four lives. He broke his back in a helicopter accident in 1968 but continued flying. In 1988, he ran out of fuel in a new Spitfire and crash landed. In 1992, he crashed the same Spitfire during a windy landing, and in 1996, he had another Spitfire crash which left him subsequently unable to fly.

What a man, what a dream, and what a collection.

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