Day One - INTRO TO AUSTRALIA
We departed Los Angeles International Airport on Monday, July 17th at 9:30 P.M. and
arrived in Brisbane Australia on Wednesday, July 19th at 7:55 A.M. all healthy and eager for
the adventure that lies ahead. Because we crossed the International Date Line, Tuesday, July 18, 2000 did not exist for us. All our luggage, 9 checked bags and 7 carry-ons, were
accounted for and we cleared customs with no problems.
It was 8:30 A.M. when we stepped outside and were greeted by sunny weather and a mild 60 degrees temperature, not bad for an Australian winter day! Mr. Terry Friar from the Brisbane Motor Camper Centre picked us up at the airport and drove us to his dealership to pick up what was to be our home for the next 5 months. We spent the morning completing the paperwork and checking out the features of our motor home. Once the credit card payment was accepted, the keys were ours, and the adventure of driving a standard left hand shift, right hand drive, opposing wiper/signal levers, 22-foot vehicle through the streets of Brisbane was to begin.
It took a bit of skill and backseat driving to drive the five blocks to the grocery store. After
stocking up on a few essentials we started driving south to the Gold Coast to see our
ultralight. We arrived in Burleigh Heads around 5PM and called Michael Coates, the X-Air
dealer for Queensland. Michael met us at the local shopping center and escorted us to the
warehouse where we would set up camp for the night. He showed us around and left us to
work off our jet lag. We all settled down for the night with dreams of flying over Australia,
seeing koalas and roos, diving the Great Barrier Reef, and experiencing the Outback. Dreamland
finally hit us all!
Days Two and Three - BUILDING THE ULTRALIGHT:
We awoke to the cacophony of strange bird songs. Michael arrived
around 7:30 and a short time later we were into the box of ultralight parts. We took inventory and started to unwrap the dozens of pieces that would soon be our unique flying machine.
It didn't take long for the ultralight to take shape. With Michaels help, Aren, Sungie, Tim, and
Larry assembled the cockpit frame and keel, installed the fuel tanks, vertical fin, and landing gear, and added the stiffeners to the aft fairing. Next we connected the fuel and electrical systems, installed the dashboard/windshield and mounted the engine to the frame. By the end of the second day, we were actually able to turn the key and push the starter to crank the 75 HP Rotax engine. What an experience! Here we are - Down Under - building an airplane!
Days Four, Five, and Six - FLIGHT LESSONS
Michael had arranged flight lessons for Larry over the weekend. To be certified to fly
ultralights in Australia, Larry needed 5 hours of instruction in an ultalight. We left the
populated Gold Coast behind and drove to Tyagarah, a small community about a 1.5 hour
drive south into New South Wales. The grass airstrip was host to a variety of small general
aviation and experimental airplanes, motor gliders, trikes, and a skydiving club. Larry met the instructor, Graeme Johns and received a briefing on what was in store. It was going to be a few hours before the lessons were to begin so Larry drove Lenne', and the boys to Tyagarah Beach, a remote swimming beach a few miles from the airfield.
Larry returned to commence lessons in the Drifter ultralight, a tandem seating taildragger, with a pusher 2 cycle 50 HP Rotax engine. Even though the temperature was a pleasant 70 degrees, Graeme and Larry wore snowmobile suits to protect them in the exposed cockpit. After Graeme pull-started the engine, Larry jumped in the front seat and with Graeme in the rear, Larry applied the throttle, setting the delicate little craft in motion down the grass field and lifting off at the end of the runway.
They climbed to 1000 feet and it didn't take long before they were over the beautiful sandy
beach with dolphins swimming in the surf. After a few turns and stalls they dropped down to 100 feet over the sandy beach and flew over Lenne' and the boys, waving their towels in
greeting. After a couple of touch and go landings and simulated emergency landings without power, they landed for the day. One hour of training down and four to go! We spent the night in the town of Brunswick Heads, a small fishing community just north of the airfield.
The second day of instruction was more of the same except that Larry soloed for 40 minutes around Cape Byron, the eastern most point of land on the mainland of Australia. By late afternoon, a bit tired, we drove to the town of Byron Bay where we checked emails at an internet café, got some groceries, and celebrated Sungie's 13 birthday with oriental food. We decided to drive back to Tyagarah field for the night so that we could all sleep in.
Early the next day Larry saw his first wallaby. Flight training began with Graeme showing Larry the features on the Australian aeronautical charts and chatting a bit about what to expect while flying around Australia. By 11:00 it was time to solo another 45 minutes around the area. After a terrible landing, it was time for lunch. The remaining time was spent doing some more engine out landings, spiraling turns, and spins. With 5 hours of ultralight training completed, the fun was over and it was time to say goodbye to Graeme and Tyagahar field for now. We drove back to Byron Bay and drove up to the lighthouse to watch a glorious sunset over the Great Divide.
More time at the internet café, more groceries, a couple of pizzas and it was time to rest up for the night. Parking at Tallow Beach just inside the Cape Byron Reserve, we walked to the
beach, ducking as fruit bats flew by. The brilliant night sky captivated our attention as we
gazed at the expansive Milky Way and searched for the Southern Cross, 4 prominent stars that point to the south pole. The wind had picked up from the NE during the day, but in the lee of Cape Byron, the only remnant of the wind was the sound of the surf crashing off the distant headland.
Day Seven - PLAY DAY
Tuesday, July 25th
We were awaken by the ranger knocking at the door of the motor home.
Guess we weren't allowed to camp there. We were told to move along so we drove up to the lighthouse to watch a spectacular sunrise. After eating breakfast at a pull-out, Larry and Lenne' jogged back up to the lighthouse and around the cape to another beautiful sandy beach.
After a short swim with the boys, we spent the rest of the morning looking around town
playing tourist before driving back to Burleigh Heads, arriving around dinner time. Michael
was still at the shop so we reviewed what still had to be done on the ultralight.
Day 8 - Wednesday July 27 FINISH BUILDING THE ULTRALIGHT
We put the wings on the ultralight and then the logos for the pod that Michael had made. An American flag is on the right side, the Alaskan flag is in the middle and the Australian Flag is on the left. Both the Big Dipper and the Southern Cross are used as aides to navigation. Michael then phoned around and got 2 sponsors for our trip. Pacific Flyer Magazine will follow our trip. And Penrite Lubricants is donating $100 of fuel. Two Gold Coast Newspaper reporters interviewed us and a photographer took a lot of pictures. An ultralight inspector inspected the aircraft for safety. Fortunately for us, there is an indoor and outdoor swimming pool a block away, so Lenne', Sungie, and Tim have been busy.
Day 9 - Thursday, July 27th PURCHASING NEEDED GEAR
More rain and cool weather but the wind wasn't blowing and for our standards, we considered it a nice summer day in Juneau. The Aussies would look at us like we were a bit weird when we said that. We took the wings off to get the Xair ready for trailering and went shopping. We mailed off some postcards, got headsets, charts, tools, tarps, gas cans and a cell phone that we can use throughout Australia. While we were at the Pilot shop getting the headsets and charts, Michael told the proprietor, a man in his late 60's, of my plan to fly around Australia. He immediately said he always wanted to do that and pulled out a map of Australia and stated that he was planning to sit down tonight to mark his route. Larry and Lenne' met Andrew, a gentleman who was helping move the ceramic shop next door to Michael's warehouse. He plays guitar and is learning piano so we had a good conversation about music in Australia. After grocery shopping and finding sandals for Tim, Phil and his wife came up from Mudgee. Phil, a friend of Michael's, owns an Xair and has more flight time in them than anyone else in Australia
Day 10 - Friday, July 28th TRAILERING THE ULTRALIGHT TO CABOORTURE AIRFIELD, RUNNING THE ENGINE IN, AND TAKING A SIDE TRIP TO REDCLIFF
We woke up early to clear skies and got ready to trailer the plane to Caboorture airfield, where Michael keeps his Xair. Michael and Phil arrived about 8:30 with the trailer and several newspapers with the photo and article about our adventure. Bravo for the reporter and photographer! They did an outstanding job capturing the spirit of our adventure. The plan for the day was to do a start up in the driveway to see if the engine would run, put the plane on a trailer and head to the airfield for a run-in. If we had time, Michael would do a test flight and the plane was mine to fly. We got a late start and by the time we arrived at the field, put the wings on, and fit the battons there was only enough time to run the engine in. The procedure was to run the engine at various RPM's for set periods of time. In all it took 1 hour and six minutes to complete. We tied the plane to a fence post and I started the engine. It fired right up. Phil sat with me for the first few evolutions and then left with Michael to pick up two more Xair's in Brisbane. Aren joined me and kept the sequence for me. We completed the run in and put the plane in the hangar.
It was time to take Aren to Redcliff to meet his friend that he met on the internet. We drove back south for about 20 minutes, and with help from Sungie's sharp eyes, found the street where Shontelle lived. We all got out to meet the parents to ensure it was OK for Aren to spend a weekend with their daughter. John and Francine were prepared for Aren's visit and we stayed for about 30 minutes chatting about Alaska and our adventure while learning a bit about their life. Two of Shontelle's friends arrived seconds after we did to check Aren out. A barbie (barbeque) and movie were planned for the four teenagers that night, followed by picking up a pony on Saturday, to join the horse that Shontelle owns already, followed by a trip to Dreamworld amusement park. The rest of us decided to drive back to the airfield and sleep in the next morning. Michael was due to arrive at 9 AM.
Day 11 - Saturday, July 29th FIRST FLIGHT
We awoke to the warm sun shinning on the airfield. Small planes were taking off in the early morning calm air. Michael arrived around 10 AM with the doors for the Xair. It took an hour and a half to fit the doors and do a final inspection before the first flight. By 11:30 it was time to take off. The Xair started without any problems and Michael taxied onto the busy field. Small aircraft, ultralights, and gliders were lined up for takeoffs and landings. Xair 3403 took the active runway and lifted off in less than 30 meters. One of the glider pilots said the Xair looked well fed, like a fat yellow canary, but it climbed and flew like a hawk. Michael flew over the field for a few turns and stalls and when he felt comfortable with the handling, landed in a short distance on the runway and taxied back to the hanger. The only problems were a blown fuse and a malfunctioning air speed indicator. Michael went to get some fuses while we pulled his Xair out of the hangar and put mine away. A new Xair needs to have 25 hours of flying time before it can be flown with a passenger so we had to use his plane. After lunch, Michael returned and was ready to fly.
It was my time to fly a plane that I had researched, bought, and built. We started the Rotax 618 and taxied to the active runway. It was during the lunch hour so there was less traffic in the pattern. We took the active runway, added power, and Michael showed me the takeoff characteristics of the Xair. Just amazing. The aircraft jumped into the air and was climbing at 800 ft per minute. Michael trimmed the plane at a climb attitude and took his hands off the controls. The Xair just kept climbing. We reached 1000 ft and did a few turns. The Xair just needed a bit of rudder and a touch of aileron to complete the coordinated 360 degree turn. Michael brought the nose back to show me a stall. At about 25 knots, the nose dipped a bit and settled out. He did another stall with more aggressive back stick and another slight dip in the nose and again the Xair settled out. We lost about 60 feet in the two stalls. Not bad.
It was my turn to take the stick. I did a few turns and stalls before it was time to head back to the runway for some trips around the circuit. Michael took the Xair in for a very smooth landing. A bit of power and we were off again, climbing to join the pattern for a few more landings. It took a while for me to get the sight picture for the final flare but touchdowns were always smooth. After several touch and goes, it was time to taxi in as Michael was taking Sungie and Tim for flights. I was pleased with the Xair's performance and looked forward to flying it around Australia. It was time to put the plane in the hangar and get some dinner.
Day 12 - Sunday, July 30 A DAY AT DREAMWORLD THEME PARK
We took a day away from flying to take the kids to DreamWorld, an Australian version of Disneyland. We woke up early to pick up Aren, Shontelle, Sarah, and Sandi and spent the day on the rides and seeing the sights. See Aren's Ramblings About Australia for details of this day.
Day 13 - Monday, July 31 CLIMBING MOUNT WARNING
We took another day away from flying to climb the 1157 meter Mount Warning. We left Burleigh Heads by 10:30 AM arriving at Mount Warning National Park by 11:45. The mountain was named by Captain Cook to warn future mariners of the offshore reefs he encountered in May 1770. Mt. Warning was designated as a National Park in 1966 and included in the UNESCO World Heritage Listing in 1986. Mt. Warning is significant to Aboriginal people, providing tradition that extends back to dreamtime. Called "Wallumbin" meaning "fighting chief of the mountains", the Aboriginal people believed that lightning and thunder were warring warriors and that landslides were wounds obtained in the battle. The trail to the summit went through a variety of vegetation communities including subtropical and temperate rainforest, wet sclerophyll forest and health shrubland. The final push to the summit was steep and a chain railing was anchored to help climbers to the summit.
From the summit we were offered spectacular views of the surrounding countryside and we saw the enormous bowl of the caldera landform. Twenty million years ago the height of the volcano was twice the present height. The volcano was formed by massive outpourings of lava that stretched for miles. The height of the volcano trapped moisture from the coastal air and over the millennium the many small streams produced by this moisture carved the unique landform. Mt. Warning was the central plug to this enormous volcano. It took just under 2 hours to climb the mountain and by 2:30 it was time to start our descent. Sungie, Tim and Larry decided to jog down while Aren and Lenne' took a more leisurely hike. By 3:30 we were all at the parking lot, tired, but feeling good from the exercise. We drove back to Burleigh Heads for another night.
Day 14 - Tuesday, August 1 FINAL CHECK FLIGHT FOR FLYABOUT-XAIR 403
Off to Caboolture for a final check of Flyabout - Xair 403. We changed the airspeed indicator and installed a vent in the cockpit. After a thorough preflight it was off for another flight around the pattern. The Xair flew flawlessly but I did blow another fuse on my final landing. I taxied in and Phil took a look at the fuse holder. Apparently when we were installing the airspeed indicator we must have pulled a wire from the fuse holder and it shorted out. A quick and easy fix and I took the plane up for another flight. Michael was busy getting his plane ready to fly down to the Gold Coast and beat the dark rain clouds that were moving in from the north. I decided to stay the night in Caboolture and hope for better weather the next day.
Day 15 - Wednesday, August 2 CABOOLTURE TO NOOSA FIRST FLIGHT OF OUR JOURNEY
We awoke to a beautiful sunny morning. A family of kangaroos was grazing on the runway. We drove to the Australia Zoo in the morning and it gave Lenne' some more supervised time behind the wheel of the motor home. The zoo is home to the TV's Crocodile Hunter. We drove back to Caboolture and I went into the Warbirds Flight School and asked about the Noosa airstrip. I was told it may be closed and was given a number to call to see if I could land there. Fortunately, when I called, John, the groundskeeper, said I was welcome to land but Lenne' may not be able to drive to the airfield. Apparently the 100-meter road to the airstrip is privately owned and there is a dispute with a landowner and the airstrip owners. I wasn't going to let that stop us so I decided to go to Noosa.
We pulled Xair 403 out of the hangar and got ready for our first leg. I set the Lat/Long of Noosa strip in the GPS and Aren set the same Lat/Long in the motor home GPS so Lenne' and the boys could find the airfield too. Jeff, who graciously let me keep my Xair in his hangar, was flying his Xair that morning with Mario and said they wanted to escort me to the Glass House Mountains just 20 km north of Caboolture. We both started up and the two Xairs taxied to the runway. Jeff and Mario took the active runway, applied power and lifted off. I was right behind them and we climbed to 2000 feet heading towards the mountains Captain Cook named over 200 years ago. The mountains are a surreal series of volcanic crags that rise abruptly out of the plains to 300 meters. Once over the mountains, Jeff and Mario turned back to Caboolture and I continued on to Noosa. This was it, our first leg of a long journey!
It is only 40 miles to Noosa direct but I also had to fly around the Maroochydore airspace and I kept the Xair at 50 kts to savior every minute of the flight. I arrived over Noosa in less than 1 hour. Still wanting to get some time on the Xair, I decided to fly over the shoreline to find a swimming beach for the next day. I descended to 1500 feet and returned for a landing. I landed on runway 11 and taxied to the hangars. John was there to meet me and directed me to the tiedowns. Graham Allen just flew in and drove over to see the Xair. He and his wife Joy were with another couple and we chatted about flying adventures. It was time to find Lenne' and the boys. John let me use his cell phone so I called them. They were lost. The GPS led them to a new housing development across the river from the airfield. Close but they couldn't get here from there. John and I got in his car and tried to find out where they were. After a few calls we finally connected. John gave me the key to the gate and Lenne' drove the motor home to the field for the night - our first leg complete. After dinner we were all exhausted and it was time for bed.
Day 16 - Thursday, August 3 EXPLORING THE NOOSA AREA
We all got to bed early the night before so everyone woke up refreshed and ready to explore the Noosa area. Lenne' and I got up before the kids and went for a jog down the runway as the sun was coming up. After breakfast we drove to the Noosa National Park and hiked 2.7 km on a beach trail to the headland. We explored a few beaches and spent time on one beach balancing rocks. It was a pleasant place to spend the day and we saw our first wild Koala, Goannas, and Kookaburra's.
Day 17 - Friday, August 4 A DAY OF REST WAITING OUT RAIN AND WIND
We woke to the sound of rain on the motor home. The wind was blowing 15-20 kts out of the Southeast. I got up to put a tarp around the Xair. The showers continued and I wasn't too keen on flying in the rain and gusty wind. John arrived and gave me the key to the semi abandoned pilot lounge to see if we could plug into the phone and update the web page. Unfortunately, the phone jack wasn't compatible so it was off to town to pick up some more groceries and a telephone jack. We arrived back at the airstrip and got the internet to work. Graham stopped by and provided us with information about landing strips and things to do and see on our journey. The more we hear about what lies ahead, the more I want to get going, though I realize we won't have enough time to see and do everything.
Day 18 - Saturday, August 5 ANOTHER DAY OF RAIN AT NOOS
More rain, only this time it was steady, a good day to get caught up on our writing. The weather forecasted more of the same until Monday. It is now that we appreciate the little things like hot water for showers and dish washing. John was gracious enough to turn the hot water on for us before he left. So now we have the use of a toilet outside the motor home that we don't have to empty, a place to plug in to charge batteries, and a phone to use to update the web page and check emails. We asked if there was anything interesting going on in town over the weekend and he told us about a celebration at one of the local schools. He gave us directions and we were off.
We never found the school but drove up to the Laguna Lookout. It gave us a good view of the surrounding area and a better look at the weather. There were showers still lingering in the area but the ceiling and visibility were good so we decided to try to fly out. We drove back to the airstrip and Graham was there doing some maintenance on his trike. The wind had picked up again but I untied the Xair and took the tarps off. I figured I could fly up to see what the weather looked like up north. If it wasn't too bad I could land and call it a day. Graham told me if the wind shears at the end of the runway just plan a long landing and to avoid some of the bumps. I started the engine, taxied for takeoff and applied power. I'm still not used to the aircraft jumping off the ground but I was 500 feet before I reached the center of the field. It was a little bouncy at first but calmed at 1000 feet. I could see some showers to the north so I turned to fly up the coast. I was reading 55 kts indicated but the GPS was showing 76 kts over the ground. Yikes! I turned back to the field and my speed over the ground slowed to 36 kts. With 20 kts of tailwind I'd be at Rainbow Beach in 30 minutes. I entered the pattern and landed. Some bumps on final approach but nothing serious. The Xair handled the wind well and I was impressed. I could do the flight but it was getting on to 2PM. By the time Lenne' and the kids got ready for the 3 hour drive, they would be arriving just before darkness. Graham stated that the flight to Rainbow Beach is beautiful and best in the morning sun. About that time another shower was moving in and the wind picked up. So I pulled the Xair over to the tiedowns and called it a day. Sungie wanted to see a movie anyway so we decided to spend another day at Noosa.
Graham and I started talking about all the gadgets I had and how it was difficult keeping the batteries charged. He mentioned he purchased a small inverter to charge the batteries from the motor home's DC power. I thought I better get one so we drove off to the local Tandy dealer. Aren stayed behind to chat on line with his friends. We arrived at 4 PM to find the store closed. I'm still not used to stores closing early around here. Sungie and Tim spotted a play land and decided they had to go. Time was getting tight to see the movie, have dinner, and allow the kids time to play. I drove back to get Aren as the plan was to make dinner in the parking lot while the kids played. When I got back with Aren, Graham called and invited us to a Barbie. We got the kids McDonald's meals and took them to the theater. But the kids couldn't all get in to see the movie without a parent accompanying them. So I called Graham to let him know of our dilemma and he said to bring the gang over. When we first got there we were all served something to drink and then Joy decided the younger boys should have a video so she hopped in the car and drove them down the hill to pick one out.
While Larry and Graham discussed flying, Joy focused on talking with Aren about his experiences and future plans, as she reflected upon the lives of her two sons. She kept emphasizing how important it is to decide what you want to do before your last two years of high school. All three of her children have pilot's licenses and the two boys fly for an Australian airlines. We had a lovely dinner of steak, sausages, potatoes, tossed salad, and rich chocolate cake and ice cream for dessert. Graham and Joy had taken their three children to Canada, the States, Mexico and Europe in 1979 for a 12 month motor home safari. Their eldest, a daughter, was 15 and their two sons were 13, and 11 at the time. So we had much to chat about, including both the highlights and the difficulties of living in a small space with five people. We chuckled about the intense moments and the need for personal space to regain balance and perspective. The frustration of being grounded by weather the last three days has had a toll on our boys so we've had some serious discussions that have brought heartfelt tears to the surface. Aren wants to be on the move constantly as he feels overwhelmed by the distance we have yet to travel. Sungie misses his friends and freedoms in Juneau and still isn't convinced that the length of this trip is necessary or worthwhile. Tim gets overwhelmed at times with the intensity of our focus and the business of our surroundings and at other times he's bored with our apparent lack of activity, while the rest of us are enjoying relaxing. We were so thankful to be asked to dinner and to have our needs met. It was wonderful to get to know this adventuring Australian couple better. As a family, we departed with a peaceful sense of well-being, and with enthusiasm and unity for our mission.
Day 19 - Sunday, August 6 NOOSA TO RAINBOW BEACH
The rain stopped in the night but the wind was still fresh and there were some dark clouds to the south. We planned to go for the next leg - a 30 mile flight to Rainbow Beach. For Lenne' and the boys, it would be a 2-3 hour drive. I took the tarp off of the Xair, did a preflight, and fired it up. I planned a trip around the town to check the weather so I flew for about 15 minutes and landed. The weather wasn't the best, 20 kts of wind, scattered rain showers, and a 3000-foot ceiling, but it was acceptable. It was time to go. Graham stopped by to say goodbye and return the "Alaska Bush Pilots" video I brought along to show people who have an interest in flying in Alaska. Lenne' and the boys prepared the motor home for the trip and I did my preflight.
It was 10:30 by the time I lifted off. I climbed to 1000 feet and headed north. With 20 kts of tailwind, I was cooking along at 76 kts and once over the beach, I descended to 500 feet to enjoy the scenery. Thirty miles of sand, sand dunes, surf, and 4x4s - hundreds of them - the Aussie's form of recreation on the Sunshine Coast. I rounded the Cape into Wide Bay and headed toward Rainbow Beach. Spectacular colorful sand dunes rose 1000 feet from the bay. I made an orbit over the quaint town of Rainbow Beach and headed toward the point. The airfield looked decent enough but I made a low overflight anyway. It was a bit bumpy on final but within limits. I added power and entered the circuit again for a full stop, landing at 11:30. The field was sandy so I had to add a lot of power to taxi to the tiedowns. The hangar was abandoned and had caught fire recently. I tied the Xiar down and waited for Lenne' and the boys. They showed up at 1:15, all in one piece, except the motor home was missing a lower 6"X12" piece of siding on the passenger side. As Lenne' was driving around a hilly S curve and over a very narrow bridge with on coming traffic, she bumped a pole which took out the 1/16" thick, wood siding.
After stopping for a lunch break, we walked the beach and watched 4X4's drive onto the Rainbow Adventure barge that transports people to Fraser Island. Rain continued to pour down that evening so we checked in at a Motel for the night so we could spread out and relax.
Day 20 - Monday, August 7 RAINBOW BEACH HIKE AND ON TO TIN CAN BAY
We relaxed in the comfort of our hotel room this morning. We had a lot of options of how to spend our day but we were still undecided. Going to Fraser Island was a bit expensive for a one-day jaunt and even more expensive for two days, even if we could afford the time. The weather was favorable for flying but we wanted to stay in the area because it was so peaceful. Lenne' wanted to see Rainbow Beach to see if the name appropriately described the colorful sand dunes.
We crossed the street to the beach and started hiking. The mouth of Wide Bay extends five miles and forms an arc of 300 ft, colorful dunes that extend from Double Island Point to the town. The hard packed beach was perfect for walking and the rainbow dunes were highlighted in the morning sun and the sand ranged in colors from white, beige, pink, redish, brown, to black. As we started walking we noticed small blue jellyfish lying in the sand. Tim and Sungie were walking barefoot so we had to watch every step. We knew these jellyfish are hard to see in the water due to their color and long tentacles, and that they can give a very painful sting. Thousands of them had been blown in by the strong easterly winds that had been in the area all week. The beach had several small caves that were carved in the sandstone. Tim took pleasure in crawling into them and discovered one that led to a hole that opened above the dune. We hiked about 2 miles and started back. It was 11 by the time we checked out. We discovered that check out was at 10, but in the Australian tradition, "no worries mate". We humbly checked out of the hotel and headed to the internet café to file a report on the damage to the motor home. I took a digital picture to send to the Brisbane Motor Camping Centre. We also wanted to see if we could update the web page.
The first internet café was at a gas station and the people weren't sure about letting us plug our laptop into their phone lines. We tried the backpacker café but they had a Mac and didn't even have a disk drive. It was still a good stop. We asked the proprietor about things to do in the area and told him of our plans to go to Hervey Bay. He wasn't a lover of Hervey Bay, saying it was too overdeveloped and the only big attraction was the whale watching. We were all familiar with whale watching so decided not to go and were given some ideas for things to do in the Rainbow Beach area.
The best idea was a drive to Tin Can Bay to interact with the dolphins. Two humpback dolphins have been coming to the area for years and approach people almost every morning. We hadn't read anything about dolphins in the area and it is apparently a bit of a secret as it is not in any of our tour books. I called Terry at the BMCC and reported the damage - again "no worries" was the reply. What a great country! This attitude sure helps us maintain a proper perspective on life. Off to Tin Can Bay. It was a 30 minute drive to Tin Can Bay and what a magical place. The town is at the end of a small peninsula that is surrounded by protected water and definitely off the beaten track. We arrived at the boat dock about dinner-time. Kids were fishing, swimming, and just having a good time on the dock. The narrow sheltered bay was ringed with sailboats, houseboats and fishing boats. Puffy cumulus clouds to the west were arranging themselves to highlight the upcoming sunset. I went up to the Volunteer Coast Guard Station to gather more information about the "volunteer Coast Guard" and Lenne' started dinner. We parked the motor home in the corner of the parking lot, ignoring the No Camping signs - we were just parking not camping - and went to bed. We were awakened by the sound of heavy rain but it was still dark. Hoping the shower would pass by daylight, we went back to sleep.
Day 21 - Tuesday, August 8 WADING WITH DOLPHINS AND ON TO BUNDABERG
I woke up before sunrise and prepared to go jogging. The rain had passed and the puffy cumulus clouds that had graciously placed themselves to the west at sunset had politely moved to the east to enhance the rising sun. I started past the beach where the dolphins would be, and as I approached, I heard the familiar posh of a dolphin breathing. The dolphin was moving slowly in the shallow water. I ran back to wake up the kids. Dolphins away, I hollered as I opened the door to the motor home. It didn't take long before the kids were up and dressed. Out the door they ran, Lenne' right behind. With the exception of the volunteer who was there to ensure the dolphins weren't harassed, we were the only ones there. Aren walked into the water first and I took pictures. The dolphin approached and Aren put his hand in the water. She gave him a little nudge and then backed away. Tim was right behind Aren and Sungie followed. Another family showed up and then another dolphin. The large female, Scary was caught in a trawl net in 1953 and was aided by a family in Tin Can Bay. She gave birth to a male 8 years ago and the two dolphins have been coming to the beach regularly. It was a very special moment for us but it was time to continue our journey.
We drove back to Rainbow Beach and had time to hike to the Sandblow, a half-mile long sand dune that offered spectacular views of the countryside and wonderful opportunities for climbing a hill and hurling yourself down without fear of getting hurt. We drove back to the airfield and prepared the Xair for the next leg. Ray Parker, the owner of the airstrip was there when we arrived. Just as I took the tarp off, another rain shower started so Lenne', Aren, and I waited under the wing. Ray told us of some magical places to fly over and I was anxious to get going. A quick lunch, thorough preflight, another 20 liters of fuel and I was ready.
The wind just shifted which meant I didn't have to taxi to the end of the runway but I was looking at a headwind to Bundaberg. Because of the soft sandy runway I planned to do a soft field takeoff. I brought the stick back to keep the nosewheel off the ground and applied power. I'm still not used to the quick liftoff and high climb rate of the Xair. When I used the same technique in a Cessna, I had time to think about the procedure and used the necessary control inputs before I rotated. In the Xair, the evolution happened so fast that I was airborne and climbing at 800 feet a minute before I realized I was not on the ground anymore. I was impressed but just as I got over the rapid take off I noticed 2 large rain showers to the right and left of my track. Too bad, I was hoping to fly over the beaches of Fraser Island till abeam Hervey Bay and track the shoreline to Bundaberg. Looks like I will have to track on the west side of Fraser and cross the sound south of Hervey Bay. I climbed to 1500 ft and was getting bumped around a bit from the turbulence off the rain showers. I also didn't like the terrain below me - some rough places to put down it the noise stopped. I tried to get some more altitude but the base of the clouds were about 2500 ft. I continued on and could see clear skies around Hervey Bay. I switched the radio to the Hervey Bay CTAF and called entering the MBZ. There was a parachute drop going on so I knew the weather was better ahead and skirted the edge of the dark rain shower to the west.
About 10 miles south of Hervey Bay, the weather cleared and the air smoothed out. I headed for the coast just north west of Hervey Bay and, with more paddocks below, descended to 500 feet. I set the RPM at 4800 and was cruising at 56kts indicated and was making 46 kts over the ground. It was a beautiful flight to Bundaberg. I continued along the shoreline to Burnett Heads and came in for landing at 4PM. I used 20 liters of fuel in the two hour flight. Lenne' and the boys arrived just after 5 PM and we went off to dinner at Sizzler. Later we parked on a dead end street next to the Cinema, and took in a movie. Sungie finally got to see "The Patriot".
Day 22 - Wednesday, August 9 RADIO AND HEADSET MALFUNCTION REPAIR AND SNORKLING
I was getting an intermittent squeal on the Microair radio and Michael had arranged for me to have it looked at while I was at Bundaberg. Microair is co-located with the The Jabiru factory at the airdrome. We arrived back at the airport around 9:30 and I went into the factory. I met Edward and explained the problem. He told me to taxi the Xair to the factory and he went off to get some tools. It was after lunch when Edward deemed the problems was not with the radio but with the headsets. Fortunately, he had headsets in stock and I purchased a new pair and took the Xair up for a radio check. A quick flight around the pattern and there was no squeal. The problem was gone so I sent the other headsets back to Michael hoping he can get me a refund from the store that I purchased them from. It was getting too late to try the next leg to Gladstone so we decided to spend another day at Bundaberg hoping to get an early start in the morning. There was still time to explore the area so we drove to the Information Center to find out what there is to do in the area.
Tim wanted to go swimming but the pool was closed. We were told that there is a wonderful beach that fills a small lake when the tide comes in. Kelly's Beach is about 30 minutes from Bundaberg. We were off. We found the beach and Tim and Sungie found a small, shallow pool that was ideal for snorkeling. After dinner we went for a walk on the beach and we watched another sunset. Back to Bundaberg and our little dead end street for a nights sleep.
Day 23 - Thursday, August 10 BUNDABERG TO GLADSTONE
Off to get a few more items in town and back to the airport. I finally got off the ground at noon, climbed to 1500 ft and aimed for the beach. There was a fair bit of turbulence over the sugercane fields but once over the beach the turbulence subsided and I descended to 500 ft. The coastline from Bundaberg to Gladstone is mostly remote and accented with the occasional town. Another 2.5 hours of flight time and I arrived at Gladstone at 2:30. Once on deck, I taxied to the parking area and filled up with 23 liters of fuel. I chatted with a fellow who was doing some maintenance on his plane while I waited for Lenne'. I also inquired about a place to stay and things to do in Gladstone. Lenne' and the boys arrived by 3:30. We went off to find another information center and to learn more about our surroundings.
Gladstone is the largest port in Queensland and the 4th largest in Australia. It has the largest alumina plant in Australia and will soon have the largest alumina smelter as well. The area is heavily industrialized which is very noticeable from the air but once on the ground, we found the area to be very pleasant. The information center is located at the well-maintained harbor. There was a park there that had a playground for the boys to let off some energy so while they played, we made dinner. It was getting dark by time we were ready to leave and it was off to find a place to park for the night. We found a parking lot by a marina, which we explored, and then settled down for the night only to be awaken by the stream of water from a lawn sprinkler hitting the back of the motor home in the wee hours of the morning. A quick drive across the street and there was still time for another hour of snooze.
Day 24 - Friday, August 11 GLADSTONE TO HEDLOW
I got up early and went for a jog in the thick fog. I guess I'm not going to get an early morning start today. No worries, I just went over ten hours and had to change the gearbox oil and retorque the prop. I didn't have all the tools I needed but was able to borrow a rachet and safety wire tool from the Marine Helicopter mechanics. Thanks guys! With the maintenance completed it was time to get airborne.
Our next destination was Hedlow and permission to land was required so I called Paul and was granted permission to land. I finally got going by 1:30, climbed to 2500 ft and aimed for Mt. Larcom, the large 632 meter peak to the north of Gladstone. (I enjoy climbing mountains so if I can't climb the peak I will fly over as many as I can.) The air was a little bumpy so I climbed to 3500 ft to see if it would smooth out a bit and because the terrain below me didn't have many landing options in the event of an engine failure. I stayed at 3500 ft until I crossed the Fitzroy River Delta and once I intercepted the beach, I descended to 500 ft. I flew over beautiful remote beaches and noticed that the terrain inland was starting to get more remote also. It was only 50 miles direct from Gladstone to Hedlow, but I still need to get time on the plane before I can take passengers, so I stayed along the beach, flying slowly over the towns of Agnes Waters, Seventeen Seventy, Emu Park, and Yeppoon. I even climbed to 4500 ft to make the 4 mile crossing to Big Keppler Island. I was having too much fun! But it was time to find Hedlow and land.
Hedlow airstrip is just west of the Rockhampton airspace so I stayed at 1000 ft and came in from the west. I found the airstrip and set up for a left downwind for runway 7. There was about 5 kts of wind blowing right down runway 7. I set down on the narrow strip of dirt and taxied to park. Paul and two other chaps were there to meet me. They took a good look over the Xair and, although still new to the plane, I told them of the performance characteristics. The roomy cockpit impressed them. Paul gave me a quick tour of the area and I was invited for tea. We had a nice chat about the differences of flying in the US and Australia and Paul provided me some information about landing strips to the north of Hedlow along our intended path.
I called Lenne' and the boys and they were just entering Rockhampton. I decided to get airborne and meet them as they flew down the road to the airstrip. It didn't take long to find them. They were just about 1 km from the turnout when I spotted the motorhome. I gave a call to them on the radio but no answer. I flew over the intersection to the airstrip and watched them turn on the dirt road. I waited for the parachute drop to clear and watched Paul and his student take off in the Jabiru. I was enjoying the flight but it was time to meet the gang so I landed, taxied in and secured the plane for the night.
This airstrip was another magical place. Paul, the owner of Planet Aviation, leases the two runways that sit on an 800-acre cattle ranch. The facility is well maintained with an equipped kitchen, showers, a washing machine and clothes line, and 6 guest rooms equipped with beds and desks. Cows were grazing all around us in fenced fields. Two cowboy types were repairing a corral, and their dog, obviously a herding dog, judging from his smell and behavior, came over to greet the boys. We watched the sunset behind the 400 ft. volcanic plug and made ourselves at home on the ranch.
Day 25 - Saturday, August 12 TOURING OLSEN'S CAPRICORN CAVES AND TAKING IN A JAZZ FESTIVAL
We drove to see the Olsen's Capricorn Caves just north of the Hedlow airstrip. We were hoping to go on the adventure tour where we would have the opportunity to crawl through the limestone cave system. Unfortunately, we didn't book a day in advance and the youngest age was 16 so we settled for the one-hour. After the tour we drove back to Hedlow and thought about trying to fly to the next destination. When we arrived back at Hedlow the wind was 20 kts out of the SE and gusty. The parachute guys cancelled their drops because of turbulence below 2000 ft and Paul had a couple of cancellations for flight instruction. Looks like a good day to wait out the weather.
Paul told us about the free, Big River Family Jazz Festival, that was going on in Rockhampton Saturday night so we decided to join his family. As we were preparing to depart for the jazz festival the wind calmed down and Jill, Paul's wife, called and said she was running behind schedule. What a perfect setup for an evening flight. Paul, a flight instructor, knew of a good beach just north of Yeppoon that was good for landing. We decided to go for a flight so Paul could teach me some beach landing techniques and have a chance to fly the Xair. Paul and I climbed into the Xair, started up, and taxied to the runway. I had just filled the gas tanks and with Paul and me in the plane, this was my first time taking off with a full load. I applied power and the Xair jumped off the ground, climbing at 600 ft per minute. There was still a bit of turbulence during the 8 miles to the beach but the Xair flew well. We flew over the beach and Paul showed me the area of beach that makes a safe landing spot. I set up the approach and flew in for the landing. The beach was firm and landing the Xair was easy. We flew a few more circuits to the beach and called it a day. Paul, Jill, his 15 year old daughter Christie, and Christie's friend Gabby arrived just after we landed. They escorted us to the outdoor park on the riverfront. It was a pleasant evening out with good music and good company. Thank you Paul, Jill, Christie and Gabby.
Day 26 - Sunday, August 13 HEDLOW TO MACKAY
Lenne' and I woke up early and went for a jog down the ranch road. Grazing cattle began to run as we jogged by - I guess they thought we were herding them somewhere. It was a long stretch to our next destination of Mackay so we wanted to get an early start. There were also some rain showers and more wind moving in from the SE. We woke the kids up, ate breakfast and actually were underway by 8:40 A.M.! I called the Mackay tower the day before and requested a landing at Mackay. My landing was approved so this was to be our longest leg of the trip to date.
The flight direct to Mackay was approximately 160 NM and there was a small airstrip about halfway where we planned to have lunch. I got airborne and followed Lenne' to the Bruce Hwy just avoiding the Rockhampton airspace. I stayed with them for a while and continued on to St. Lawrence. As I flew further north, I was able to beat out the rain showers and flew into clear sunny skies. About an hour and a half into the flight, I started looking for the unmanned airstrip just off the Bruce Hwy. The field was where the chart showed it to be and the coordinates I plugged into the GPS were right on. The runway was perpendicular to the highway and there was a slight crosswind. I set up for a low approach and flew down the runway about 100 ft. It looked good so I set up for a full stop - landing about 10:30.
Lenne' hadn't showed up by 11:00 and they weren't responding to my radio calls. Time to look for them again. As soon as I lifted off, Aren was on the radio saying they were at the town of St. Lawrence and didn't find the airstrip. I thought I explained to him that the field wasn't near the town but, since when does a 16 year old listen to his dad? I directed them to the field and landed again. Lenne' pulled up and we had lunch. I put another 20 liters in the Xair and by 12:00 we were off again. I must have picked up a headwind because the motor home was getting ahead of me. I increased the RPM's to 5200 and stayed 1000 feet above and along side the motor home. About 30 minutes later they called saying they were pulling over for ice cream. Oh well, I headed over to the beach and descended to 500 ft. enjoying the flight around West Hill Island, Cape Palmerston, and the river deltas. The fun flying was over and it was time to call Mackay tower for landing.
I called the tower at Sarina and was given direction to stay one nautical mile inland, report abeam Hay Point and remain at 1500 ft. The directions were later amended to fly direct to the airdrome and enter a right downwind for runway 14. Not a problem. Other than the Husky in front of me, the airport was pretty quite. I called entering downwind and was cleared to land. The tower operator and the Husky pilot were asking what kind of aircraft I was in - obviously the Xair call sign didn't give it away. I landed and taxied for fuel. Another 16 liters in the tanks and it was time to call Lenne'. Fred, the attendant, let me use his phone and even gave Sungie directions to the General Aviation parking. Thanks Fred! The Aero Club was closed and the small plane parking area was full. I repositioned the Xair to the other side of the field and another mate by the name of Paul, met me. We chatted for a while and he invited us over to his house. By the time we got the Xair secured, we were beat. So we drove to a small park on the beach, had dinner, played a few games and called it a night.
Day 27 - Monday, August 14 - MACKAY
We spent the morning replenishing supplies for the motor home. We also stopped in at the information center and found out about the platypus viewing at Eungella National Park. The drive to the park took one hour and entered the Pioneer Valley just west of Mackay. We were off to see if we could view a platypus in the wild. We arrived at the Broken River Bridge just before dusk. There were several people standing on the small bridge looking into the small, muddy creek below. We parked the motor home and walked over, stopping first to check out a python that was wrapped around a wooden post and shedding his skin.
After several minutes on the bridge we could see a small black object surface in the water about 50 yards away. Not much to see but there were platypus here so we decided to spend the night, wake up early, and try our luck with the platypus again in the early morning. The Park campground was full so we found a caravan park where we could plug in to AC power and charge batteries to the computer, camera, radios, etc. We drove back to the small mountain town of Eungella and pulled into the park. They were closed but the owner was just going into town and told us to pull up along side the fence and she would be right back. When she came back we plugged in and enjoyed a game of spoons before retiring for the night.
Day 28 - Tuesday, August 15 - MACKAY TO BOWEN (87 NM)
Lenne' and I woke up early to beat the rush of campers to the showers and observe the sunrise. The caravan park, situated at the edge of the Clarks Range, offers a panoramic view of the Pioneer Valley. As the sun rose, we took a few pictures and headed off to see the platypus. Back to the Broken River, this time we walked a short distance to a viewing platform and waited. It wasn't long - a platypus surfaced and swam just a sort distance from us before diving into the muddy river. We waited some more and were treated to another surfacing and short swim just under our platform. Aren was able to get some good video and I took a few slides. Sungie and Tim finally woke up and were treated to more close viewings. It was time to say goodbye to the platypus and drive down to Mackay.
We arrived back at Mackay around 11:00 and I met the flight instructor from the flying school just a few buildings away from where I parked the Xair. I wish I had seen the school earlier. I asked for information about the next leg of my journey and was shown some interesting areas to fly by on my way north. Time for some lunch and we were underway before 1PM. It was only 87 miles to Bowen but I put 2.5 hours flying over the diverse country. I diverted east to see Conway National Park and followed the coast most of the way north. I enjoyed flying over the deserted beaches looking at the animal tracks in the soft sand. On one of the beaches I thought I saw what could have been croc tracks.
I arrived at Bowen at 2:45 and did my usual fly over to see the beautiful Horseshoe Bay and Edgecumbe Pt from the air. The Bowen airstrip has two runways and with the wind being fresh out of the NE I lined up for a downwind to 04. I landed at 3PM and was greeted by a gentleman who lived down the street from the airport. He was an ultralight enthusiast so we chatted for a while until Lenne' showed up. As Lenne' drove into the airstrip, another motor home drove in also. The driver, Trevor Heinz, owned two ultralights and was also interested in flying around the country. We chatted for a good bit before the kids started getting restless as they wanting to go to the beach. We drove to Horseshoe Bay and parked.
The wind was still fresh on the beach, too chilly for swimming, but the rocks surrounding the Bay were great for climbing and Tim jumped out and ran over to climb around the unique formations. It was such a pretty area we stayed for dinner. Our stay was rewarded by the full moon rising over Gloucester Island. We hiked to the Rotary Lookout in the moonlight before returning to the motor home and calling it a night. We found, what we thought would be a good place to park for the night at the marina. but were awaken to the sound of knocking at the door and a security guard saying we couldn't park there. Back to the airport to finish our nights sleep.
Day 29 - Wednesday, August 16 - BOWEN
It was a pleasant morning and the wind did not pick up until noon, so we spent the morning swimming at Horseshoe Bay. We read about the coral formations that are within swimming distance so Tim and I donned our snorkeling gear and headed into the bay. A short swim later we saw colorful reef fish and bit of coral clinging to the rocks. It was pretty exciting to be swimming with Tim as he experienced his first coral formations. We swam out a little further and saw more species of fish and larger pieces of coral. It wasn't long before I started to get chilly and headed back to the beach. Lenne' and Sungie also took a turn at snorkeling. When I warmed up a bit Aren and I swam out a bit further and were treated to more coral and bigger schools of fish. We swam to the end of the bay and hauled ourselves out on the rocks. We were getting cold and decided to walk around the headland before heading back to the beach. By noon wind had picked up and the few people on the beach started to leave. We went into town and while we waited for a load of laundry to wash, Aren uploading another chapter to the web page. We spent another night at the Bowen airstrip counting the many green frogs hanging out in the toilet tank.
Day 30 - Thursday, August 17 - BOWEN TO JONES ROAD (ACE AVIATION at WOODSTOCK) via AYR (90 NM)
I woke up before everyone else and washed the road-dust off the motor home. It was about 8 AM when the rest of the gang started to move. By then the wind was already blowing about 15 kts out of the SE. We didn't have far to go but I wanted to get moving. I taxied to the runway by 10 AM and by now the wind was blowing at least 20 kts. With that much wind directly down the runway, I was airborne in about the time it took me to add full power. I flew over the highway and followed the motor home until the turbulence directed me to the coast. The air was much smoother over the shore but the white caps on the water told me that there was a fair bit of wind pushing me along. I wanted to fly around Cape Upstart but knew there would be a fair bit of turbulence on the leeward side of the Cape so I climbed up to 2500 ft and flew up the Burdekin River to Ayr. I landed at Ayr and waited about an hour for Lenne'. We just missed the air show at Ayr last weekend but one of the WWII planes was still there being repaired as we ate lunch.
It was only 35 NM to Ace Aviation at Woodstock and with the wind still pretty strong out of the SE I knew it wasn't going to take me long to fly there. I lifted off in the crosswind and flew direct to the field. I was moving along at 60+ kts groundspeed at 4700 RPM. I had to divert to the south to fly around the base of Mt. Elliot and started to worry about the turbulence on the other side of the mountain. I was below the Townsville airspace and couldn't climb over the 1432-meter mountain. Fortunately, the turbulence wasn't as bad as I expected and I was able to land at Jone's Rd. with no problems.
I landed to the east, taxied to the hangar area, and shut down only to find the place deserted. This place looked like the airstrip from the Black Sheep, the old television show about, if my memory serves me right Pat Boyington's WWII fighter squadron in the pacific, except that the hangar was filled with ultralights instead of fighters. I waited about an hour and with Lenne' not answering on the radios it was time to get airborne and have a look. It didn't take long to find them. They missed the airstrip turn and were heading back to the intersection. I guided them to the field and landed.
I shut down and was met by Gordon Bailey. Gordon emailed me a while back and invited me to Jone's Road. I was glad he did. We chatted for a while until Bill, the owner of the 80 acres, arrived from town and opened the gate for us. I parked the motor home next to the caravans that are used for student pilots and then Bill provided us with power to the motor home. I still need 2.3 hours before I could take passengers in the Xair so when the air calmed down about an hour before sunset, I decided to see some of the countryside by air and put another 0.7 on the Xair. There was a hangar that was being built and Bill let me keep the Xair there for two nights. Lindsey and his son Justin showed up as I taxied in. They are students of Pat McGraw and just bought a Thruster to use on their 13,000-acre farm. It was a long day and as the sun goes down so does our energy level. After a long day, exhaustion creeps up slowly but sleep hits us hard in the cool, peaceful evening of an Australian winter night.
Day 31 - Friday, August 18 - TOWNSEVILLE
We spent the morning at the Reef HQ aquarium, paying particular attention to instructions about how to avoid and treat poisonous sea snakes, Stone Fish, and Box Jellyfish encounters. Our dramatic guide kept iterating that "The Box Jellyfish is the most deadly creature in the world! And you've got to be absolutely crazy to walk around on Northern Queensland beaches without proper beach shoes because the spiny Stone Fish are everywhere!" That afternoon we walked around Flinders St. admiring the old buildings, stopping for ice cream and a few games of chess at the ice cream parlor. By coincidence, we happened to come across Trevor and his wife in their motor home as they were driving into town. Another good chat. That evening we participated in the Multicultural Festival by tasting foods at the foreign cuisine booths and watching and listening to cultural dancing and music. Lenne' did the video taping for this event.
Day 32 - Saturday, August 19 - JONES ROAD TO INNISFAIL via INGHAM (122.5 NM)
I left Jones Road around 10AM and headed toward the shoreline keeping the Townsville Controlled Airspace to the south and the restricted area to the north. The visibility was reduced to 10 miles from the wild fires that were burning just west of the airstrip but cleared when I reached the beach. More miles of sandy beaches punctuated by river deltas and mangrove swamps. I reached Ingham with 25.1 hours on the tach so now I could start taking passengers after a few maintenance checks on the engine.
Lenne' and the boys arrived shortly after I landed and Tim ran to check the time on the tach. Sungie jumped in the seat and I took him for a quick trip around the pattern. Tim was next for another quick flight. It was finally Aren's turn to fly his first leg of the trip. We took off after lunch and headed toward the south tip of Hinchinbrook Island with the intent of flying on the outside of the Island and checking out the remote beaches I had been told about. I climbed to 2500 ft because the forest below afforded few spots to land in the event of an engine failure, but at that altitude I was bucking about 15 kts of headwind. So far this was the most challenging of all the legs. There was a cloud layer covering the tops of the mountains and with the rugged terrain below, high cliffs, waterfalls, and the narrow, protected waterways close to the open ocean, I could have been flying around Hinchinbrook Island in Prince William Sound, Alaska. And with Aren adding another 140 lbs of weight to the aircraft, I noticed my climb rate dropped so I had to start my ascents a bit earlier to go through the mountain passes and to gain altitude after a low fly over the beach.
The Island was truly magnificent but because of the remoteness and inhospitable terrain below me, I was relieved when we crossed over the strait and reached the shoreline just north of Cardwell. The rest of the flight up the coast to Innisfail was more unique as we flew over expensive homes and banana plantations on rolling hills along the beach. I headed toward Innisfail and called the CTAF 5 miles out. A Jabiru gave a call and stated he was arriving close to the same time I estimated landing. I was in no hurry and flew over the town to let the Jabiru land. There was also a twin over the field conducting NDB approaches so we kept an eye out for the traffic.
We landed on runway 14 and I taxied in and shut down. Ron Watson, the pilot in the Jabiru, came over to greet us. I told Ron about our intentions to leave the Xair at Innisfail for the week while we were at Cairns, and because Carlo wasn't there, he offered me space in his hanger. Gordon Bailey had called Carlo from King Reef Aviation before I arrived and arranged for possible hangar space. Ron hadn't seen the trike that shares the hangar for a while and if the trike didn't show up that week, the space was mine. We exchanged phone numbers and Lenne' drove up just as we put the Xair in the hangar. Ron's wife and Dad showed up and we had a good conversation about flying and driving around Australia. I wrote down the phone number for King Reef Aviation. With the Xair safe for the night we drove to Cairns and checked in at the Coconut Caravan Resort.
Day 33 - Sunday, August 20 - CAIRNS
I missed Ron's morning phone call but I found out later through is son, that the trike was back, and the Xair was moved to the hangar at King Aviation. Thanks mates! That morning we checked in at Pro-Dive to get more information about our dive charter. Lenne' and Sungie had to get a physical prior to getting lessons so we went to the 24 hour clinic to get the doctors ok. We spent the rest of the day lounging at the resort while the kids played basketball, table tennis, and went swimming in the pool. Hey, we are on holiday!
Day 34 - 36, Monday/Tuesday/Wednesday, August 21-23 - DIVING LESSONS
Lenne' and Sungie spent Monday reading the dive manual in preparation for their SCUBA class on Tuesday and Wednesday. Meanwhile Larry, Aren, and Tim spent Tuesday and Wednesday getting ready for the three days on the boat.
Day 37-39, Thursday/Friday/Saturday, August 24-26 - DIVING FROM A LIVEABOARD
At 5:45 A.M. we were picked up by Pro Dive and transported to their downtown store to wait for the gathering of all 32 passengers. By 7:00 A.M. we were underway. Lenne' and Larry were assigned a cabin just off the galley as were Sungie and Tim. Aren shared a room with a diver from Sweden on the lower level. The crew consisted of Hienz, the skipper, Melinda, the Canadian cookie (or cook), Australian dive instructors Kenny and Cameron, the New Zealand dive instructor, Scotty, and the German dive instructor, Brondon. The passengers were a diverse group from England, Italy, Germany, Holland, Australia, and the U.S. Everyone belonged to one group or another; snorklers, open water dive students, certified divers, advanced dive students, or rescue dive students. It was a great group of people! Nick, a student who had been in the dive class with Sungie and Lenne', became Tim's snorkeling buddy. Lenne' completed 2 of the 4 required dives on day 1, but gave up diving and replaced it with snorkeling because she couldn't stay warm nor could she equalize her ears on descents. Sungie completed the 4 required dives for certification and participated in all the other dives as well, even the night dive. (And he's afraid of the dark when he's got two feet on the ground!)
Words cannot adequately describe the Reef itself. As you approach it, it stretches out before you, displaying infinite colors, patterns, textures, and forms of plant and animal life interacting in a rhythmic fluid dance. It is humbling to witness its beauty and existence. Saturday evening, exhausted, the crew and passengers gathered at a restaurant for a farewell dinner in Cairns. For more writing and pictures, check out our Dive Log section.
Day 40 - Sunday, August 27 - CAPE TRIBULATION
We drove north into rain forest country and took a ferry across a very tropical looking river into Cape Tribulation National Park. We settled for the night at a Caravan Park that provided a communal kitchen, hot showers, and electricity as there were no remote campsites available in the National Park. While there we discovered a gigantic moth and beetle and met some more wonderful people who were caravanning around Australia in the opposite direction. So we swapped stories about road conditions and things to do and see. We have tended to avoid caravan parks to date as they seem so crowded but it is important to swap traveling stories and so wonderful to meet others from interesting places.
Day 41 - Monday, August 28 - CAPE TRIBULATION TO WONGA BEACH
We started rolling around 10 AM after exchanging addresses and saying goodbye to our new friends. It was a short drive through the spectacular rain forest to Cape Tribulation. Captain Cook named the Cape when his ship ran onto Endeavor Reef. Firsts we hiked a trail to learn about the mangrove forests that covered the area. The trees grow in swampy areas and instead of dropping seeds or cones, the seedlings sprout on the trees and wait until wind and rain transport them to moist land where they take root and grow. The trees later adapt to the swampy conditions by shooting up a lot of snorkel roots, about the size of a pencil, in order to obtain air and provide stability. We had lived in New Orleans, so memories of our canoe trips through cypress swamps with stubby cypress knees came back to us.
Leaving the forest, we ventured onto the white sandy beach of Cape Tribulation and jumped in for a swim. The sign said that crocodiles had been sighted there but we went in for a short swim and watched out for one another. Bear have been seen in the forest behind our house in Juneau but we still go hiking. Guess there is a risk in anything you do in life, but being taken by a croc in a paradise setting, wasn't something we wanted to experience.
Day 42 - Tuesday, August 29 - A TOUR OF A SUGAR PROSSESING PLANT & MOSSMAN GORGE Because Tim desired to understand how all that sugar cane that was growing around us was transformed into that wonderful sweet crystal he loves so much, we toured the Mossman's sugar processing plant.
We learned that it takes 16 months to harvest sugar cane and that once cut, it must reach the factory within 16 hours or the quality of the sugar deteriorates. In order to expedite the transportation of all this cane, they use cane trains to get the sugar cane from the fields to the processing plants. Queensland is a large producer of sugar and exports 80 % of it (Japan being the recipient of most of it), keeping 20% for Australian use. Our guide informed us that they are an ecological manufacturing plant as there is no waste. The cane fiber is used as fertilizer and distilled water used in processing the sugar crystals is recycled. It was an informative tour and nice to learn about the sweet things in life.
After the sugar plant tour we drove to the Mossman Gorge and went swimming among the boulders in the cool river water. Another sign warning that deaths have occurred here did not deter us. (The water level was low and the river current was gentle. I don't think we would have gone swimming during the rainy season.)
We left our little swimming area and drove to Cairns for dinner with a detour to Kuranda. Kuranda is a small mountain town surrounded by tropical rainforest and is famous for its markets. It is a popular tourist attraction that can be accessed by skyrail, train, or road. We arrived just before dark and after the rush of tourists. We had just enough time to see the steep Barron Falls and Gorge and drive through the town. By the time we finished dinner at Cairns it was dark so we opted to drive the hour to Innisfail so we could be there first thing in the morning. We arrived at the airstrip at 9:30 and went to bed.
Day 43 - Wednesday, August 30 - INNISFAIL
Carlo from King Reef Aviation had already arrived by the time I finished breakfast so I walked over to introduce myself. Xair 403 was parked in the back of the hangar, longing to complete another leg of this fantastic journey. I chatted for a bit with Carlo and he helped me clean the fuel filter and replace a damaged fuel hose on the Xair. Tim and I changed the spark plugs and added oil to the tank. I also called Michael and found out that the ballistic parachute was mailed from Brisbane and could arrive at Innisfail Thursday or Friday. I pulled the Xair out of the hangar expecting to fly a few trips around the circuit but the kids had other ideas: they wanted to go swimming. It was getting warm so I put the Xair back in the hangar and suggested driving 40 minutes north to the "Boulders" Wildland Park, a swimming area that sounded similar to Mossman Gorge. We went to town to get supplies and next to the shopping center the kids found the city swimming pool - so much for the Bolders. By the time the kids were finished with their afternoon swim it was too late to drive so we found a local caravan park that had a pool, mini golf, a playground, and close to a beach. We checked in and while the kids played, mom and dad finished some writing and cleaning of the motor home. By evening, Tim and Sungie decided to write their journals. Sungie has to write his journal as a part of his schoolwork but Tim wants to share his writing with you, so we hope you enjoy Tim Tam's Tales.
Day 44 - Thursday, August 31 - THE BOLDERS
We made it to the Bolders for a swim in the cool, clear mountain stream water. How refreshing. The water was a bit colder than Mossman Gorge but we hiked upstream and found another pool that was a bit warmer. It was also off the main trail so rather than putting on wet swim suits, Tim and I decided that skinny-dipping was in order. It was a lazy day at the river and we finished it off by driving a short distance to see Josephine Falls and returning to the airport for the night.
Day 45 - Friday, September 1 - INSTALLING THE BALLISTIC PARACHUTE
We received a call from the Post Office stating that the ballistic parachute arrived. Carlo drove me to town to pick it up and Ron and I spent the morning installing the chute on the Xair. Michael emailed photos of a parachute that he mounted on an Xair in his hangar so at least we had a good reference. We measured the area where I thought the mounting bracket should go using the pictures as a guide. Unfortunately, the Xair Michael installed the chute on, didn't have the wings on yet. When I tried to mount the brackets in the same place, the nylon straps that are fastened between the wings were in the way. I called Michael again saying that I moved the bracket in front of the straps and he suggested I run the strap under the bracket and keep the mount as far aft as I could to keep the Center of Gravity from getting too far forward. Easy enough - after a few trial and error mountings, and another call to get some ideas on where to mount the trigger, the chute was secured and ready to be test flown. Michael suggested mounting the trigger on the center overhead so I placed it behind the EPIRB.
I had no problems during test flight and didn't notice any performance differences. It was time to take Tim, Sungie, and Lenne' for short flights around the area. The haze from the cane field fires was getting pretty bad so I cut the flights short, landed, and settled in for the night.
Day 46 - Saturday, September 2 - LEAVING THE RAIN FOREST & BEACHES BEHIND - INNISFAIL TO URANDA LAVA TUBES via MT GARNET (100 NM flight, 3.0 hours flight time)
After sitting in the hangar for two weeks the Xair was ready to fly again. Aren was my copilot for this leg and we were airborne by 10:30. Carlo was airborne a few minutes later and stayed behind us in his Lightwing. "Sorry I didn't wait for you, Carlo, but I thought you would be able to catch up and pass us. I also appreciated all your help." (I never met the man and he kept the Xair in his hangar for 2 weeks while the family explored Cairns, the Great Barrier Reef, and Cape Tribulation.) We climbed to 4500 ft and headed north for the Broken Nose, a 962 meter high pinnacle just off a ridge on Bartre Frere, Queenslands highest mountain at 1622 meters. I really wanted to fly low over the ridges but it was pretty hostile terrain below so I didn't take any chances and stayed high enjoying the scenery at, what helicopter pilots (and now this ultralight pilot) would call, "nose bleed altitude". We took a few photos of Broken Nose and it was time to head west to Mt. Garnet.
The country below was magnificent. We flew over gorges with fast flowing rivers, rugged mountains, and watched the transition of landscape from rainforest to rolling farm fields to grassland savanna. We flew south of Mt. Fisher and dipped low over about twenty windmills. I was bucking a 15 kt headwind most of the way and maintained 39 kts of ground speed with 5500 RPM set. When the terrain started to flatten out, the wind-shear and thermals started to play with the Xair. At times we were climbing at 700 ft per minute and my groundspeed would go from 39 kts to 50 kts. A few minutes later we were sinking at 500 ft per minute and back to 39 kts. I spotted the east/west runway at Mt. Garnet and let Aren fly the downwind to runway 27. It was a bit turbulent on final so I took the controls and landed on the grass strip. With the exception of a Cessna 185 parked on the side of the runway, there was nothing but termite mounts and a few cows around. The air temperature was 40 degrees so Aren and I sat under the shade of the Xair wing and waited for Lenne', Sungie, and Tim. An hour later, I saw the dust trail of the motor home coming down the lonely road. I moved the motor home under the shade of some trees and we ate lunch.
Tim would join me for the 44.7 NM leg to Undara. We were airborne at 2:17 PM and flew along the Kennedy Highway watching Lenne' slowly drive along the single lane highway. At one point I spotted a convoy of 7 work trucks and warned Lenne' that that they were coming so she could find a spot to pull over.
The thermals were playing with us again. This time, with Tim as a lighter passenger, I was getting lift from the thermals of up to 1000 ft per minute. I started to use this lift to my advantage and let it take us as high as I could get, then I would turn the altitude into airspeed by reducing power, lowering the nose, and descending to a lower altitude at 65 kts. Unfortunately there is a price to pay for that free altitude: I had to add full power and slow to 45 kts to climb out of the downdrafts.
I spotted a remote field off the highway and made a low pass. The field was not in very good condition so I pulled up and kept heading toward Undara. When I climbed to altitude I could see the airstrip and resort area. I made a few circuits over the lava tubes area and landed on the grass runway. There were no tiedowns so I used the screwits for the first time. They went in the ground easily, just like screwing in ice screws on the glacier back in Juneau. We waited for 30 minutes and Sungie called on the Talkabout. We talked for a bit as they were traveling on the road to the resort but I soon lost radio contact. I wasn't sure if they took the right turn at the junction and got airborne again to search for them. After a few minutes we made radio contact and they were at the lodge getting settled in. I gave directions to the airstrip but was told someone from the resort would pick us up so I landed and waited. It wasn't long before Sherri arrived and drove Tim and I to the resort. We settled in for the night and were treated to a slideshow of the local wildlife.
Day 47 - Sunday, September 3 - TOUR OF URANDA LAVA TUBES AND ONTO TALLAROO HOT SPRINGS (38 NM)
I woke up at 6:30 and went for a jog on two of the three hiking trails around the park. The first trail headed west to a ridge so I watched the rising sun illuminate the granite rock formations. A kangaroo bounded in front of me and disappeared in the brush and boulders. I reached the ridge and climbed a granite boulder to scan the distant horizon. Time to go back go for a swim, wake the kids, and eat breakfast so we'd be ready for the two-hour tour of the Undara Lava Tubes.
The Undara crater started spewing waves of molten lava around 190,000 years ago. The lava flowed and filled the land like a giant flood. As the air cooled the surface of the lava, it left a crust but the lava continued to flow under this crust. When the eruption stopped, the molten rock solidified and the lava flowed out of the far end of the tubes, leaving hollow tunnels hidden below the devastated land. Undara means "a long way" in Aboriginal language. One of the tubes extends more than 160kms and is the longest know lava tube on earth. We finished the tour and took another swim to cool off before heading back to the airstrip.
Sungie joined me on the next flight and we were airborne just after lunch. We had planned on going a short distance to Georgetown but when I opened my chart I saw a circle around Tallaroo and I remembered that Ron had told me about the hot springs there. I grabbed my airport directory and read about the five terraced hot springs, therapeutic swimming pool, camping area, and a runway to boot. I called Lenne' on the radio and mentioned the hot springs. I wanted to know some more information so I suggested she stop at Mt. Surprise and ask about the place. Meanwhile I landed at the runway at Mt. Surprise and waited for them to catch up to us. We waited for 30 minutes and I couldn't establish radio contact because of the hill south of the runway. We took off and found they had passed us and were on their way to the hot springs. When Lenne' heard the word hot spring, she was off. I caught up to them just at the turnoff heading north to Tallaroo. I could see the runway just 3 miles north of the highway and flew over the resort landing just before Lenne' drove up. There was an empty hangar but I tied the Xair outside.
We drove up to the kiosk and were met by Christy the camp hostess. Christy took us on a short tour of the hot springs area and showed us the pool. We parked the motor home and ate dinner, waiting for the heat of the day to subside. As the cool night air settled over the camp it was time to soak in the 98-degree water. We hadn't thought of soaking in a hot tub in the Australian outback but here we were under the Southern Cross and a crescent moon, with the kookaburras getting their last laugh in for the evening, and the crickets beginning their serenade for the night. We didn't want to get out but our tired bodies needed rest, so it was off to bed with the pleasant prospect of returning for another soak in the morning.
Day 48 - Monday, September 4 - HOT SPRINGS IN THE MORNING AND A SUNSET OVER THE GULF OF CARPENTERIA; TALLAROO TO NORMANTON via CROYTON with a drive to KARUMBA (73 NM)
We woke up early to soak in the springs in the cool morning air before we would have to experience the heat of the outback afternoon. A kangaroo bounded by the fence to the pool. What a great way to start the day. Sungie was my co-pilot for this leg. We were airborne early and flew to Georgetown to top off the Xair with petrol and switch passengers. Aren was my passenger now and we flew to Croydon for lunch. After lunch it was off again to Normanton to try to make the sunset at Karumba. We arrived in Normanton with enough time to secure the Xair and make the 72 Km drive to Karumba by sunset. We made it. Unfortunately, the sunset wasn't that spectacular but it was an experience to see the pelicans, kites, and gulls around the beach with the sun setting over the Gulf of Carpentaria in the background. We found a caravan park and settled in for the night.
Day 49 - Tuesday, September 5 - NORMANTON (& KARUMBA) TO CLONCURRY via BURKE & WILLS ROADHOUSE (100 NM)
We woke up and drove back to Normanton. Aren took the co-pilot seat and we were off to Burke and Wills Roadhouse for lunch and fuel. Sungie took the co-pilot seat for the leg to Cloncurry. We arrived in Cloncurry to pick up more groceries and settle into a caravan park by sunset.
Day 50 - Wednesday, September 6 - CLONCURRY TO CAMOOWEAL via MT ISA (141 NM)
We got an early start and made it to Mt. Isa with time to check email and pick up a few more supplies. We drove up to Lake Moondara for lunch but there were too many weeds to swim. Back to the airport and with Tim as my co-pilot we were airborne to Camooweal. This 98 NM leg took 2.3 hours because of a constant 10-15 kt headwind. Lenne' even arrived there before us. We landed with only 18 litres of fuel even though I topped off to 50 liters of AVGAS at Mt. Isa. We landed at the lonely airstrip and were greeted by 2 gentlemen who were traveling around Australia and staying at the nearby caravan park. They were interested in ultralights and wanted to see what just flew over them. We chatted for a while and it was time to put more fuel and oil in the Xair. I couldn't get the screwits into the hard ground and because there was no fence for security, we parked the motor home opposite the Xair and stayed there for the evening.
Day 51 - Thursday, September 7 - CAMOOWEAL TO TENNANT CREEK with a fuel stop at SOUDAN STATION & BARKLY ROADHOUSE and a drive 200 km south toward ALICE SPRINGS
We pushed hard today. The distances are getting greater and our time is running short. I even made the decision to leave the Xair at Tennant Creek and drive to Alice and Uluru so we could make up for lost time and give Lenne' a break from driving. I know I'm going to miss getting to fly over some fantastic country but we may just take a flight seeing trip when we get there. The wind was still blowing out of the west early when we left Camooweal. The next known fuel stop was at Barkly Roadhouse, about 130 NM away. With the headwind, I have been experiencing greater fuel consumption, another 3-4 liters per hour with a passenger, so I decided to go solo for more endurance. Before we left Camooweal I found out from an ambulance driver that there was another landing strip at Soudan Station, just about halfway between Camooweal and the Roadhouse. We filled up the gas jugs that we keep in the motor home with 40 liters of fuel and started off. Even though I was airborne by 8:40 I still had 15 kts of headwind that later increased to 25 kts. It took 1.9 hours to go the 63 miles to the station. Lenne' and the boys arrived before I did and got permission from the owners children to land there. The kids were concerned about us blocking the runway when their mail plane arrived, but gave us permission when they understood our need. I put another 20 liters of fuel in the Xair and we were off again. The turnaround only took 15 minutes!
It was another 71 miles to the Roadhouse and the wind wasn't letting up. At one time I thought I saw puffs of smoke at four different places in the brush. As I got closer, I found out they were dust devils. One passed close enough to me that I thought I saw the Tasmanian Devil from the Bugs Bunny cartoon appear. I put another 500 ft between me and the ground. Another 1.8 hours and it was time for lunch in the air-conditioned restaurant. I needed anther 30 liters of fuel and the owner of the Roadhouse said I could taxi the Xair up to the fuel pump. I walked back to the runway and taxied behind the roadhouse to where we could drive the motor home. I didn't find the route around the property that would get me safely to the fuel pumps. Just as well, spinning props and a lot of people walking and driving around don't make a good combination.
I continued to fly solo, Tennant Creek was another 96 NM and the wind wasn't letting up. Lenne' was even having a hard time getting more than 75 km an hour pushing the boxy motor home against the headwind. With the exception of a few places where the highway deviated extremely north or south of the intended flight path, I followed the highway most of the way. But with 25 miles to go and my fuel getting low, I cut the corner from the Barkly highway to Tennant Creek and avoided adding more miles by flying west to Three Ways and then south to Tennant Creek. I told Lenne' that I had 1.5 hours of fuel but that it should only take 40 minutes to get to Tennant Creek and if I wasn't there in an hour, send for help. I made the final stretch without mishap and just as I was flying over a refreshing looking lake, Aren called on the radio saying that Sungie read about a lake near Tennant Creek that we could go for a swim and have dinner. Sounded like a great idea to me. I landed at 4:20 just as Lenne' drove up.
Having used the trip log from the GPS this time, I realized I had flown 107 nm in 2.6 hours for a 6.3-hour flight day. Back in my Coast Guard days, if helicopter pilots landed with more than 6 hours flight time, we were "bagged", meaning we couldn't fly any more unless we had an urgent mission and had approval from the "Ops Boss". Well I was definitely bagged and swimming sounded like the perfect ending to a long hot day. We tied the Xair up and drove to the lake for that long awaited swim.
After the swim, dinner, and a shower, I still had some energy left to put another 200 km on the road to Alice. There were several motor homes at the park and before I left, I asked the drivers about the road, kangaroo hazards, road trains, and rest stops along the way. We haven't seen the herds of kangaroos along the road but we've seen isolated dead ones. The road trains aren't that bad either. I also found out that there were several rest stops at least every 30-70 km apart so pulling over when I got tired wasn't going to be a problem. We all decided to see if we could put a few more kilometers behind us so we could get to Alice a bit earlier. I drove for another 1.5 hours, found a rest stop, pulled over and got some much needed rest.
Day 52 - Friday, September 8, A LONELY REST STOP ON THE STUART HIGHWAY to ALICE SPRINGS
Up at 6 to write this log so we can hopefully update our journal from Alice Springs. Internet access is becoming harder to find out here so we apologize for the time it takes us to update this web page.
Day 53 - Saturday, September 9 - ULURU (Ayers Rock)
We awoke and started the long drive to Uluru arriving just in time to complete a dash to the summit. This spectacular rock rises 348 meters above the sandy scrubland. Our timing was perfect for photographing this richly colored and finely textured monolith. We completed the evening watching the sunset change the rock into many different shades of rich oranges and reds. Our night was complete with dinner at the Outback Barbeque where we cooked our own, sampling crocodile kabobs, kangaroo skewers, and Emu sausages. Now here are our kids, who won't eat fresh caught Alaskan salmon or halibut, eating crocodile meat!
Day 54 - Sunday, September 10 - ULURU-KATA TJUTA NATIONAL PARK CULTURAL CENTER, KATA TJUTA (The Olgas), & DRIVING TO KINGS CANYON
We started the morning at the Cultural Center absorbing what we could about Aborigines and their spiritual beliefs about the area. We completed a drive around the rock and did a short hike before driving to Kata Tjuta for another short hike. We weren't sure about taking the time to drive the 4 hours into Kings Canyon until I started talking to one of the many tour bus operators. He told me we shouldn't miss it, so we were off, arriving at the Kings Canyon Resort just before sunset.
Day 55 - Monday, September 11 - HIKING AROUND KINGS CANYON & RETURN TO ALICE SPRINGS
We woke up early and drove a short distance to begin the 5.5 km hike around Kings Canyon. This spectacular canyon consists of shear walls nearly 100 meters high and is a dramatic example of what millions of years of erosion can do to a crack in the sandstone. The hike took us into the beautiful Garden of Eden, "a cool enchanting place echoing with bird calls, where shady River Red Gums and Cycads fringe tranquil pools." From Giles Diary, 1873: "could it (George Gills Range) be transported to any civilized land, its springs, glens, gorges, ferns, zanias (cycads trees), and flowers, would charm the eyes and hearts of toil-worn men who are condemned to live and die in crowded towns". Ernest Gills was the first European person to describe this part of Australia. We completed the hike by lunchtime and after a well-deserved lunch, it was time to start the drive back to Alice Springs.
Day 56 - Tuesday, September 12 - ALICE SPRINGS TO TENNANT CREEK with a stop at THE DEVILS MARBLES
After a morning shopping trip we started another long drive back to Tennant Creek. On the return, we stopped at the Devils Marbles. Again with perfect timing, arriving just 1 hour before sunset, we watched another magical place change colors with the setting of the sun. We cooked dinner and watched a nearly full moon rise over the varied rock formations. After dinner and with the moon bright overhead casting shadows on the desert floor, we took a short interpretive hike around the delicately balanced pieces of granite. We continued our drive to Tennant Creek arriving after dark. Fortunately, when we left Tennant Creek on our way to Alice we met a caravan of motor homes heading to an Alice Springs convention and they told us where to camp just a kilometer from the Mary Anne Dam. We found the site with over a dozen or so motor homes scattered about the field, so we found a spot, pulled over and rested for the night.
Day 57 - Wednesday, September 13 - TENNANT CREEK TO ELLIOT (146 NM flown and 2.5 hours with 40 liters of fuel burned)
I woke up early to a strong wind blowing through the trees. I didn't like the sound of it, but all I could hope for was that it would let up before I had to fly. We drove to the airport and the wind was blowing out of the east at about 20-25 kts. I arrived in time to ask a couple of pilots who just flew in with the mail plane about landing sites on the highway north and what the wind was going to do for the next few hours. The bad news was that the wind was reported to increase later in the day and the good news was that there was a tail wind component so I might be able to make the 146 nm trip to Elliot without a fuel stop. I was also told that it would blow like this till October so I didn't think I could wait it out. Aren was my co-pilot for this leg so I briefed Lenne on a few of the intended airstrips on the way to Elliot if I needed fuel and we were off.
There was a passenger flight taxiing for takeoff and a Cessna that was going west doing low-level work behind me. After the passenger flight departed runway 14, I took off on runway 11 without too many bumps, picked up the highway and headed north. I asked Aren if he could see the motor home and he said yes but that it was heading south. Lenne' told me twice that she didn't think she had to head back the same way she came but I kept telling her that she needed to go back to Three Ways and instead of turning east just keep going north. I programmed Elliot and Daly Waters into the GPS so I thought they would at least know where to go. I tried to get her to respond on the radio but got no reply. I turned to catch up to her but she was just clearing the south end of town and I was bucking a headwind so I was not making much time. I was concerned about using up too much fuel and figured she would go a few kilometers, realize she was going the wrong way, and turn around. I made a 180-degree turn and got back on track.
The GPS was showing that it would only take 2 hours to reach Elliot so I had plenty of fuel for this leg. My only concerns were that Lenne' would go all the way to Alice Springs or run out of gas in the outback. We landed at Elliot at 12:30 with 15 liters of fuel and started the 2-mile walk to town arriving at a small restaurant in time for a bite to eat. We waited and waiting and by 3:30 with no Lenne' in range, I started to worry. How far south could she have gone? I started asking drivers that were coming from the south if they'd spotted a large white motor home. I even stopped by the police station to ask if there were any reports of an accident between Tennant Creek and Elliot. Nothing. It was 4:30 when a tour coach driver saw a motor home just behind her. Then Aren heard Sungie call on the talkabout - they were at the BP station south of town. We finally found out what happened. They drove about 35 km south of Tennant Creek before Sungie started to navigate and told Lenne' she was going the wrong way. She turned around, drove north and started looking for the Xair. Somehow in my briefing about divert landing strips for fuel she wasn't sure if I was able to make it to Elliot without stopping so she stopped at a few stations to ask if I had landed. A road crew worker told her that he saw us fly overhead so she knew I probably made it to Elliot without stopping.
So what did we learn? Sungie had bought a book at Alice and was engrossed with reading it while we were planning the leg, so he didn't know what was going on. He also didn't help Lenne' navigate until he was finished with the book. Tim also bought a new game for his Gameboy so he was also engrossed in playing not helping with the planning. Lenne' thought she had to go south and even though I showed her the map and where to go, she acted on her impulse and drove south. And I didn't ensure that everyone understood what was going on before I departed, thinking it was a fairly easy leg. So why didn't they answer on the radio and save a lot of confusion? We stowed the radio in a backpack with other miscellaneous electronics when we left for Alice Springs. A black radio in a black backpack is difficult to spot so they didn't even have the radio out because they couldn't find it. Upon debriefing about the day, we talked about the importance of teamwork and having all of us engaged when we were planning a flight. We learned that even a simple task could go array if everyone is not working as a team.
It was too late and we were all too tired to continue so we drove to the airstrip for the night. We had over 50 hours on the tach so the Xair was do for new spark plugs and a fuel filter cleaning. It was quiet at the airstrip. The sun was setting and a full moon was rising, the wind had died down, and the air started to feel cool - a good time to take care of some maintenance and reflect upon the days' events.
Day 58 - Thursday, September 14 - ELLIOT TO MATARANKA THERMAL POOLS with a stop at DALY WATERS (173 NM flown and 3.2 hours with 53 liters of fuel burned)
I woke up to the sound of a gust of wind and something blowing away. I tied the Xair to an iron bar that was lying on the apron and parked the motor home along side so I immediately looked out the window at the Xair. It was still tied and not moving. I looked out the other window to see the tent blowing down the runway. Lenne' had the boys set the tent up thinking she would spend the night outside. (She was probably still pissed at me for the previous days events and didn't want to sleep near me.) It wasn't staked down so when the gust of wind came up, it took off. I slipped on my flip-flops and ran after the tent. I was able to catch it when it came to rest on a fence about 100 meters away. I took hold of my catch and started running back to the motor home. I'm glad no one saw a naked man running in the full moon pulling a dome tent behind him although Lenne' was trying real hard to stifle her laughter when I got back into the motor home. I collapsed the tent and went back to bed.
We woke up early and started preparations for another leg. The plan was to go to the Mataranka Resort and soak in the thermal pools at Elsey National Park. Tim was my passenger and we were off by 10:00. Other than encountering a thick section of smoke, it was a relatively smooth leg to Daly Waters. We landed and I taxied next to the old hangar. Lenne' arrived just as we taxied up so we went to see the historic Daly Water Pub, the oldest hotel in the Northern Territory. I called Tindal to enquire about clearance into their airspace and was told there would be a Mandatory Broadcast Zone (MBZ) in effect after 17:30 and that they would be closing down around lunchtime on Friday. So I could enter with no problems after 17:30, but if I wanted to come before that time, I would have to call back with my intentions and request clearance.
We went back to the hangar and had lunch. The airstrip was a refueling point for the London to Sydney Air Race in 1926 and in the 1930s was an important stopover for Qantas. During WWII it was a refueling point for bombers flying north and south. While I was reading the historic panels in the hangar, I could hear the wind start to increase and rattle the old metal hangar. Time to leave! We had plenty of runway in front of us for our takeoff and were airborne heading north. One point six hours later we landed at the Mataranka Resort. Lenne' wasn't far behind. We found another one of those unexpected gems. We parked and walked the short distance to the thermal pool. Suits on, we started soaking in the 38 degrees Celsius crystal clear water. I guess we could go to Tindal tomorrow after lunch. What a way to end the day!
Day 59 - Friday, September 15 - MATARANKA RESORT TO TINDAL (KATHERINE) (56 NM flown and 0.9 hours with 15 liters fuel burned)
We spent the morning soaking in the thermal pools and as we were leaving started talking to a Park Ranger about the bat hazing that was going on by the swimming area. About a half a million Red Flying Foxes have been taking up residence at the park and they were using a helicopter to haze the bats from the area. We spotted them the night before. For approximately 15 minutes a line of bats flew over the pools as we were soaking. Anyway the Ranger told us about another swimming area that just opened and was not as developed. We drove over to the spring and it was perfect. We were able to jump in at one entry point and let the current move us along through the narrow tall grass lined stream. The water was clear and warm so we took the under water video camera. It was a perfect little stream, so nice that Lenne wanted to do it again. But as all good things must come to an end we drove back to the airstrip and prepared for the short flight and drive to Katherine.
Tindal Air Base was closed so I had no problems entering the airspace. The only problem was that part of runway 14 was closed due to a small plane that had departed the runway and collapsed its nosewheel earlier in the day. Lenne' arrived shortly after and we drove to Katherine for pizza. It was late so we headed down the road to the Katherine Gorge, found a place to pull over for the night, endured the heat and settled down as it cooled off.
Day 60 - Saturday, September 16 - KATHERINE GORGE
We stopped at the Katherine Gorge visitor center to get an idea of what to do in the area. The temperature was to climb to around 40 deg C so swimming was going to be a must. Renting a canoe and taking the tour in the boat was out just because of the expense. We asked about hiking in the area and were told about a short 8.4 km hike into the first gorge with access to swimming. We packed our suits and set out. The hike started with a short climb to the top of the gorge and with a lookout over the Katherine River. Then we started down to the river. Just before the river we found a rockpool that, during the wet, was a waterfall. We took a dip and continued on to the river staying for a few hours enjoying the magnificent views. I even swam across the river to an inviting sandy beach only to see a "DO NOT ENTER SIGN" in big bold letters. I swam a little closer and read the fine print "crocodile mating area". Great, and now I have to swim back. I later found out that there are fresh water crocs in the area but that they are relatively shy and are fish eaters. I also discovered that the park traps the "salties" that wonder into the area. We enjoyed a bit more swimming and started the hike back in the heat. Back at the parking lot we jumped in the river again and stayed a while longer till we cooled down again. We drove back to Katherine and found a caravan park with a pool for more swimming.
Day 61 - Sunday, September 17 - KATHERINE TO DARWIN
We decided to leave the Xair at Tindal and drive to Darwin and Kakadu. On the way to Darwin we stopped at Edith Falls for a swim in a beautiful lake. We also stopped at the Berry Springs Nature Park where we all took a swim around a thermal waterfall and in the spring fed pools. We arrived in Darwin in time to see some of downtown, explore a beach and still have time for dinner and the blokes took in a movie. The night was warm and humid and it was getting too late to drive out of town and find a caravan park for the night. We parked on a quite street downtown and tried to sleep but just couldn't take the heat, so we checked into a Best Western around the corner. This was more like it! We enjoyed a 2-room suite with, air conditioning, a Jacuzzi tub, and a telly to watch the Olympics. And it also had a swimming pool.
Day 62 - Monday, September 18 - DARWIN
We were enjoying the room so much we decided to stay another night. We had our mail forwarded to the Darwin Post Office and fortunately it was there when we went to pick it up on Monday morning. We spent a few hours opening mail and paying late bills. That afternoon, Lenne' and I treated ourselves to a massage and by evening we drove to a beautiful beach north of the city to watch the sun set over the Timor Sea.
Day 63 - Tuesday, September 19 - DARWIN TO JABIRU
We checked out of our room early morning and left Darwin. On the way to Jabiru, we stopped to see the famous jumping crocodiles on the Adelaide River Cruise. After lunch it was off to Jabiru in Kakadu National Park. "Kakadu is on the World Heritage List for both its natural and cultural importance. It has a variety of superb landscapes, swarms of wildlife, and has some of Australia's best Aboriginal rock art." We stopped at the visitors' center and enjoyed a movie about the changes that occur in the park during the six different seasons: Gurrungm (mid Aug-Sept), hot dry weather; Gunumeleng (Oct-Dec), pre-monsoon storm season; Gudjewg (Jan-Mar), Monsoon season; Gerreng (April) knock-em down storm season; Yegge (May-mid June) cooler but still humid season; Wurrgeng (mid June-mid Aug) cold weather season.
It was off to check in at the caravan park so the kids could swim in the pool. Because the saltwater crocs inhabit all the waterholes and rivers here, the pool is the only place that is recommended for swimming. And with the temperature and humidity climbing during Gurrungm we needed a place to cool off.
Day 64 - Wednesday, September 20 - KAKADU
We were up early so we could catch the 6:45 Yellow Water wetlands cruise. The cooler morning cruise was advertised as being the best to view wildlife. It was about a forty-minute drive to Cooinda from Jabiru so we needed to get on the road early. We arrived in time to get the last 5 seats on the cruise. It was an amazing tour. We saw several crocodiles and watched one croc catch and eat a fish just a few feet in front of us. There was plenty of bird life: majestic sea eagles, jabirus, kites, egrets, Magpie geese, ducks, Jacana's, and the beautiful azure kingfisher. Our tour ended and we stopped at the Warradjan Aboriginal Cultural Center to learn more about the Aboriginal culture in the Kakadu. Next we took a short hike to see several outstanding rock art sites, an ancient Aboriginal shelter, and views of Kakadu's escarpment and Nourlangie Rock.
I drove to the Jabiru airport to get some information about the area southwest of Katherine. I called Tindal Control and found out that the Tindal Control was not going to operate on Friday and only the MBZ would be active. Back to Jabiru and the caravan park for more swimming and a relaxing night.
Day 65 - Thursday, September 21 - JABIRU TO KATHERINE
We drove back to Katherine stopping to take a short hike to a lookout. The area had recently been burned and fires still smoldered on either side of us as we hiked the trail. From the lookout tower we gazed over the smoke and haze and read, "Fire has a major influence on the Australian environment and has shaped many of the plant communities." We arrived in Katherine with enough time to take a swim at the Katherine thermal pools. We checking into a caravan park and took a night cruise on the Katherine River to spot freshwater crocs and enjoy a dinner of beef stew cooked over a campfire. It was an enjoyable tour. The guides were entertaining and provided an educational insight into the habitat of the freshwater crocodile.
Day 66 - Friday, September 22 - KATHERINE TO TIMBER CREEK (156 NM for 2.9 hours flown)
We drove to the airport and fueled the Xair. After fueling we watched six F-18's take off from the Tindal Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF). This meant that the Tindal Control was in effect and I would need clearance out of the zone. I decided to go back to town to get some supplies and wait for the control zone to be deactivated. When we returned the F-18's were landing. I stopped in at Northern Aviation to enquire about airstrips on the way to Timber Creek. After my flight from Camoweal to Tennant Creek, I wanted to know all the airstrips that weren't listed on my chart that were enroute in case I encountered a headwind again. I found out that there were strips at Willeroo Station and the Victoria River Roadhouse. I called Willeroo and asked if I could land there if I needed fuel. I was told that I could land, however, I was also told that there were a lot of cows on the runway but I could buzz them to get them out of the way. This should be an experience.
Tim was my passenger for this leg. Before take off, I decided to remove the doors from the Xair and try flying with the wind in my hair for the first time. When the F-18's were clear of the runway and the MBZ activated, we took off. We arrived over Willeroo with enough fuel to continue to Victoria River but I decided to land as I wasn't ready for the wind in my hair experience yet so I wanted to put the doors back on. I guess that is why I never owned a convertible or a motorcycle. Lenne' was approaching the Station just as I was making my low approach over the cattle. I landed and experienced a pretty rough run over the thousands of black cow chips that dotted the airstrip. The Station just had a roundup yesterday and the place was packed with cattle. Luckily the Xair has good suspension. I taxied up to the gate and was greeted by four jackaroos. They were all interested in the Xair and I enjoyed talking about the flight characteristics. However, they didn't think it would make a good machine for roundup, but they thought it'd be a great vehicle to take to the pub!
I poured 20 liters of fuel in the tanks and took off with Aren as my passenger. It wasn't long before we were into the Victoria River area and flew over some spectacular gorges made by the Victoria River. Unfortunately, it was mid afternoon with the sun overhead and smoke and haze covering the area, making poor aerial photography. It was also very hot so I had to be careful not to overheat the engine during my climbs. I landed at the Victoria Roadhouse airstrip and asked Lenne' to pick us up as it was too hot and buggy to walk the short distance to the roadhouse. We had lunch and I thought about waiting till later in the afternoon for better pictures. After lunch and a cold drink we just couldn't wait in the heat and we pressed on.
Sungie accompanied me on this leg and we were off. It was a short flight to Timber Creek but it was a pretty flight over the river. We landed and I tied down the Xair to a pair of very large truck tires that were on the side of the runway. The ground was so hard I couldn't get the screwits down in the ground. We drove back to town and checked into a caravan park, one with a pool of course.
Day 67 - Saturday, September 23 - TIMBER CREEK TO KUNANARRA (128 NM for 2.5 hours flown)
We were airborne by 9 and Tim was my passenger. Lenne' drove off before I was airborne and unfortunately I blew a fuse as I was taxiing down the runway so my radio, strobe light, and gauges didn't work. I put another fuse in but it blew too so I taxied back to the parking area and separated a pair of wires that had crossed on the fuse holder. Must have been from going over all those cow chips. The problem was solved and we were airborne.
The air was really smooth and there was little wind but the haze continued to drop the visibility to 10 miles. I had enough fuel to make it to Kunanarra but we landed at Newry Cattle station to refuel so I could take time to sightsee and get some pictures of the terrain. We caught up to Lenne' and told them to meet us at the airstrip. After a bit of confusion as too which airstrip I was at they found us. There are two airstrips at Newry, one at the station and one about 4 miles west. I was told that the second one was in better condition.
Aren joined me to take video. We flew over some spectacular cliffs just past the border into Western Australia and headed off to Kunanarra. We landed and Lenne' arrived just 20 minutes later. We gained 1.5 hours crossing into WA so we felt we had some time to play. It was off to town where we found the city pool that offered a water slide and other activities for the kids. We stopped at the local shopping area for lunch and supplies and it was off for a swim. The kids were having a great time so we decided to stay the night to give our bodies a rest and adjust to the time change.
Day 68 - Sunday, September 24 - KUNANARRA TO HALLS CREEK (171 NM for 3.2 hours flown)
We are at the eastern border of the time zone so the sun sets early but rises early. This means an earlier bedtime and an earlier start in the morning without groggy kids. We were airborne at 7:30 with Aren as my passenger. More spectacular country to fly over, deep gorges and jagged cliffs dominated the area. We flew south over the western end of Lake Argyle, Australia's largest expanse of freshwater. We continued south and flew over the huge open pit Argyle diamond mine, which produces 35% of the worlds, mostly industrial grade, diamonds. We landed at a Turkey Creek to refuel and we were off again tracking just west of Bungle Bungle National Park. I didn't have the fuel to complete the required circuit in the park so we enjoyed the scenery of the steep gorges and chasms from 3500 ft just outside the park.
From there it was a straight shot to Halls Creek where we landed and stayed for the night. We actually arrived in time to complete another leg to Fitzroy Crossing but extended our lunch break too long to go on. With sunset around 5:30, trying to make a three-hour leg, and possibly a fuel stop, we would have to start earlier than 2PM.
Day 69 - Monday, September 25 - HALLS CREEK TO BROOME with stops at Fitzroy Crossing and Derby (364 NM for 7.0 hours flown)
Our longest day so far. The heat is getting to us, especially Tim. And with beautiful beaches within a days reach we pushed hard to get there. Tim was my passenger. We left Halls Creek at 7:15 and were able to make the 143 NM flight to Fitzroy Crossing without refueling, a 10 kt tailwind helped. I followed the road most of the way, even though it took me on a southerly course and added an extra 30 minutes to my flight. I tried to get permission to land at an airstrip that was just over halfway to Fitzroy but it was owned by a mining company and because we came in late Sunday afternoon and left early Monday morning, I couldn't contact anyone. We stopped at Fitzroy for enough time to eat and refuel.
Aren was my passenger for the 124 NM flight to Derby. The wind started to blow out of the west now so we were going slower. Curtin was my divert field if I started to run low on fuel before reaching Derby. We landed in Derby late afternoon and the humidity was on full. Lenne' arrived an hour after us and I thought for sure she was not going to want to drive anymore. To my surprise she was anxious to get to Broome. Luckily I just refueled with AVGAS and was ready to go. It was three hours before sunset and the 88 NM to Broome should have only taken less than two hours.
Airborne again with Tim this time the wind was a steady 15 kts out of the west adding an extra 45 minutes or so to the flight. I landed in Broome 45 minutes before sunset and Lenne' arrive just after sunset. It was off to find a place to stay for the night in the dark. We drove around for about an hour, found a Best Western, checking in, ordered dinner and relaxed.
Day 70 - Tuesday, September 26 - BROOME
No long trips today. This was a day to enjoy the beach. We headed off to Cable Beach only to find that the west wind didn't just delay my flight yesterday, it blew in jellyfish, thousands and thousands of them. They were called smelly jellies by locals and gave a bit of a sting. We didn't stay too long on the beach. Back to town to do some shopping and it was back to the hotel to enjoy the pool. That night it was off to see X-Men at the Sun Pictures outdoor theater. What a beautiful tropical night sitting in chairs under the stars watching a movie! The shocking surprisehe came in the middle of the movie when a big plane flew low overhead as it came in for landing at the local runway,
Day 71 - Wednesday, September 27 - BROOME
Everyone needs to take a break now and then and this was the time for us. We stayed another day in Broome. We enjoyed lazing around the pool, walking around in Chinatown, stopping at the beach to see the camels and another night at the movies!
Day 72 - Thursday, September 28 - BROOME TO PARDOO STATION (264 NM for 5.1 hours flown)
Time to get moving. We left Broome intending to make it to Port Hedlow, unfortunately the wind had other ideas. Aren was my passenger. We checked the weather at the Broome meteorology station and were told that the morning low clouds were burning off and the wind should be northwest at 10-15 kts. Not what I wanted to hear. I was heading in a westerly direction and the flight to Sandfire Roadhouse, our refueling stop about halfway between Broome and Port Hedland, was just at the edge of my range with a headwind component. I decided to stay along the road and not fly the beach. The coastal area just south of Broome was a mangrove swamp and not the fine sandy beaches I expected, they were a bit further south. When we were on our course getting bumped around by the turbulence, I regretted not flying along the beach in the smooth air. I was also wondering if my fuel consumption would have been better if I avoided the turbulence. Oh well, there will be more beaches and trying to head back to the beach into a direct headwind would definitely burn my reserve fuel so we pushed on making 40 kts groundspeed with 55 kts indicated. It was another long flight and we landed with just over 5 liters of fuel.
Aren and I ate lunch and called the Pardoo Station, to ask permission to land at their airstrip. The airstrip was listed in the AOPA book as a place to fish, bird watch, go shelling, or just relax at the homestead. Sounded great to me. I was given approval but told not to fly too low over the station because the stockyard was full of cattle. Pardoo was about 40 miles before Port Hedland and it also had a caravan park so we decided to make that our stop for the night. Lenne' arrived at Sandfire so we refueled and I showed Lenne' and the boys where Pardoo was on the map. No one wanted to join me on this leg so I took off solo. This time I headed for the beach and got a much smoother ride despite the 15- 20 kt headwind. It took almost 2 hours to get to Pardoo.
I found the airstrip but couldn't raise Lenne' and the boys on the radio. The Homestead is located about six miles off the highway and I wasn't sure if they knew where the turnoff was so I flew back over the highway to look for them. I still had about an hour of fuel and thought it best to make sure they knew where I was before I landed. Just as I approached the highway I spotted the motor home. They were just a few miles from the road to Pardoo Homestead but they were heading away from it. Fortunately, they pulled over when they spotted me. I called on the radio again and told them to flash the headlights if they could hear me. The lights came on so I told them to go back and I would direct them to the station.
I landed at the airstrip, which was a section of the old road, and a herd of cattle hurried across the runway as I was completing my landing roll. I refueled and as I was tying the Xair down, the cattle started to come back to have a look at this noisy machine that disrupted their afternoon. Lenne' drove ahead and checked in at the station. What a great stop. Tim was extatic! They had calves that he could pet, a pet Emu, plenty of frogs, lots of bugs swimming in the pool, and a couple of dogs. We ate dinner, watched the sunset, and went to bed under a beautiful night sky full of stars.
Day 73 - Friday, September 29 - PARDOO HOMESTEAD TO KARRATHA with a stop at PORT HEDLAND (183 NM for 3.3 hours flown)
Sungie was my passenger for this leg. We chased a few of the cattle off the dusty airstrip and were off. It was a relatively short distance to our next fuel stop at Port Hedland and there was a tailwind so we had time to do a bit of flightseeing over the beaches and the scrubland. We arrived in Port Hedland in time for lunch in the air-conditioned terminal restaurant and got a tour of the Flying Doctor aircraft and watched a video about the Flying Doctor & School of the Air around the Pilbara.
Aren joined me on the second leg. It was an uneventful flight and we landed at Karratha around 3:30 and Lenne' arrived about 1 hour later. While we were waiting, Jon Johanson landed in his RV-4. Jon just came in from the Cocos Islands and was on his final leg of his around the world flight. I better finish this trip first and then maybe... We rushed off to get some groceries and checked in at a caravan park. That night we all went to see the musical "Cats" at the Karratha Entertainment Center. We had been following the show, composed of 65 black buses and trucks, around the country but missed them by a day or two. We ran into the crew at the Mataranka Resort and, while we were soaking in the thermal pool, we talked for a while with a couple of the organizers. Well, we finally caught up to them while they were performing and enjoyed their show in far Western Australia.
Day 74 - Saturday, September 30 - KARRATHA TO ONSLOW (119 NM for 2.6 hours flown)
We got a late start because we were up later than usual for the show the night before. I also had to do some routine maintenance on the Rotax engine. Aren was my passenger and we were airborne just after lunch. The wind had been blowing east all morning so we were hoping for a fast flight. Unfortunately, the wind shifted out of the west about 30 minutes into the flight and we bucked a 14 kt headwind for the rest of the flight. We landed at the lonely dirt airstrip at Onslow and waited over two hours for Lenne' to arrive. There was no direct road to Onslow so the drive was a bit longer. We were anxious to go to a nice beach and go swimming and the tourist brochures all stated that the beaches were great for swimming. When we saw the beach, we didn't agree and skipped the swim.
Day 75 - Sunday, October 1 - ONSLOW TO CORAL BAY with a drive to EXMOUTH (116 NM for 2.2 hours flown)
Lenne' wanted to leave early to beat the afternoon heat but the two gas stations in town weren't opened until 8 AM. So we made all preparations to depart before 8:00, topped off the tank at the gas station and drove back to the airstrip. We could have been airborne by 8:30 but a couple from the Adelaide area arrived so we chatted for 30 minutes. We usually always put our schedule on hold to talk to people.
Tim was my co-pilot for this leg and the scenery on this two- hour flight was very similar to what we had been flying over for the past three day, various shades of green scrub punctuated by brown salt flats. The big difference was at the end of the flight, when we reached the coast and flew over the turquoise waters of the Ningaloo Reef. Truly spectacular!
We landed at the small salt flat runway of Maude Landing and secured the Xair. We weren't expecting Lenne', Aren, and Sungie for at least two more hours so Tim and I walked the short distance to the town of Coral Bay. We had prepared for the wait by packing swimsuits. We walked into the first dive shop and booked a dive for the next day only to find that we arrived during a school holiday and the small town was bustling with people. There were only a few powered sites left in the extremely crowded caravan parks and the hotel was booked. We were hoping to stay at a hotel and found out that there were accommodations at Exmouth so we made reservations, changed the dive schedule to dive Exmouth on Monday and Coral Bay on Tuesday. Fortunately it was the same dive company so the switch was relatively easy.
Tim and I ate lunch and went for a quick swim while we waited for Lenne'. They arrived just after 3 PM, in time for another dip before driving north to Exmouth. We saw our first wild emus on the drive. We arrived in Exmouth and checked into the dive shop and hotel.
Day 76 - Monday, October 2 - NINGALOO REEF DIVE
Aren, Sungie, and I arrived at the Exmouth Dive Center at 7:45 to prepare for our two boat dives on the Ningaloo Reef. There was no snorkeling on this trip so Lenne' and Tim stayed behind. We loaded gear and were driven a few kilometers to the boat only to find the skipper was not there. A quick change of plans for the Dive Center and we were off with a substitute skipper. As we were motoring out to the dive site I enquired about the visibility and to my surprise found out it was only 12 meters. Not what I expected for a coral reef, but we made two dives and saw a variety of fish. See the Dive Log for more details and pictures of these dives. We arrived back at the hotel at 2 PM, checked out and drove back to Coral Bay.
Day 77-78 - Tuesday & Wednesday, October 3-4 - CORAL BAY REEF DIVES, SNORKELING AND SNUBA
We lazed around the resort and beaches Tuesday morning and that afternoon we went on a SCUBA charter to the Ningaloo Reef just off Coral Bay. Larry, Aren and Sungie did two reef dives while Lenne' and Tim snorkeled around the coral bomies. Our charter was onboard a small open boat. The wind was blowing about 15 kts and the water was pretty choppy, fortunately, the boat ride wasn't very long as the reef comes to within meters of the beach and extends just a few miles offshore. The visibility in Coral Bay was better than the dives at Exmouth but not as good as the Great Barrier Reef. However, the coral formations were much more diverse than the Great Barrier Reef and there were plenty of fish. Go to the Dive Log for pictures. After diving we were pretty tired so we went back to the hotel room for dinner.
That evening a band was scheduled to play at the bar right outside of our room and a party atmosphere started to grow throughout the evening. No sense trying to get any rest. We went out to enjoy the music and to meet some new people. We joined two couples and their families who come to Coral Bay from the interior of Western Australia every year. We had a great time chatting and by 11PM the band stopped and things started to quiet down.
On Wednesday morning Tim and Sungie tried the Sensational New Underwater Breathing Adventure (SNUBA). SNUBA enables people who are not certified divers to experience the fantastic underwater world using a four meter breathing hose that is connected to a tank that floats on a raft that is towed around by a dive instructor. Tim and Sungie dove to 12 feet just off the beach. For 40 minutes they dove around the many coral and fish. We were having so much fun on the beautiful beach that we rented two glass bottom canoes after lunch. We paddled upwind just a few hundred meters offshore and then floated downwind over the coral reef. Of course a trip to Coral Bay wouldn't be complete unless you see it from the air, so Larry took Lenne' flight-seeing over clear, blue water and white sandy beaches.
That evening we took an ATV sunset tour along the beach. But even paradise has wind and it started to blow that afternoon. Winds up to 20 kts blew out of the south and continued to be strong throughout the evening. I was getting concerned about making the 110 NM leg to Carnarvon the next day until I called Brisbane for a weather brief. Apparently the winds above 4000 ft were blowing out of the northwest and with the cooler temperatures we were experiencing around Coral Bay, I would be able to keep a climb going without overheating the engine. I went to bed feeling more comfortable about the flight.
Day 79 - Thursday, October 5 - CORAL BAY TO MONKEY MIA with a stop at CARNARVON (185 NM for 3.8 hours flown)
It was still blowing pretty strong when we woke up so I called for another wind check. At 3000 ft the wind was blowing 200 deg at 15 kts but at 8000 ft it was blowing 300 deg at 20 kts. All I had to do was climb till I lost the headwind component. Aren was my passenger and photographer for this leg. We took off from Maude's landing just before 9 AM and the GPS started calculating our time and distance. It was going to take just under 3 hours to complete the 110 NM leg. I wasn't going to make Carnarvon with these winds but we stayed at 500 for the first few miles so we could video the waves crashing on the beach, the colorful cliffs, and the coral formations. My direct course to Carnarvon was going to take me directly over, the 100 km long by 40 km wide, Lake MacLeod. When we arrived just north of the lake I started to climb to 4500 ft and watched the groundspeed on the GPS start to increase. Not only did I get a tailwind but also the air temperature actually increased a few degrees and there was no turbulence.
Carnarvon was now only 1.5 hours away and I had plenty of fuel left. We landed at Carnarvon and I fueled up. Lenne' arrived just about an hour after I landed and while we ate lunch we discussed whether we should move on to Shark Bay or stay a night at Carnarvon. It was only 60 NM direct flight but it was a lot longer drive for Lenne'. I also had a 15 NM open water crossing over Shark Bay. We decided to go on and I took Tim with me. I took off and climbed to 8500 ft staying along the shore till abeam Monkey Mia and just north of Faure Island. I figured if the engine quit on me, I could go east, west, or south to glide to land. I made the crossing with no problems and we landed at Shark Bay airstrip just after 3 PM. Lenne' didn't arrive until 6 PM. We drove the remaining 18 km to the Monkey Mia Resort, had dinner and went to bed.
Day 80 - Friday, October 6 - MONKEY MIA SAILING
"Monkey Mia Reserve, in Shark Bay's World Heritage Area, is a landscape of contrasts from the red windblown sand dunes of the arid hinterland to the white beaches and sparkling ocean waters. It is a place where people can observe the wildlife and experience the heritage of Monkey Mia. More importantly, it is the place of a rare and special experience - where dolphins interact and share their natural environment with visitors. Up to three adult female dolphins and their calves visit the beach most days but more than 70 other dolphins have been identified by researchers in the Monkey Mia area. About a dozen of these dolphins visit irregularly and venture quite close to the shore." It is truly a beautiful place and that morning we woke to experience the dolphin encounter.
But as the morning wore on, the wind started to blow. We left the heat behind but now we have the wind. It was blowing 30 kts with gust to 34 kts. Glad we weren't planning on flying today. I called Perth weather to see if it was going to let up on Saturday and was told the wind would be around until Sunday. The locals thought it was unusual for the wind to last more than 2 days but this is the windy season on the western most town of Western Australia and it could blow until February. The wind doesn't make a good day for flying an ultralight, but it does make good sailing weather. So a-sailing we went on board the "Aristocat 2", a 17.7- meter luxury sailing catamaran to see turtles, dugongs, and dolphins. For a few extra dollars, the afternoon wildlife adventure cruise included a sunset cruise so we took advantage of the offer and went on both cruises. On the afternoon cruise, we saw several dugongs, the only herbivorous marine mammals in Australia waters. The dugongs look something like the manatee except that their tail is more whale like. They are also bigger and can reach lengths of 3 meters and weights of up to 420 kg. There is an estimated population of between 10,000 and 16,000 in Shark Bay. We also saw a few turtles and the famous dolphins of Monkey Mia. While on the sunset cruise, several dolphins raced along the bow of the catamaran while we stood on the bow looking directly below at the playful creatures.
Day 81 - Saturday, October 7, SHARK-BAY TO KALBARRI with a stop at the BILLABONG ROADHOUSE (161 NM for 3.8 hours flown)
It was still blowing when we woke up. A call to Perth weather stated that the wind should let up by afternoon so we waited until 11:30 before heading off to the airport. By noon the wind had decreased a bit so I decided to try for Kalbarri with Tim as my passenger. The wind at altitude was reported to be less than the surface wind and veering off to the north so I was planning to climb to 9500 ft and take advantage of a tailwind like we did when flying to Carnarvon. Just after take off, a commercial flight was arriving from Perth. I asked what the wind was doing at 10,000 ft and was told it was northerly at four knots. That was good news so I kept climbing to 9500 ft. And man, did it get cold! I put on two jackets and even put on gloves. Tim wrapped himself in all the clothes he brought and was still cold. The other problem was that I was only showing 40 kts groundspeed on the GPS and the time to go to Kalbarri was going backwards, reading two hours then two hours, ten minutes. I wasn't making any time. The headwind must be increasing and I was losing groundspeed. I was still more than 80 miles from Kalbarri. The climb cost me almost 20 liters of fuel and I wasn't going to make it to Kalbarri with that kind of headwind. I decided to divert to the Billabong Roadhouse, just 40 miles away, and started a descent. I couldn't get Lenne' on the radio so I made a call in the blind telling them I was diverting and hoping they could at least hear me at this altitude.
I landed at the Billabong and walked the short distance to the gas station. Lenne' was nowhere in sight and I guessed they already passed the roadhouse. I asked the owner if he had fuel cans that I could borrow. He was more than helpful. Not only did he let me borrow two 20-liter gas cans, he even let me borrow a trolley so I didn't have to carry the gas cans to the airstrip. Just after I fueled, Lenne' drove up. Good timing because I needed some 2 cycle oil also. Aren was going to fly this leg and Kalbarri was now only 60 miles away. I stayed below 5000 ft this time and was only making 35 to 40 kts of groundspeed. It took me 1.8 hours to go the 60 miles and there was a fair bit of turbulence. We landed at Kalbarri, tied the Xair to the screwits and as we started walking to the road, we heard Sungie's and Tim's voices on Talkabout. They pulled up and we watched the sunset from the top of the hill where the airstrip was located. The wind was blowing about 15 kts, it was getting cold and we were all tired and hungry. We decided to just stay at the quite airstrip for the night.
Day 82 - Sunday, October 8, - KALBARRI
It was still blowing when we woke up and refreshingly cool. We ate breakfast and started driving to town only to stop for a hike along the spectacular gorges along the coast. We couldn't tear ourselves away from watching the breaking surf along the steep cliffs. The two-week school holiday was ending today so Kalbarri was quite and hotel prices were reasonable so we checked into a hotel. That afternoon Lenne' and I drove up the coast to see a few of the gorges we missed in the morning and left the boys at the hotel. It was a very relaxing day in spite of the strong wind that started to blow in the afternoon. If the wind doesn't let up tomorrow, we won't mind spending another day here.
Day 83 - Monday, October 9 - KALBARRI TO DONGARA with a stop at GERALDTON (107 NM for 2.9 hours flown) Almost three hours to go a mere 107 nautical miles. You could say we had a headwind and it doesn't seem to want to let up! When Aren and I left Kalbarri it was blowing 20 kts out of the southeast, almost a direct headwind so we were only going 35-40 kts across the ground. Fortunately, because we were over low-lying farm fields and sand dunes, the turbulence was almost non-existent. When we landed at Geraldton it was blowing 20 kts-25 kts directly down runway 12 so I could have almost hovered the Xiar over the runway. We fueled up and Lenne', Sungie, and Tim arrived. Time to take a break and see some of the town. We did some grocery shopping and took some pictures of the Byzantine-style St. Francis-Xavier Cathedral designed by Monsignor John Hawes. The cathedral has beautiful twin towers with one containing the exposed bell tower, a large central dome, and a coned roofed tower. The interior has Romanesque columns with huge arches beneath an octagonal dome. We also spent some time at the Maritime Museum and watched a video on the re-enactment of the Batavia disaster. June 4, 1629 the Batavia went aground on a reef near the Houtman Abrolhos Islands off the coast of Geraldton. The 250 survivors, of the original 316 men, women and children on board, set up camp, began the search for water, sent off a rescue party to Jakarta in the ship's boat and waited. It took three months for a rescue party to arrive, and in that time a mutiny, led by Jeronimus Cornelisz, had taken place. Cornelisz's strategy was to isolate civilian survivors from the soldiers by sending the soldiers to another island, ostensibly to search for water. Then he murdered about 120 survivors who were unwilling to cooperate with his wishes. When the rescue party arrived the ringleaders were hanged and two mutineers were unceremoniously dumped on the coast just south of Kalbarri. Pretty amazing story so we had to buy the book "Voyage to Disaster" by Henrietta Drake-Brockman. It was approaching 3 PM and we wanted to get a bit further south. With the strong headwind and only three hours of daylight remaining, we couldn't go far. Dongara was only 35 NM south so we headed there. I'm glad the configuration of the Xair is the same as the helicopters I used to fly, stick in the right hand and throttle (collective) in the left. This landing reminded me of hovering over a pitching boat while my crewman tried to weave a rescue basket through the rigging. I had to constantly make adjustments with the stick and throttle to get the light aircraft on deck. Just as I thought I had the landing assured, a gust of wind would lift a wing or try to slam me to the ground. I took almost half the runway to get down and I finally greased the Xair on the gravel strip. The airstrip at Dongara is just two km south of Port Denison and less than 500 meters from the beautiful white beaches. Lenne' and the boys arrived just as Aren and I tied the Xair up. We drove around town for a bit looking at some of the old buildings. We stopped and made dinner by the jetty while we enjoyed watching fishermen and a pleasant sunset. It was starting to get dark so we headed back to the quiet airstrip for the night.
Day 84 - Tuesday, October 10 - DONGARA TO PEARCE (PERTH) with a stop at CERVANTES We woke up and I couldn't believe it - it wasn't blowing! Aren and I prepared the Xiar for the flight to Cervantes and lifted off with just 5 kts of wind. We flew along the spectacular coastline and had time for a few touch and go landings at Freeman and Jurian Bay. The wind started to pick up before we reached Cervantes and I checked the GPS to see how long it would take to fly to Perth. I was pleased to see one hour and 45 minutes. We landed at Cervantes and Lenne', Sungie, and Tim showed up within the hour. We drove to see the Pinnacles Desert at Nambung National Park. The Pinnacles Desert consists of thousands of limestone pillars that rise up to four meters tall from the yellow sand that surround them. They are very eerie to look at yet an amazing sight none the less. Tim was my passenger for the leg to Perth. We took off and I started heading south along the coast. It didn't seem like the wind picked up much since we landed but the GPS was showing it would take almost three hours to fly the 107 NM to Perth. I called Lenne' and told her I couldn't make the flight and I was going to go back to the airport. I asked her to meet me there. I didn't get a reply so I started flying east to intercept them at the highway 1. I never did find them so I thought they were ahead of me and didn't get my message. I started making a turn back to Cervantes and when I was heading toward Perth, the GPS was showing the flight would take one hour and 50 minutes. I still had plenty of fuel so I continued on toward Perth. As I flew further south, the country below me was slowly changing to green pastures with sheep scurrying away from the strange yellow bird flying overhead. I was abeam GinGin airport and started making my way back to the coast to avoid flying through the Perth Control Zone. As I made my way west, my groundspeed started to decrease and I was concerned about my fuel consumption. I called Pearce Control and asked if I could land at GinGin and refuel. I was told that I could if I declared an emergency. I still had enough fuel to make it to Jandakot but not much to spare so I kept going and didn't declare an emergency. I also could have flown back to Lancelin, a small town along the coast north of Perth. I decided against that plan as Lenne' would have had difficulty finding me and she would have had to drive almost all the way to Perth and back up the coast over 40 miles. The closer I got to the coast, the slower my groundspeed was and the more fuel I burned. The GPS went from a 45-minute flight to a one-hour flight, then one hour ten minute flight. I wasn't going to make it to Jandakot and called Pearce Control stating my predicament. I was given approval to land at Pearce. I also requested they call Lenne' and tell her of my change of plans. As I approached the airfield, I was given approval for a right base to runway 18 left. I taxied over to parking and was directed to a parking spot. They took good care of Tim and me until Lenne' arrived an hour after sunset. The controller also came down to meet me and told me he had gotten in touch with Lenne' at Cervantes. I guess they heard my original message and went back to the airstrip and waited. Lenne' told me she knew I probably had another change of plans when I didn't arrive, but waited there for a phone call. The phone was working at Cervantes and probably would not have worked on the highway to Perth. So why did I keep going? When I was a few miles away from the coast, there was no more sea breeze and when I called Perth earlier, I was told the weather there was "lovely" with less than 10 kts of wind. I was hoping I could get south of the stronger breeze by flying inland and didn't expect to get 30 kts of wind just north of Perth. The head wind got me again. One of these flights I will have to get a tailwind.
Day 85 - Wednesday, October 11 - PERTH We woke up in the middle of the night to the sound of rain on the motor home roof and the smell of smoke in the air. Looks like another interesting day ahead. I drifted off to sleep again and woke up by 6 AM hoping to get the Xair out of Pearce before the Control Zone went into effect at 8:00. We still needed to get fuel and as we were driving north on the highway, I noticed that the visibility from the smoke was pretty bad. I called Perth weather and was told that the smoke from the fire had reduced the visibility to less than 5000 meters and could be worse in places but should clear later in the morning. Oh well, so much for an early start. We headed off to town to look for a place to stay and to see some of Perth. The smoke started to clear as predicted but dark clouds and strong winds started to develop. Looks like a no fly day. I called Pearce security and asked if I could keep the plane there for another night, "no worries, mate" was the reply. We checked into a hotel for the night.
Day 86 - Thursday, October 12 - PERTH Today was the day to get the Xair from Pearce to Jandakot in Perth. Lenne' Aren, and I set out from the hotel to Pearce RAAF. We arrived at 11AM and I called for clearance out of the Pearce control zone. I was told I could leave during lunch at 1130. We refueled the Xair and I was cleared to depart west to Burns Beach below 1500 ft. Once at Burns Beach I flew south along the VFR corridor to Fremantle, took a few pictures of the Perth skyline, called tower, located the Powerhouse, flew direct to Jandakot, entered a right downwind to runway 24 R, and cleared to land. An easy flight, yet the busiest airport that I've been at with the Xair. Hundreds of small planes were parked there and there were several in the pattern. I parked at the light aircraft parking in the grass, and was tying the small yellow aircraft down, when Aren called on the Talkabout. We kept talking to each other to find out where we were among the maze of small aircraft repair shops, flight schools, and charters. We finally found each other and it was back to the hotel for lunch. After lunch, Lenne' and I drove off to see Allan Grigo, the Xair dealer in Perth, to pick up a new airspeed indicator, exhaust springs, and 20 liters of Penrite 2 cycle oil. Alan Richards, a friend of Allan's, also showed up to meet with us and we spent a few hours talking about the trip. Allan even let me wash down the week's worth of crude that accumulated on the motor home. Water was precious along the northwestern coast of Western Australia so we hadn't washed the dust and bugs off in a while. Lenne' and I went back to the hotel to feed the kids and spent time debugging the computer. I had the Kak worm for a while and, with Alan Richards tips, I think I finally got rid of it. Sorry if I infected anyone but the worm seems to be more of a nuisance than harmful.
Day 87 - Friday, October 13 - PERTH I spent the morning and a bit of the afternoon with Allan doing maintenance on the Xair. The tacho was just past 100 hours and the Rotax needed to have the gearbox oil changed, spark plugs replaced, new exhaust springs installed, new coolant added, the air filter recharged, and a new airspeed indicator installed. That evening we went out to dinner at the kids' favorite restaurant. Day 88 - Saturday, October 14 - PERTH We decided to spend another day in Perth and see more of the city. We went to the Museum of Western Australia, the Art Museum, and the Burswood Resort. Then we loaded up with groceries, and finished the evening with a movie. After the movie we drove back to Jandakot Airport and spent the night so we could get an early start in the morning.
Day 89, Sunday, October 15 - PERTH TO BUSSELTON with a stop at BUNBURY (129 NM for 2.5 hours flown) I woke up in the night to the sound of gusting wind. Seems we can't escape the bloody wind! Woke again at sunrise and it was still blowing about 20 kts out of the east. I wanted to get out of the Jandakot area before the tower opened and beat the mass of small planes that would be flying on a fine but windy Sunday morning. So I taxied the Xair closer to where the motor home was parked, fueled up, did a pre-flight, woke Aren up, and departed just before 8 AM. One Cessna beat me to the takeoff but otherwise the airport was quiet. I took off on runway 12 and departed to the west to pick up the coast, then started down the coast. The wind was almost due east so at times I actually had a tailwind. Just over Mandurah, Aren spotted the large black, multi-pointed tent that the play "CATS" uses to do their shows. Looks like we are finally in front of the road show. We made good time to Bunbury and even had time for a few circuits. When we arrived Brendan Watts greeted us. Brendan is the owner of Southwest Microlights and he showed Aren and I his meticulously keep Microlights and we chatted about the microlight and ultralight business. Brendan even owns a beautiful red Thruster and he hopes to be able to get into teaching and selling Ultralights. "Good luck with the ultralights, Brendan. And thanks for torqueing my prop and for the tips on maintaining the Rotax." Lenne' showed up and it was off to the Dolphin Discovery Center at Bunbury. The center is located on Koombana beach, another dolphin interaction zone. We didn't stay around to "swim with the dolphins" this time, apparently they hadn't come close to the beach in a few days, but we had an enjoyable time at the center watching a video on dolphin behavior and learning about the dolphins of Koombana Bay. Tim and I went for a quick swim in the 18 deg C water and it was back to the airport. Sungie joined me for the short flight to Busselton. We flew along the coast and Sungie spotted two dolphins swimming in the clear water. We reached Busselton and flew over the 2 km pier. The pier, or jetty in Australia, was reported to be the longest timber jetty in Australia. We took a few photos and landed on the 1800-meter long runway at Busselton. Sungie spotted the motor home driving up to the airport while we were on downwind. Looks like we don't have to wait for the family on this leg. We taxied up to the flying club and tied the Xair down in the grass. I went into the flying club and met Ian Stevenson, the Airport Safety & Operations Manager. Ian offered to put the Xair in his hangar so I accepted. I untied the Xair and taxied over to his hangar. The Xair just fit in front of his Cessna and Peter Hale's Piper. We were even told that if we stayed the night at the airport we could use the club bathroom complete with a hot shower, an offer too good to refuse. We drove into town to find out about diving on the HMS SWAN wreck. We arranged two dives on Monday out of Busselton. We found a great playground for Tim and while the boys played, mom and dad made dinner. After dinner we took a walk out along the jetty and watch the stars come out while we tried to stay warm against the fresh sea breeze.
Day 90 - Monday, October 16 - DUNSBOROUGH and DIVING ON THE HMS SWAN
An early start to make the 8AM dive appointment in Dunsborough, a 20-minute drive. Up at six, a quick shower, and we were off. We arrived early and had breakfast at a beachfront park. At 8, Aren, Sungie, and I checked in at the dive shop, fitted our gear, signed a release, and were given the dive brief on the wreck by our dive master Shelley Blyth. The 113 meter long, 23 meter high, HMAS SWAN was sunk in 30 meters of water in Geographe Bay on Dec 14, 1997 and was prepared specifically for diving. The SWAN is reported to be the largest prepared dive wreck in the Southern Hemisphere. (I wish we could get something like this in Juneau.) See our Dive Log for more information and pictures of this spectacular dive. Sungie wasn't able to equalize his ears on this dive so he returned to the boat. After the dives we set off for a 4 km hike around Cape Naturaliste. The wind was howling 30 kts out of the east. Glad I wasn't going flying today. The hike centered around the lighthouse and from the vantage point Lenne' and I spotted two Humpback whales breaching in the frothy seas. It was a pleasant hike but Tim was anxious to get back to Busselton so he could have another chance to play in the wonderful playground. That night, Ian called and asked if it would be all right if the local paper came out in the morning and did an article on the family who is going around Australia in an ultralight. I said yes!
Day 91 - Tuesday, October 17 - BUSSELTON TO MARGARET RIVER around CAPE NATURALISTE (58 NM for 1.1 hours flown)
Ian and his wife showed up just as I finished breakfast. It was time for the kids to get ready for picture taking and talking to the reporter about our adventure. Derek Pool, the photographer from the Busselton-Margaret River Times, showed up at 8:30 followed by the reporter, Del Ambrosius. We pulled the Xair out of Ian's hangar and drove the motor home along side. Del asked questions about our travels and Derek took a few pictures. We will post the report as soon as it is available. With so many things to do and see on the southwest coast we now had to decide where to go from Busselton. We decided to go to Margaret River and check out the Tauton Farm Caravan Park. The park is on a working farm so the kids could have a chance to interact with farm animals. The farm was on the way to Margaret River so Lenne' could stop by and check in before picking me up at the airstrip. Meanwhile Aren and I took off and flew west to the Cape before heading south along the cliff-lined coast. It was a short flight so we had time to flight-see before landing at the Margaret River airstrip. Lenne' arrived and Tim rushed out to tell me that they checked into the Tauton Farm Caravan Park and we had to hurry to get there before 1PM to see sheep shearing. I tied the Xair down and we drove the short distance to the park. We arrived in time to meet the manager, Neville Criddle, and soon we were sitting in the back of his pickup truck driving over to the sheep sheering shed. Neville has recently retired from 40 years of shearing sheep, so he was a wonderful guide. It was a great experience to meet the farm owner, Rob Saunders, to see the sheep shearing in action and to learn about the different qualities of wool that sheep produce. The caravan park was a very relaxing place and with the mild temperatures and beautiful greenery, we felt comfortable in the surroundings.
Day 92 - Wednesday, October 18 - MARGARET RIVER TO AUGUSTA with two sightseeing flights over CAPE LEEUWIN (42 NM for 1.1 hours flown)
We had a short flight and drive to Augusta so we had time to explore the area. First we stopped at a deer farm and picked up some meat for dinner. Tim wanted to pet more animals so we found a well-stocked animal farm. Tim, Sungie, and Lenne' went to the farm to pet the animals while Larry and Aren stayed behind to do flight planning. Next it was off to find one of the fancy wineries in the area that we'd been told about and enjoy their elaborate garden. Finally, the boys wanted to go horseback riding and we found a ranch where they could ride. Back to the airport and Tim and I flew the coast to Augusta. We rounded Cape Leeuwin, the southwestern most point in Australia where the Indian Ocean and the Southern Ocean meet. It was a beautiful afternoon so I wanted to take Lenne' flying to see the Cape from the air. I dropped Tim off and picked up Lenne'. We landed and drove over to the lighthouse to watch the sunset while we made dinner. As darkness set in we watched the stars brighten and the light from the lighthouse illuminate the two oceans.
Day 93 - Thursday, October 19 - AUGUSTA TO WALPOLE (99 NM for 1.1 hours flown)
We spent the night at the airport so we didn't have to drive when we woke up. I stepped out of the motor home and was elated when the windsock was pointing to the southeast. I couldn't believe I was going to finally have a tailwind! The north wind also brought some warmer air so it was off with the jackets. I was getting ready to depart when Al from the Augusta Flying Club pulled-up. We talked for a while and it was time to go.
Tim joined me and I taxied down the runway. I noticed strong fuel fumes and pulled over to see if I left the cap off the gas tank. I was sure I put it on so I almost departed without checking. Glad I checked. The cap vibrated loose and wasn't tightening. The plastic threads were worn and the cap would not hold. I taxied back and Al was still there. He drove me to town to get some plumbers tape and I called Lenne' on his mobile. Fortunately, she was at the gas station in town so I had Al drop me off to meet her. I bought a roll of plumbers tape and we drove back to the airport. I secured the cap with some duct tape and we were ready to go. Hopefully I can get a new cap in Albany. By now the wind had picked up but was still out of the northwest. We were airborne by 10:00 and I started along the coast at 500 ft. I had a strong direct cross wind as I made my way around Flinders Bay so I was flying sideways to stay on course till I was on a south-easterly heading. There was a fair bit of turbulence so I climbed to 3500 ft and headed direct to Windy Harbour. I think I hit a record for the Xair on this trip. I actually hit 89 kts ground speed!
The coast was spectacular and I reached Windy Harbour in just over 30 minutes. From Windy Harbour I made my way to Cliffy Head before heading inland to find the airstrip. The Walpole airstrip was listed on my chart but wasn't in the ERSA or my AOPA airport guidebook. As I approached Walpole the airstrip was where it was listed on the chart. I flew an extended downwind over the town and landed. The airstrip was deserted and there was an empty hangar that looked vacated so I pushed the Xair in the hangar. Tim and I decided to walk to town rather than wait at the airstrip. We figured the drive would take over three hours. We left a note on the fence and headed down the dirt road. As we got closer to the main road there was a locked gate blocking access to the airstrip. It would be a long walk to the Xair if I had to carry 20 liters of fuel. We finally reached the main road and started walking toward town. We met a woman who was looking at wildflowers so I asked about the airstrip. She told me it was the Department of Conservation and Land Management's (CALM) strip and the office was just up the road. I stopped in and met Donna and Greg. I told them I just landed at their airstrip and was wondering if I could get the motor home there if I needed to fuel up. "No worries". We chatted for a while and it was time for lunch.
Just as we got on the road, Lenne', Sungie, and Aren pulled up. We were going to get lunch in town but saw a brochure for the Thurlby Herbal Farm and Tea Rooms. Looks like they served lunch and Lenne' was tired from the long drive over the windy, hilly roads. She needed a break and the Herbal Farm was just what was in store. We had lunch there and continued on to the "Tree Top Walk" in the "Valley of the Giants" in the Walpole-Nornalup National Park. This is a 420-meter long suspended steel walkway that was erected in the Tingle Forest Canopy and gets as high as 40 meters above the ground. After our walk among the giants it was time to head off to Peaceful Bay for a night of listening to the surf.
Day 94 - Friday, October 20 - WEATHERED IN AT WALPOLE - DRIVING TO ALBANY
It started out as a sunny morning. There was a fresh breeze out of the northwest with some cirrus clouds overhead. As the morning wore on, the cirrus clouds moved off to sea and the breeze picked up. We left Peaceful Bay and headed west to Walpole. The clouds started to thicken as we drove further west and by the time we reached Walpole it was raining heavily. Not a day to fly anywhere. I can deal with the wind on a clear day, but low clouds, low visibility in rain, and flying an ultralight, don't mix. I checked in with Greg at the CALM office and asked if the Xair would be all right in their hangar for another night. "No worries". We chatted a bit and decided to drive to Albany, find a nice hotel, and return for the Xair tomorrow. Once settle in at Albany I called John Lewis, Regional Operational Coordinator for the Australia Ultralight Federation in Western Australia. John was extremely helpful and arranged for Jerome Pilkington to fly me back to Walpole on Saturday in his RV-6 so I can fly the Xair to Albany saving Lenne' a three hour round trip drive. John even arranged hangar space for the Xair in Harold Clasen's hangar.
Day 95 - Saturday, October 21 - WALPOLE TO ALBANY (58 NM for 0.9 hours flown)
Jerome and John picked me up from the hotel first thing in morning and we drove to the airport. There were some showers in the area but the weather was certainly flyable. Jerome prepped his RV-6, strapped me in, and we were off to Walpole. We climbed below the clouds and headed west into a 10 kt headwind. What a difference flying at 140 kts! We made it to Walpole in about 20 minutes, making a pass down the runway before Jerome brought his RV6 smoothly down on to the gravel strip. We were stopped in about 400 meters and I could see the Xair sitting undisturbed in the hangar. It didn't take long before we were both airborne. Jerome flew a few miles and landed at his friend's strip just north of Walpole. I climbed to 2500 ft and headed direct to Albany, and with the 10 kt tailwind; I arrived in about 45 minutes. John was there to meet me when I landed. I also met several other pilots who were interested in our adventure. I fueled the Xair and taxied over to Harold's hangar. We put the Xair away and it was back to the hotel before meeting at Jerome's house for a traditional Australian barbeque. We had a great time, great food (thanks to Jerome's tender home grown beef and Wendy's wonderful salads), and wonderful people (Harold & Uta Clasen, John & Helen Lewis, John Woollett). Rosie, a cheerful woman Helen cares for, entertained us with a few dances and her photographs. Thanks Rosie. Jerome has four children the same ages as our kids, Joseph (10), Luke (13), Brooke (15) and Renee (16). So once they warmed up to one another, it was hard to leave. Several other people showed up and I showed a video on Bush Pilots of Alaska. We all had a great time and it was wonderful to meet a great group of people. Thanks all!
Day 96 - Sunday, October 22 - ALBANY - A DAY OF REST.
Lenne' was able to go to her church this morning, the kids went to play with the Pilkington family kids and I stayed in the hotel room trying to get rid of a cough I had picked up a few days before.
Day 97 - Monday, October 23 - ALBANY TO RAVENSTHORPE with a stop at JERRAMUNGUP (171 NM for 3.4 hours flown)
We checked out of our comfortable hotel and headed direct to Woolworths to pick up groceries to last us across the Nullarbor Plain. Harold and his lovely wife Uta caught up with us at the parking lot and wanted to know if they could help us with anything before we left. I was having trouble finding spark plugs at the auto stores and called a motorcycle shop to ask if they had what I needed. I knew I was going to have to change them in the middle of the Nullarbor and fortunately they had what I needed. Harold was kind enough to make the run to the cycle shop for me. Lenne' finished the grocery shopping and we were off to the airport to be greeted by John and Helen, Collin Mundy, Harold and Uta and the local reporter and photographer. Jerome and Wendy even delayed their trip to the farm to see us off. We didn't want to leave but if we were going to make it to Esperence we had to get started.
Aren was to join me and we took off north, bound under, overcast skies and a slight tailwind. I was intrigued by the line of jagged peaks of the Stirling Range that was just off our flight path. I plotted a new waypoint to the summit of the 3674 ft Bluff Knoll and deviated the course slightly to fly over the range and get some pictures. I couldn't believe I just spent three days in Albany just 40 miles from these mountains and didn't climb one. I was even angrier with myself when I flew over the summit and saw a nice hiking trail and people on the summit. We continued to Jerramungup and when I landed I was tempted to drive back to do some climbing but I didn't think anyone else would go along with my idea, maybe another time.
After landing, Harry, a local welder who had a house and welding shop along side of the runway, came out to great us and invite us for a cup of tea. We walked over to his house just as Lenne' pulled up with the motor home. Aren went to get her and tell her where we were. We finished our tea and went to meet Lenne'. We chatted for a while and again it was time to go. Once airborne and flying east my nemesis the headwind returned to slow me down. We landed at Ravensthorpe and didn't have enough time to continue on to Esperence. We drove into town for fuel, had dinner, and went back to the airport for the night, with plans for an early start in the morning. I fell asleep listening to the east wind blowing around the motor home.
Day 98 - Tuesday, October 24, RAVENSTHORPE TO ESPERENCE (98 NM for 2.1 hours flown)
Another flight with a headwind and turbulence. We left by 10 AM with Aren as my co-pilot. We climbed to 3500 ft and the air was a bit smoother but no change in the wind. I told Aren how to use the turbulence and lift to our advantage by riding the lift as high as it will take you and starting a decent to gain airspeed. It was a good way to make the time go by. We landed at Esperence at noon and called for fuel. Bill Lance showed up and asked if I was Larry. He said a woman with a foreign accent from Albany called and said I was coming. Must have been Uta. Bill didn't think I was going to land at Esperence and he told me most ultralights go to a small field just outside of town. I thought about moving but when Bill offered to let me put the Xair in a vacant hangar, I stayed put.
Lenne' showed up and we went to town. Lenne', Sungie, and Tim took advantage of the heated indoor pool at Esperence while I went to check the weather, look at a couple of the caravan parks, and fuel up the motor home. The afternoon went by rather quickly and it was time to get a place to stay. We found a nice cabin at Bather's Paradise, went for pizza, and relaxed for the night. John Lewis called and told me about one of his flight students, John Campbell, who has an ultralight and a caravan park at Fraser Range, just east of Norseman. Looks like a good destination for tomorrow.
Day 99 - Wednesday, October 25, ESPERENCE
We wanted to get an early start but as usual we poked around town in the morning getting supplies to last us crossing the Nullarbor and finally headed out to the airport before noon. I stopped at the meteorology station and talked with Jeff again about the forecast. Not much change since yesterday's report, the wind was blowing out of the north and was to continue. I was destined to have a headwind. I pulled the Xair out of the hangar, moved it closer to the motor home, and went inside for lunch. As I was eating my sandwich, I noticed that the wind had shifted from the west and increased enough to start moving the Xair.
I went outside just in time to grab hold as a strong gust of wind hit. I thought I could hold it down but when I noticed the front wheel coming off the ground, I got concerned. Then the left wheel lifted up and the Xair started flying backwards. I started to call out "Auntie Em, Auntie Em", but my mouth was full of food. I looked around and noticed the Xair heading for a tree. Then I heard a scream and expected to see the Wicked Witch of the West riding by on her bicycle, But it was the Good Witch, Lenne', who ran out to help, with the three Munchkins right behind. It took all five of us hanging on to hold the Xair on the ground. We were able to push it back to the hangar with only a small tear on the wing. Then it started to rain for about 10 minutes. I went over to see if Bill was around and to check the wind reading in his office. I found out that the wind had picked up to 30 kts with a peak gust of 41 kts. Bill also found the number for John and Heather Campbell at the Fraser Range. We waited for an hour hoping the wind would decrease as the trough went past. I decided to call Fraser Range and talked with Heather. She told me that the wind was gusting and that there were rain showers in the area. Time to go back to town and regroup. Sungie and Tim wanted to go swimming again so Lenne' and I took the opportunity to soak in the spa and take a sauna. We camped at the airport hoping for an early start in the morning.
Day 100 - Thursday, October 26 - ESPERENCE TO FRASER RANGE (114 NM for 1.9 hours flown)
The stars were shinning and there was no wind at 4AM so I rolled over and went back to sleep thinking it would be a good day for flying. I looked out the window again at 5:30 and low clouds had moved in and a short while later it was raining. I was thinking about another day in Esperence but by 9:00 the clouds started to break up and the wind was out of the southwest, A TAILWIND!
Aren and I prepared the Xair for flight and we were airborne by 10:00. We had 10 kts on the tail and we were able to go direct to Fraser Range without stopping at Norseman. We could see the hills from about 30 miles out and we headed directly for the highest piece of terrain at 1899 ft. I started to climb and I thought I saw the runway just to the west of the range. As we flew closer I could see the short runway in the valley. I made a low pass and set up for a landing. A short while later John Campbell came down to meet us.
We talked a bit and I took him up for a flight around the hills. We landed and his wife Heather and son Beattle showed up. We drove up to their house and had tea. I was concerned about Lenne' finding us as the Station was 1 km off the main road so we drove down to the sheep shearing shed and waited there. I didn't want to hold John up from his work and offered to help with chores. Aren and I helped move some fencing material and a short while later Sungie's voice came over the Talkabout. There were signs to the Station and they were able to find us with no problems. We were enjoying the beautiful area so decided to stay the night. We set the motor home between some Pepper trees and set up camp. Beattle came down on his motorbike and asked if we wanted to go for a drive around the property. We accepted and he came back with a bigger vehicle. What a beautiful drive -kangaroos, sheep, and wild horses roamed the hilly property. From the top of the hills, there were fantastic views of the surrounding country. We stopped back at the house before returning to the motor home. Another couple showed up at the caravan park and the Campbell's offered to do a barbeque that night. We had a great time with great food and wonderful people again.
Day 101 - Friday, October 27 - FRASER RANGE TO MADURA with a stop at BALLADONIA & CAIGUNA ROADHOUSES (236 NM for 5.4 hours flown)
It was a restful night but again clouds moved in by morning. These were dark clouds that produced Virga, rain that falls from the clouds and doesn't hit the ground, a good sign of unstable and turbulent air. And because we were in a valley I couldn't tell what was going on to the east. John came down with weather charts that he pulled off the computer. There was a cloud layer over the Nullarbor and the high was sitting over the Bight so I was looking at a headwind. Then it started to rain. We waited another hour and it started to clear - time to get moving.
We fueled the Xair and had some time for a few touch and go's so we could get some video footage of take offs and landings. This also let me get over the hills so I could see if the weather was any better to the east and give Lenne' a sightseeing flight. Tim hopped in the Xair and we were off to Balladonia Roadhouse for a fuel and lunch stop. A quick turnaround and Aren joined me for the flight to Caiguna Roadhouse. We landed at Caiguna and I was able to taxi behind the Roadhouse to the Avgas pump. I was concerned about the dark clouds to the north and asked about the weather. It had just rained so I was hoping the clouds I saw moved off. I also called Madura Roadhouse and asked what the weather was like there. I was told there was an overcast sky but that it hadn't rained in months so it probably wasn't going to now.
It was time to get airborne so I could land before sunset. We were now heading east so sunsets were getting earlier. We also had a 45-minute time change. Sungie joined me for the last leg of the day. About 30 minutes from Caiguna we flew into rain. Here we are crossing the one of the driest regions in Australia and we are in a rain shower! It is also noted to be hot in the Nullarbor but it was 15 deg C, so I had four layers of clothes on plus gloves, and I was still cold. We flew through the rain shower and in the distance I could see the edge of the escarpment. There were several limestone caves listed on my chart and as I flew over, I could see the large limestone rock hole surrounded by the scrub. Sungie also saw kangaroos running below us. It was truly spectacular country and not the endless stretch of nothing that I was told to expect.
Madura sits at the edge of the escarpment with the airstrip sitting on the top and the Roadhouse just off the highway on the hill. We rendezvoused with Lenne' at Madura just as they were heading down the hill. I told them that I could see the airstrip on the top of the hill and suggested they turn around. As they were coming back up the hill I directed them to the airstrip and landed. A good day and it was time for dinner. Before we retired we were treated to a spectacular sunset against the trees. We all thought it could have been a scene from Africa.
Day 102 - Saturday, October 28 - MADURA TO NULLARBOR with a stop at MUNDRABILLA & EUCLA (219 NM for 4.4 hours flown)
I've been able to sleep soundly in the Nullarbor and woke up refreshed and finally felt a lot better. I changed the spark plugs, cleaned the fuel filter, added oil, and fueled up the Xair. Aren and I hopped in and taxied through the tall, uncut grass on the runway. I looked for a clear patch and took off heading east along the edge of the escarpment. I had my usual 15 kts of headwind after takeoff but climbed above the scattered cloud layer hoping to leave the sea breeze below. It worked. At 3500 ft there was no wind, at 5500 ft we picked up a 10 kt tailwind and could have made it to Eucla without stopping at Mundrabilla but decided to take a break anyway.
At Mundrabilla, Sungie joined me and we took off climbing to just 3500 ft rather than 5500 ft to stay a bit warmer. The airstrip at Eucla is one NM south of the town and before I took off I showed the chart to Lenne' so she could see where the airstrip was in relation to the town. I landed and taxied near an old hangar that was now a storage area for crab pots. The wind was gusty and there were no tiedowns. I wasn't planning on staying long and just waited for Lenne' staying close to the Xair to avoid another incident like we had at Esperence. We could see the motor home about a mile away heading toward us, and then it stopped. Lenne' called on the Talkabout and said she wasn't sure if they were on the right road. Sungie and I got back in the Xair and flew over the motor home. There were several roads leading to the runways so I had to give directions to the main road, as the one they were on was only suitable for four wheel drive vehicles. We landed and refueled.
It was Tim's turn to fly so we took off and stayed at 500 ft to see the cliffs just five miles east of the Eucla. I stayed low long enough to get some pictures then climbed up to 3500 ft to avoid the headwind. It was just over two hours to Nullarbor and I flew over the cliffs most of the way. It was a truly amazing sight to be flying over what looked like the edge of the world! We landed at the Nullarbor Roadhouse and taxied up to the Avgas pump just behind the hotel. I refueled and tied the Xair down to a pair of old railroad tracks. Lenne' was not far behind and we pulled into the caravan park which was nothing more than a parking lot with power that we could plug into. I would have preferred a desolate place to spend the night but it was too late for another leg so we settled in for the night.
Day 103 - Sunday, October 29 - NULLARBOR TO STREAKY BAY with stops at NUNDROO & PENONG (231 NM for 4.6 hours flown)
We made it across the Nullarbor and now that we are on the eastern edge of the plain, I regret not having spent more time there to explore. The sea cliffs, caves, vast open space, and unseen wildlife beg to be explored. Yet the lack of water, unpredictable weather, and isolation kept us on the move. A light breeze was blowing and Aren and I took off just after nine. It wasn't long before Aren spotted a wombat then I saw one running down one of the dozens of burrows we flew over. A few miles later and we were over the sea cliffs with the deep blue Great Australian Bight below. If we continued flying due south from our position the next piece of land would be Antarctica. We continued along the coast flying over the wind carved sand dunes and scrub. We kept an eye out for camels but none were to be seen. We continued on with a refueling stop at Nundroo and lunch at Penong. The short legs allowed us to enjoy seeing more of the country and not sweat the fuel. The last leg was a bit longer and we had to climb to the chilly 5,500 ft again to avoid the sea breeze. We landed at the lonely Streaky Bay airstrip, tied the Xair down, tolerated the hundreds of flies, and picked spinifex off our feet until Lenne' finally arrived. We drove back to the quiet little coastal town and checked into a caravan park on the beach.
Day 104 - Monday, October 30 - STREAKY BAY TO PORT LINCOLN with a stop at ELLISTON (139 NM for 2.5 hours flown) We drove south to see "Murphy's Haystacks" in the morning. The "Haystacks" are ancient windworn granite inselbergs that are over 1500 million years old. The huge rocks stand as sentinels on high ground among the wheat fields. We drove back to the airport and Aren and I prepared the Xair for our flight south. There was a strong wind blowing out of the east and possibly a tad bit from the north. The question was: will it be a headwind at altitude? I was hoping to make the flight direct to Lincoln without having to stop at Elliston, a strip halfway between Streaky Bay and Port Lincoln. Once airborne and at 1500 ft, the GPS calculated our time to get to Port Lincoln. It went from 2 hours - yes we can make it, to two hours and forty minutes - no we can't. The wind was just too gusty and almost a direct crosswind. I called Lenne' on the radio and told her to stop at Elliston. I wasn't sure if the wind was going to help me or hinder me as I flew further south. We were getting bounced around at 1500 ft so I climbed to 3500 ft and the turbulence eased a bit. About 30 miles from Elliston we picked up a strong tailwind and were cruising along at 90 kts. We could make it to Port Lincoln with this wind but I just didn't trust that it would last, so I landed at Elliston for more fuel and lunch. After landing, Lenne' arrived, so we took a short break before heading south again. This time we climbed to 5500 ft to avoid the turbulence. The wind was still a direct crosswind but our true airspeed increased so we were making just over 60 kts with 50 kts indicated. As we descended into the Port Lincoln airport, the air was calm even though the wind was still blowing about 15 kts out of the northeast. We landed on runway 05, taxied to parking, and waited in the terminal for Lenne', Sungie, and Tim. When they arrived we decided to go to a new luxury hotel and check into a threebedroom apartment for two nights. It was a well-deserved treat after our Nullarbor crossing.
Days 105 & 106 - Tuesday & Wednesday, October 31 & November 1 - PORT LINCOLN & LINCOLN NATIONAL PARK Our hotel was across the street from the Port Lincoln swimming pool and as guests of the hotel we were able to use the facility. Lenne', Sungie, Tim and I went swimming and lazed around the sauna. That afternoon we went to town, did some shopping, and had our "Flyabout" business cards made at the "Printing Press". We appreciated them for making the cards on a rush order. Now we have something to hand out to all the people we've been meeting on our trip. Just wish we had them made up earlier. We also had "City Signs" make the lettering "From Alaska - Around Australia" to put on the pod of the Xair. We are expecting to meet more people on the east coast. We went back to the hotel, had dinner, and Lenne' and I went for a walk around the docks. It started off as a sunny morning even though the wind was blowing pretty fresh. We checked out of the hotel and went to town to pick up our business cards. Clouds started to build to the north and these were dark, gray clouds. By noon it started to rain. It doesn't look like a fly day so we started to look at alternatives. We went to the Information Center and decided to take a ride to the Lincoln National Park and explore the area. We drove to a remote camping spot on the beach and spent the night.
Day 107 - Thursday, November 2 - PORT LINCOLN TO WHYALLA (129 NM for 2.3 hours flown) It was overcast when we woke up but there was no wind. For all the headwinds we have been experiencing on this trip, I'll take the overcast sky and calm air to the clear sky with gusty, turbulent wind. We left our quiet little beach and drove to the airport. There were a few showers in the area but indications were for improving weather. Aren and I prepared the Xair for the flight hoping we could make it all the way without stopping at Cowell for fuel. We departed with a slight tailwind and once at altitude, the GPS calculated our flight to be just over two hours. We called Lenne' on the radio and said she could go all the way to Whyalla and meet us there. Even though there was little wind, the air was still turbulent so we climbed to 3500 ft and the air smoothed out. Just north of Cowell, the sky cleared and our headwind found us. It was a light headwind so it didn't keep us from making it to Whyalla. We landed and waited for Lenne', Sungie, and Tim. When they arrived we went to Pizza Hut for dinner, drove around town looking for a movie theater (no movies tonight), and with not much happening in Whyalla, returned to the airport for the night.
Day 108 - Friday, November 3 - WHYALLA TO GAWLER (ADELAIDE) with a stop at BALAKLAVA (169 NM for 3.2 hours flown) We had a leisurely morning and left Whyalla under clear skies and a light wind. I called Adelaide Control before heading off and found out that the Restricted Areas north of Whyalla and north of Adelaide were inactive. This afforded me some flexibility and rather than flying all the way to Port Augusta, we climbed to 5500 ft to cross Spencer Gulf just north of Whyalla then headed direct to Balaklava for fuel. We landed at the fairly large glider airstrip and taxied up to the empty clubhouse. There was no one around except for Bill Hudson who just returned from a flight with his motor glider. Bill was most gracious. He invited Aren and I into the clubhouse for tea and refueled the Xair. Guy Bowley flew in for a visit also and then Bernard Ecley arrived. We enjoyed a pleasant chat and I called Lenne' and told her to go direct to Gawler. It was time to leave and we left under sunny skies. It was a short flight to Gawler and I called a few miles out to see if gliders were in the area. There were two up so we kept a sharp eye out for them. We landed and were greeted by several members of the Gawler glider club. We enjoyed some pleasant company and had to turn down the offer for a beer because I noticed that the bracket that holds the oil tank in place had broken, probably on the hot air pocket bump which occurred just before we landed. The shops were closing soon so we rushed into town to see if we could get something to replace it with. After finding something that would do the trick, we drove to Adelaide to eat and see the city. After dinner we were fortunate to stumble on a Christmas festival at the Rundle Mall complete with fireworks. Here we were in the middle of Adelaide, walking down a, narrow, crowded outdoor shopping area, listening to Christmas carols, and watching fireworks being shot off the roof of the buildings! A bit early for a Christmas celebration, for us, but it was a wonderful evening of entertainment. After the festivities were over we drove back to the Gawler airstrip for the night.
Days 109 & 110 - Saturday/Sunday, November 4 & 5 - ADELAIDE Saturday was another leisurely morning spent watching the glider operations unfold at the Gawler airfield. We drove back to Adelaide intending to go to a market but stumbled on the Mitsubishi/Adelaide International Horse Trials being held at Adelaide's beautiful East Parklands. The trials are one of only four 4-star equestrian events in the world listed as being atop the list of premium riding events in the Southern Hemisphere. And we thought the streets were closed off because of the market. It was another unexpected event but great entertainment. We stayed for a few hours and went on to find the Orange Lanes Market in Norwood arriving just a few minutes before closing time. Back to town and out to West Beach to find a caravan park for the night. Sunday morning we went back to the downtown area and before going to the South Australia Museum I took Tim and Sungie for a paddleboat ride on Torrens Lake next to the Festival Center. We had a great time at the Museum and enjoyed walking past the many beautiful old style buildings in Adelaide. The afternoon rolled on and we stopped for an Italian dinner on Rundle St. then off to see the movie "Billy Elliot". We drove back to Gawler to sleep so we could get an early start in the morning.
Day 111 - Monday, November 6 - GAWLER TO KINGSTON SE with a stop at MURRAY BRIDGE & MENINGIE (182 NM for 3.9 hours flown) We were able to update our web page before we left Gawler thanks to the folks at the Adelaide Soaring Club. And thanks again for letting us spend a couple of nights at the airstrip. Before leaving we spent some time mapping out a route to Murray Bridge so Lenne' wouldn't have to drive through Adelaide. We found a good route on winding country roads and we were off. Sungie was my passenger for the short flight over the Adelaide Hills to Murray Bridge. We landed at the well-kept airstrip of Murray Bridge and topped off the Xair with fuel. It almost felt a bit strange not to have any wind but the calm was a welcome change.
I chatted a bit with Gary Pullman and Justin Bruce at the Bruce Hartwig Flying School. We had lunch when Lenne' arrived and we were off to Kingston SE. That's when the wind picked up. I could have made it all the way to Kingston if I'd stayed around 3,500 ft but I didn't bring an extra jacket and was getting cold. I called Lenne' and told her to stop at Meningie for a break. The airstrip was right on the road so she didn't have to detour. I added more fuel, put on some more warm clothes and just as we were about to leave Bob Mitchell, the local caretaker of the airstrip, showed up. We enjoyed seeing his old biplane and listening to his wonderful wit and would have loved to chat with him for hours, but it was time to push on.
Tim came with me for this leg and we took off into the 15 kts of headwind. It was late in the afternoon so the sun was behind us and highlighted the colors of the Coorong as we flew southeast toward Kingston. The Coorong is listed as a wetland of international importance. It is less than three km wide and is an inland sea of shallow lagoons. The Coorong is among Australia's most important water bird habitats, is home to the world's largest breeding colony of Australia pelicans and hosts shore birds that migrate from Siberia, China, and Japan. It was a magnificent flight along the beaches and the Coorong and I had to dodge a few flocks of Ibis's along the way. We landed at Kingston and went to take pictures of "Larry the Lobster", a large Australian Rock lobster display on the main highway to town. We went to the beach to have dinner, enjoyed another sunset, watched the stars come out, and returned back to the airstrip for the night.
Day 112 - Tuesday, November 7 - KINGSTON SE TO WARRNAMBOOL with a stop at MOUNT GAMBIER (187 NM for 3.8 hours flown)
A beautiful sunny morning with only 10 kts of cross wind. Time to get ready to fly but first we went to town to buy two lobsters for dinner. "Larry the Lobster" had wetted our appetite. It was a great day for flying and for the first time in a while we weren't bucking 20-30 kts of headwind along the coast. We lifted off from Kingston and headed south at 1500 ft, passed the rolling green pastures and then dropped down to 500 ft along the beach. We flew to the Mount Gambier airport and landed. Lenne', Sungie, and Tim arrived so we had our usual lunch break. Aren stayed with me for the next leg and we headed off to fly over Blue Lake just south of Mount Gambier. Blue Lake is a deep lake in a volcanic crater and changes to turquoise blue in November each year and fades each autumn (March - May). Back on a southeast heading and again we flew to the coast. We were making good time with the crosswind and I made the comment to Aren that it was nice to look out over the ocean without seeing whitecaps. I spoke to soon, however. Once we reached Port Fairy the wind was blowing out of the southeast and whitecaps were with us again. It was time to change course and head direct to the Warrnambool airport, 10 km north of town. The wind there was out of the north! We landed and waited for our ride to town. Sungie and Tim had been reading ahead and had found the Warrnambool Adventure Park, a marvelous playground, with a maze, 2 flying foxes, bridges and forts for climbing, and boats for paddling in the lake. So after picking us up at the airstrip we went to the park so they could play. I checked into a caravan park across the street and we had our wonderful lobster dinner.
Day 113 - Wednesday, November 8 - WEATHERED IN AT WARRNAMBOOL
Too windy to fly so we stayed around Warrnambool and took time trying to see the Fairy Penguins on Middle Island just across from the Warrnambool harbor. We didn't see any penguins but it was a spectacular landscape. The wind was getting stronger and I was worried about leaving the Xair out in the wind for another night especially since rain was in the forecast. I left Lenne', Sungie, and Tim at the Warrnambool outdoor pool and Aren and I drove to the airport to see if we could find a more sheltered tie down. As we drove up to the airport we could see the windsock standing straight out. Fortunately, Tony Franc at Sharp Aviation, offered to put the Xair in a hangar. He even put another line on the Xair to keep it from flying away. He said the wind was up to a steady 35 kts. We untied the delicate aircraft in the 30 kt winds and carefully walked it to the hangar.
Once the Xair was secured, we went back to town to pick up the rest of the gang and headed off to the Tower Hill Reserve. "Tower Hill is a volcanic formation believed to have erupted about 30,000 years ago. Its formation is known as a nested maar. During formation, molten lava pushed its way up through the earth's crust and encountered a layer of water bearing rock. Violent explosions followed creating a shallow crater, which later filled with water to form a lake. Further eruptions occurred in the center of this crater, creating islands and cone shaped hills." Years of grazing, cropping, quarrying, and rubbish dumping depleted the once lush hills and little wildlife remained. A re-vegetation project was started in the 1950's and now there is abundant habitation for koalas, emus, kangaroos, echidnas, and possums, as well as many types of birds. Back to town to pick up some groceries then we checked into a cabin at the local Big 4 Caravan Park so we could watch the news, weather report and presidential election returns in the U.S.
Day 114 - Thursday, November 9 - WARRNABOOL TO TORQUAY with a stop at APOLLO BAY (131 NM for 2.8 hours flown)
We woke up to a gray overcast sky but there was no wind and the rain had stopped. Time to continue our journey. We drove out to the airport, took the Xair out of the hangar, fueled and were airborne at 11:30. Aren was with me again and we headed for the coast for our flight over "The Great Ocean Road" and the "Twelve Apostles". The Apostles are rock stacks in the ocean that are constantly pounded by waves. As we flew over this truly spectacular shoreline, the existing seven Apostles, came into view. I sometimes have to wonder if I'm really flying over this magnificent country or am I just dreaming? What made this flight even more special is that we had light winds again. We kept the RPM's around 5000 so we could keep our airspeed as low as we could to make the flight last even longer, especially since we knew it would take Lenne' a lot longer to drive along the Ocean Road. Apollo Bay came much too fast and it was time to land. The wind picked up to around 15 kts out of the southeast but it was right down the runway and there was no turbulence.
We met Stuart, a pilot from the 12 Apostles Arial Adventure. We had a cup of tea and he told us about his home state of Tasmania. We looked at a chart on the wall and saw how close we were to Tasmania. If I topped off the Xair, I could make it to King Island in just over an hour. Now, I really want to see this Island State! Unfortunately, we will have to come back another time, so we can spend a few weeks and really explore the island. Just then, Stuart's boss, Randy, and owner of Tiger Moth World, landed in his Cherokee Six at the airstrip. They were busy taking people on over-flights of "The Twelve Apostles".
Aren and I waited for Lenne' for over three hours and by the time they arrived at 4 PM, I thought she would want to stay put for the night, especially, since the drive to Torquay was worse than the narrow, mountain road she had already driven. To my surprise she was ready to continue. I put another 20 liters of fuel in the Xair and Tim jumped in the Xair. Tim was excited since Randy showed us a brochure on his airstrip at Torquay. The airstrip is home to Tiger Moth World Adventure Park and Randy said we were more than welcome to visit! Before Randy departed I told him we would see him tomorrow so I called him on the phone and said we would be arriving tonight. He said they would be closed by the time we arrived but we were welcome to stay on the grounds and he left the gate open for us - we were off and Tim was excited. He took the brochure with him in the Xair and studied the playground area carefully on the flight. Again I was blessed with light winds. I almost forgot how the Xair flew in calm air. I didn't have to do anything but point it in the right direction. The 75 HP Rotax 618 hummed along nicely, the shoreline below was awesome, mountainous rainforest to my left, and I was again dreaming. How much beauty can one person take in a day!
Torquay came much too quickly and it was time to land. Dark clouds were building to the east and it looked like heavy rain was on the horizon. We could see the Adventure Park and the three runways. I flew over the Park area so Tim could get a good look and landed to the south. Flying in on final approach we could see the giant Tiger Moth play area, the volcano, and pirate ship maze. I taxied behind the hangar and shut down. I walked out to the gate to see how far Lenne' would have to drive from the main road and found a note from Randy. He said make yourselves at home and enjoy. Tim walked around the Park while I secured the Xair. Lenne', Aren, and Sungie arrived shortly. After making friends with the adventure park's cat, it's name being of course - Tiger Moth, we had dinner and went to bed.
Day 114 - Friday, November 10 - TORQUAY TO PENFIELD (SUNBURY) (54 NM for 1.4 hours flown)
The kids had their morning playing at Tiger Moth Adventure Park but after lunch it was time to go. Lenne' likes Aren along in the motor home to help navigate through large cities and neither Sungie nor Tim wanted to fly with me, so I went solo for this short leg. Before leaving I called Rod Birrell at Airsports Flying School located at Penfield to ask what the weather was like. He said there were some showers and that it would be better to get to Penfield earlier in the day rather than later because the weather was predicted to get worse. I took off on runway 36. You guessed it; I had 15 kts of wind right down the runway and I was heading north. Even thought it was only 50 miles it still took me almost an hour and a half to fly in the 20-25 kts of headwind at 1500 ft. There were also thundershowers in the area but they widely scattered and were easy to navigate around. The elevation at Penfield is just around 1200 ft and the ceiling was getting lower as I headed north. Fortunately, it didn't get any lower than 1000 ft as I arrived over the field and landed to the north.
After landing I met Rod and Tony Curzon from the flying school. Rod helped me move the Xair to one of the Igloo hangars on the field but I was only able to get the Xair partially under cover because the Igloo was home to another Xair and a Storch. We chatted for the rest of the afternoon before Lenne' and the boys finally arrived. They took almost three hours to drive the short distance. In addition to getting a little lost twice, Lenne' happened to see a store sign advertising Bendigo wool so she stopped to purchase some knitting patterns and washable wool yarn.
Rod let us set up camp at the field and gave us a key to the lounge. We had power and even a TV so the kids were happy to catch up on a few movies. It was getting dinnertime so we went in to town to get pizza. We also checked the train schedule to Melbourne. Rod and Tony recommended taking the train to the city to avoid driving the motor home. It was a good recommendation especially since we'd been told it was tricky to drive in the city in a small vehicle, something about making right turns from the left lane to avoid the trams. With our stomachs full and the train schedule in hand we headed back to the airstrip to catch a movie on the telly.
Day 115 - Saturday, November 11 - MELBOURNE
We woke to a rainy morning. Glad I wasn't planning on flying today. We headed into Sunbury and purchased a family pass for the 11:07 train to Melbourne. It was a comfortable ride and only took 45 minutes to arrive at the Spencer St. Station. Much better than getting stressed out driving and trying to park in a crowded city with a 22' motor home. We walked around town and headed for the new museum. We just missed the showing of "Alaska" at the IMAX Theater that is connected with the museum. After our visit to the museum we took the "City Loop", a free tram that runs around the city center. We headed over to the Exhibit Center where there was a showing of "Big Boy Toys". We thought it would be fun but we never did make it there. Instead we walked along the river to St. Kilda and found something to eat before heading back to Sunbury. Aren discovered that one rock group he likes, "Matchbox 20", was playing in Melbourne that evening and he wanted to go. There were tickets available but the show would be over after midnight and there were no trains going back to Sunbury that late. The kids wanted to get a hotel room in the city close to the concert hall but the logistics were a bit too complicated to work out. Maybe next time Aren. (Aren's Note: "Yeah, right.") We took the train back to Sunbury and drove back to Penfield in thick fog and rain.
Day 116 - Sunday, November 12 - SPA COUNTRY
Another rainy and foggy morning. It could clear by afternoon but this stuff looks like it will be around all day. Time to make other plans. Lenne' picked up a tourist pamphlet on the Spa Center of Australia just a short distance northwest of Sunbury and we decided to take a drive. Over 60% of the 110 springs in Victoria are located in Spa Country. Before leaving, Rod called his mate Ted Francombe at the "Linga Longa" B&B in Hepburn Springs. He worked out a cottage for us to stay the night and we made plans to head out. And because we were staying another night I had time to get a permanent fix on the Rotax exhaust pipe. Along the trip, the pipe had slowly vibrated from a vertical position to almost horizontal. I never really noticed the slow rotation until I saw the pipe on Ron Neve's Xair. On the previous flight Tim noticed that the carbon monoxide detector on the dash of the Xair was changing color so fumes were getting into the cockpit. Fortunately, there is enough airflow in the cockpit that we never had any side effects. Rod and Tony called their mate Rex Bennett, a welder in Riddells Creek, to see if he would be available to weld the exhaust pipe into the proper position. We took the exhaust off the Rotax, rotated it to the correct position using Ron's Rotax as a guide, and Tony drove me to Rex's house to leave the system for the night. His son offered to drop it off at Penfield Monday morning. What service - thanks mates! We arrived at Hepburn Springs, found the B&B, "Linga Longa" and checked in with Ted. Ted showed us the authentic 1928 Edwardian cottage, Devonia. We then walked to the Hepburn Mineral Springs Reserve Spa Complex to soak in the thermal spa and heated mineral pool. What luxury, if we can't fly in the fog and rain, we might as well relax.
Daily Log - Week Eighteen
Day 117 - Monday, November 13 - SUNBURY TO WANGARATTA (110 NM for 2.3 hours flown)
We really were lazily relaxed this morning. Must be the charisma of Linga Longa, I just didn't want to get moving and the weather wasn't the greatest for flying. It was gusty and overcast but I wanted to get back to the field and hope for improvement in the afternoon. On the ride back to Penfield, we stopped to sample some mineral water. The boys and I think it's pretty nasty stuff but Lenne' thinks it's great. The spring is set next to a swift running stream surrounded by large Eucalyptus trees in the Wombat National Forest. The air and ground were damp from the recent rains and we were whisked back to our beloved Juneau rain forest. We also stopped for a short time to see a spectacular waterfall.
By the time we arrived back at Penfield the weather was improving and we prepared for our flight to Wangaratta. Tony was there and told us we just missed a reporter from the local newspaper. He gave me her number and I called to do an interview over the phone. They will use a picture that Rod took when I landed. Also the exhaust that I left with Rex Bennett was on the porch and the pipe welded into position. It took a few minutes to install, then we refueled, and had lunch. Aren and I were airborne late in the afternoon. Lenne', Sungie, and Tim were off navigating a short distance on the country roads before finding the freeway north. We arrived just as the Wanga Aero club members started to gather for their committee meeting so we had a bit of company for a while. They even let me put the Xair in the hangar for the night. Thanks mates, sorry I didn't get all your names. The evening sky was heavy with clouds and the setting sun set them aglow - another beautiful evening in Oz. Unfortunately, the forecast for the next few day was for rain.
Day 118 - Tuesday, November 14 - WANGARATTA TO CORRYONG (87 NM FOR 2.0 hours flown)
A beautiful clear morning with a light breeze out of the south. I called the local fueler at Corryong and asked about the weather. I was told it was the best day in weeks; there were no clouds and not a puff of wind. Time to move. Aren joined me again and we were off just after 10 AM. We took off on runway 18 and turned east on course to Corryong. The lush green rolling pastures gave way to high, steeper terrain and dense forest. We climbed up to 3500 ft and I called Albury tower to ask for clearance through the control zone. I wanted to fly north of the course to stay closer to the road. The tower approved my request and I continued to Corryong. I could see clouds developing to the east and watched the tops of the higher country start to be engulfed in white puffy clouds. I still had an hour to fly the last 45 miles with the southeast wind and turbulence slowing me down. I climbed to 4500 ft just below the scattered layer and the turbulence eased a bit. At that altitude I could see the valley in which Corryong is located and as I cleared the last of the ridges, I started a decent to 2000 ft. The air was much calmer in the valley as we flew over the airstrip. The wind was only 5 - 10 kts and we lined up for a landing on runway 06. We landed, shut down, found tiedowns, secured the Xair and walked the short distance to town. Time to find information on the area. We went to the information office and talked with Katherine Ross. Albert showed up and we were able to get some good information about the local area. As we waited for the rest of the team to arrive, a brief rain shower hit us but cleared in a few minutes. When Lenne' arrived we went back to the Xair to add fuel and put the tarps over the engine and cabin area to keep the rain out. Albert came down to see the Xair and ensure we were settling in. We found a caravan park that had a trampoline, a friendly dog, and a TV room for the kids. Time to catch up on the several weeks' worth of laundry.
Day 119 - Wednesday, November 15 - A DRIVE FROM CORRYONG TO JINDABYNE with a stop at THREDBO VILLAGE
It started to rain over night and cleared by morning but the clouds were covering the tops of the Kosciuszko Range. We decided it was a good day to leave the Xair safety tied downed and drive up to see the mountain range. We left the peaceful valley and started the drive up the steep, windy road lined with thick growths of gum trees. We stopped for a tour of the Murray 1 Hydro Electric Power Station for a fascinating glimpse of the Snowy Mountains Hydro Electric Scheme. "Water in the Snowy Scheme travels through a complex integrated infrastructure which includes sixteen major dams, seven power stations (two underground), a large pump station, 145 kilometers of interconnected tunnels, and 80 kilometers of aqueducts." It's a bit larger than Juneau's Port Snetjtisham hydroelectric power station yet it provides power for all of eastern Australia and water for all parts of Australia.
We drove on and stopped for lunch at the Geehi picnic area and watched dozens of kangaroo's grazing and lying on the small airstrip. It was a restful place and worth spending more time but the afternoon was moving along and we had to move along also. We continued the drive up to the 1580-meter level of Dead Horse Gap so named from the numerous deaths of "brumbies" (wild horses) who had become trapped and perished in unexpected snowfalls. The gap is the divide between the Murray and Snowy River drainages. We followed the road and continued into Thredbo Village. The mountaintops were in clouds when we arrived and the forecast did not call for improvement until the weekend. It was pretty gray and then it started to rain. Sungie and Tim wanted to play in the community recreation center and try the rock wall traverse. We decided to wait a day or two until the weather improved before trying to walk to the "Top of Australia". It was late and I wanted to continue on to Jindabyne so we could get out of the rain and find a place to stay. The kids played for a little over an hour. It was still raining but now they were finally ready to drive the 34 KM to Jindabyne. We drove down the mountain in heavy rain that stopped when we reached the lower levels. We found a caravan park and checked into an ensuite cabin for the night. We're still not sure how long we should wait for a weather break to climb or fly over Kosciuszko.
Day 120 - Thursday, November 16 - MT. KOSCIUSZKO (18 km hike, 228 meter elevation gain)
We made plans to stay another night at Jindabyne to wait out the weather. The morning started out promising - it wasn't raining, at least not yet. I wanted to drive up to Charlotte's Pass so we could get an idea of what the snow conditions were like on the trail to the summit of Mt. Kosciuszko. Before heading up the road, we went to town for some errands and drove back to the caravan park to drop off Sungie, who had an ear infection and Tim, who had an infected toe. Obviously they weren't interested in hiking, and they'd found fun things to do at the caravan park. It was only a 38 km drive to the Charlotte's Pass on a good road and by the time we arrived at the 2000 meter Pass, there were a few showers but there were also breaks in the overcast and a warm sun shown through. There was still snow at the end of the road so we parked a short distance away and started walking to where the trail began.
The summit hike is an 18 km return but it looked like an easy go. We went back to the motor home to fill our packs with extra clothes, food, and water and started walking again. The walk to the summit of Mt. Kosciuszko from Charlotte's Pass follows an old road and passes through snow gums, heath and herb fields. We could hear hundreds of Crina frogs croaking in the bogs along the trail. It was a very easy walk and there were busloads of school kids returning as we were walking up. Aren, Lenne' and I started walking together intent on making the summit but because it was late in the afternoon and there were still dark rain clouds around, Aren and I started walking a bit faster leaving Lenne' to walk at a more leisurely pace. We cheated and took the GPS with us to check our hiking speed. We were walking at a steady 3.5 kts so we estimated that we could make the summit in less than two hours even with a few breaks. We crossed the Snowy River and just past a snowfield, we could see Seaman's Hut through the fog. The Hut was built as an emergency shelter after two men, Lauri Seaman and Evan Hayes perished from hypothermia on their attempt at skiing back from the summit in 1928. Looking at the map we could see the summit was less than four km past the hut. We continued on and about two kilometers from the summit, it started to hail heavily, followed by some very heavy rain. We were in the clouds now and couldn't see much but we pushed on past more snowfields to the summit. We were soaking wet but it wasn't very cold and the wind wasn't blowing, at least not yet. The road was built with an easy grade spiraling to the summit. As we reached the west side the wind started to blow. It was only about 10 kts but we were wet and uncomfortable - a Juneau style hike! We summited the 2228 meter mountain just before 5 PM, took a few pictures trying to keep the cameras dry in the driving rain, and started down.
It wasn't long after we left the summit before the rain stopped. The sun even started to penetrate the thick cloud layer. We were on a snowfield and I had to put on my sunglasses because my eyes started to burn from the glare off the snow. We thought it would clear and made a brief attempt to go back to the summit for better pictures. But when we heard thunder in the distance, we started to high tail it back to Seaman's Hut. Just before reaching the Hut, it started hailing again and we made a dash to get out of the weather. We took a short break, ate a bit of food, added another layer of clothes, and started back down the trail. As we were walking the last six kilometers, the clouds started to break again and we could see the distant ridges and alpine meadows. We slowed our walking speed to take pictures and enjoy the scenery unfolding before us. We arrived back at the parking lot around 6:45 to find Lenne' waiting with hot tea and food. She turned around just before the hut and got very wet also. Even though the hike is relatively easy and the road is good enough to drive a two-wheel drive vehicle almost to the summit, it was still an accomplishment for us to reach the highest peak in Australia! "The air is exhilarating as champagne...On the summit itself one can see as far as the eye can reach, ranges of mountains succedere each other until they fad away in a distant horizon, and presenting the appearance of a billowy ocean...It gives one a broader view of men and things..." Joseph Maiden, NSW Government Botanist (1898).
Day 121 - Friday, November 17 - HORSE BACK RIDING IN THE SNOWY MOUNTAINS
"He hails from Snowy River, up by Kosciuszko's side, where the hills are twice as steep and twice as rough..." Sometimes the best things happen when they aren't planned. Our plan for the day was to go to Thredbo and hope the weather allowed us to ride the chair lift partway up Mt. Kosciuszko. If the weather was fine we could all attempt the walk to the summit. Just outside of Jindabyne the signs for horse back riding lured the kids. I pulled into the driveway of Pender Lea Trail Riding and enquired about a ride. Laura, Janice, and Jamie were busy getting horses ready for a ride over the Wollenbiddy range to Bullara. They said it was a two hour ride and we could go if we wanted to get a real working ride. They had to get a dozen horses over the range for a holiday horseback riding boarding camp for kids and we could ride five of them. How could we resist a working ride in the Snowy Mountains after watching the "Man from Snowy River"! We were told to come back by noon and they would be ready to go.
We drove back to Jindabyne to kill time and returned as the horses were being saddled. Our horses were assigned - Lenne' was on Fire Weed, Aren was on Scrags, Sungie was on Pigmy, Tim was on Buster, and I had Piglet "a nice little mare". Joy and Jamie, our guides, each led a horse. Dawn from Canada, a recent hire who was on a work visa, also led a horse. Candy was another recent hire and was along for training. By 12:30 we were on the trail and it wasn't long before we started climbing the steep slopes of the Snowy Mountains. We walked through gum tree forest, jumped a creek, cantered up slopes, galloped across flat grass lands, spotted "brumbies" and kangaroos and enjoyed a magnificent view of Jindabyne Lake on one of the ridges. By the time we started down, we were aware that we were definitely off the main tourist trail and the words from the poem by A.B. "Banjo" Paterson about Jack Riley's famous ride was ringing in my head: "...When they reached the mountain summit, even Clancy took a pull, it well might make the boldest hold their breath; the wild hop scrub grew thickly, and the hidden ground was full of wombat holes, and any slip was death...through the stringy barks and saplings, on the rough and broken ground, down the hillside as at a racing pace he went, And he never drew the bridle till he landed safe and sound at the bottom of that terrible decent..." The trip lasted a bit over three hours and by the time we reached Bullara we all had sore bums. It had to be the best horse ride any one of us ever had! Thanks Pender Lea!
Day 122 - Saturday, November 18 - THE DRIVE BACK FROM JINDABYNE TO CORRYONG with another stop at THREDBO and another climb to MT. KOSCIUSZKO
Another day of rain and another climb to Mt. Kosciuszko only this time we took the chair lift from Thredbo and Lenne' made the summit. The day looked like the previous days - cloudy with cumulus clouds building and rain on the distant ridges. We though we would have more time before it started to rain so Lenne', Sungie, Tim, and I took off on the six kilometer walk from the top of the chair to walk a short distance to the snow. That is as far as Tim and Sungie wanted to go but it wasn't raining yet so Lenne' and I kept going for the summit. Halfway into the walk the rain started and it kept coming down. We made the summit but were terribly wet so we started down arriving back at the motor home with soaking wet jeans and running shoes. At least this time we weren't in a white out and we could see more of the beautiful alpine zone. We came to Australia prepared for the sunny beaches and the Outback but not for cold driving rain in the alpine. Before we started off for the summit, we purchased a package ticket that included rides on the Thredbo bobsled. The bobsled is a small plastic cart with a hand brake. It runs on a metal track and uses a cable similar to a roller coaster to get the cart to the top. The track is 700 meters long, includes about ten hairpin turns, and can reach speeds of 50 km an hour. The boys took three runs each and were going to go back for a few more runs but the rain shut the track down. It was another fun day in the Snowy Mountains. We drove back on the winding mountain road to Corryong and found the Xair safe and secure at the airstrip. We checked back into the caravan park and had the place to ourselves. We spent a relaxing evening in the lounge watching the movie "Flubber" on TV.
Day 123 - Sunday, November 19 - CORRYONG TO TUMUT (68 NM for 1.3 hours flown)
We started the day in Corryong by visiting the grave site of Jack Riley, the man considered by many as the most likely contender for the title The Man From Snowy River. As we reached the cemetery, a car drove up and a man walked over to ask if I was Larry. I said yes and he said he saw the Xair at the field, wrote down our web site address and started reading. We drove by Peter's house as we were going to the cemetery and he recognized the motor home from the pictures on the web site so he followed us. He has a Trike in the hangar but was interested in the Xair and our journey so we chatted for a while. Before driving down to the airstrip we stopped off at the Man From Snowy River Museum. We enjoyed seeing the museum and wished we had more time to spend in Corryong but the cumulus clouds were building over the mountains and we didn't want to get caught in a thunderstorm.
Just before departure, Peter came by the airstrip to see us off. Because there was a scattered layer of clouds at the 5000 ft level, Aren and I stayed in the valleys. Even though it was a short flight, the flight over the communities of Tooma, Tumbarumba, and Batlow, and the Blowering Reservoir and Dam was wonderful. Aren and I waited at the Tumut Aero Club and were quite welcomed. We talked a bit to Peter Wilson, Graham Smith and Pat as we waited for the rest of the family to arrive. The plan was to get as far as Canberra but the heat and humidity were increasing and there were dark clouds to the southeast of Tumut. When the family did arrive, Tim let us know that he didn't want to drive anymore so we decided to stay put. Also, what I had flown in a little over an hour, had taken Lenne' about three hours of driving on a winding mountain road and she was looking at another three hours of driving to reach the airstrip just outside of Canberra. We drove to town and checked into a caravan park. Good decision - as we were settling in, the dark clouds around the mountains were soon overhead and a heavy rain let lose. We drove back to the airport to put a tarp around the Xair and when we arrived, the club members had already put the Xair in a hangar. Thanks mates! With the Xair safe and secure for the night we went back to have dinner and retire for the night hoping for fine weather tomorrow.
Day 124 - Monday, November 20 - TUMUT TO GUNDAROO (BOWYLIE) (87 NM for 1.5 hours flown)
We arrived at the Tumut airport at 9 AM hoping to find Peter there to open the hangar door so we could get the Xair out and start our day but there was no one in the club when we arrived. I waited a while and decided to drive to his house down the road to see if I could get the hangar open. Peter was home and came down to open the door for us. We pulled the Xair out and said our goodbyes. Tim joined me for this leg and we took off heading north to Gundagai to avoid flying over the mountains, while Lenne' started driving on the road to Gundagai (you dinki-di Aussie's should be humming a tune right now). Just five miles from Gundagai, I started my turn east. (I had to get that in somewhere and if that tune stays with you for the rest of the day, sorry). I started my second leg to Yass but was able to fly a bit south of track when the terrain below me allowed. I arrived at Gundaroo and landed at Dick Smith's airstrip, Bowylie. Paul Middleton had arranged our stay there with Ben Haseler, the farm manager of the place. Quite a place! I felt privileged to land the Xair there. Paul and Rod from the AUF showed up shortly after I landed and located Ben. We put the Xair in the rather large hangar next to Dick's Cessna Caravan and Bell Jet Ranger. Lenne', Aren, and Sungie arrived an hour or so later and we headed off to find a hotel for the night. Paul came out to drive me to his house so I could use his car for our stay rather than trying to drive the motor home around the city. That evening we went for dinner with Rod Hewitt-Cook and his wife Bett, Dean Thompkins and his wife Louise, Andrew Geraghty, the editor for the AUF magazine and Paul Middleton. It was a very enjoyable evening and a pleasure to meet everyone. Thanks mates!
Day 125 - Tuesday, November 21 - BOWLYIE TO GOULBURN with a day at CANBERRA (29 NM for 0.7 hours flown)
It was a short hop but we wanted to put some distance behind us. The rains have been slowing us down and we wanted to make some progress however small. We checked out of our hotel room and drove Paul's car back to the AUF office to meet the rest of the staff. We stayed a while and said our goodbyes. Then it was off to the Natural Science & Technology Center, an interactive science museum. The boys loved it and we all enjoyed the half hour demonstration on how they mix sound for movies. It was hard to get the boys to leave but we wanted to see more of the city. By the time we left the museum, we only had time to take some pictures of the beautiful buildings. We drove back to Bowlyie early evening and I was airborne. I wanted to get to Goulburn before sunset. Even thought it was less than 30 miles and I allowed myself an hour for the flight, the 20+ kts of headwind slowed me down and I landed just before sunset. Lenne' and the boys showed up well after dark so we just stayed put at the airstrip for the night.
Day 126 - Wednesday, November 22 - GOULBURN TO ST. MARY'S (TOTTENHAM) with a stop at MITTAGONG and THE OAKS (116 NM for 2.6 hours flown)
After the fog burned off, it turned out to be a pleasant morning over Goulburn but there were low clouds to the northeast. I had been told Mittagong holds the low clouds in longer than the surrounding area, but if I could see a mountain that looked like a pyramid, I could get in to Mittagong. I started to call phone numbers of people in Mittagong from my old AOPA book to check on the conditions but only got through to a few people who were no longer associated with the flying club. I asked about the weather anyway and was told it was fine. Tony, the local manager of the Goulburn Field, stopped working on rebuilding the new flying club spaces so I could get some AVGAS. I told him about our adventure and he said that if we were staying around he could call the local paper and see if they would do a story on our trip. I wasn't sure if I wanted to wait but when I saw Dean Thompkins talking to Lenne', I told Aren to have Tony call the paper and tell them we would stay till noon. If they wanted to come out we would be around. Dean showed us his Tiger Moth and he showed me the work he was planning on doing that day. We chatted a while and looked at the variety of different planes and ultralights in the hangar. We stalled till noon and when the reporter didn't show up, Tony said they must be busy and we decided to go to Mittagong.
Aren joined me for this leg and once airborne, we could see the pyramid mountain so we knew we could get to our destination. It was a fantastic flight and we were able to get close to the steep gorges of the Kangaroo and Shoalhaven Rivers. There were plenty of paddocks around the edges of the gorges so I felt pretty comfortable getting close enough to get some pictures. We also flew over the Fitzroy Reservoir Falls before turning back to Mittagong. We stayed in Mittagong for a while and chatted with a local bloke about flying. Lenne' arrived and we tried to decide about our next leg. There were several options and we wanted to get as close to Sydney as possible. Paul Middleton gave me the phone number of Helen Kennett who owns the "Tottenham" airstrip near St. Marys. We called Helen and asked if it would be all right to land and stay at her airstip. She said sure so we headed off to St. Marys. I knew Lenne' would take about two hours to drive there so to kill time Tim and I landed at "The Oaks" and chatted a while with Jeff, John, Mike, and Wayne from the Sydney Ultralight Club before heading off to St. Marys. When we arrived, Lenne', Aren, and Sungie were waiting. We talked to Helen briefly and headed down to the airstrip to secure the Xair. It got late fast so we stayed put for the night and began planning our trip to Sydney the next day.
Day 127 - Thursday, November 23 - SYDNEY
A beautiful morning! Evan Davies drove down to the airstrip and greeted us. He offered to put the Xair in the hangar so we moved his Pietenpol to make room and the Xair fit in nicely. We talked for a while and he gave us some ideas about how to get around Sydney. We decided to drive to the zoo because they had a parking lot for the motor home and then we could take the ferry across to the city. We finally got going around 9:30 but the traffic in the city was still pretty heavy. It took almost two hours to get to the zoo from St Marys. We had a great time exploring the zoo, riding the ferry in Sydney Harbor, walking up to the Harbor Bridge lookout, and walking around the Sydney Opera House. Because it was Thursday late shopping night, we had time to shop before heading back on the ferry and the bus to the motor home. We left by 7PM and the traffic going back was still heavy. It took another two hours to get back to St. Marys and we were all pretty tired from the day.
Day 128 - Friday, November 24 - ST MARYS TO WILLIAMTOWN with a stop at WARNERVALE (94 NM for 1.9 hours flown)
We were just finishing breakfast when Helen came down to the airstrip on her four wheeler to say good morning and see how we were doing. She said she had to move the horses into a different pasture and Sungie was up and ready to help with Tim not far behind. After she finished with the horses, we spent a wonderful morning over a cup of tea and homemade banana cake before heading into St Marys for groceries.
Now the challenge of getting out of the Sydney area was about to begin. Lenne' talked with Helen and gratefully received her written directions to beat the congestion while heading north out of the suburbs. Aren, and Sungie studied the maps. I took Tim and had to be diligent of all the air traffic heading in and out of the busy Sydney airspace. What complicated matters was that the ceiling had dropped to around 2000 feet so there was less room in the sky for all those planes to be flying. Also the terrain between St Marys heading northeast toward the coast was mostly "tiger country". Before departing I called Terry Linsell, a physician who lives in Soldiers Point and had been following our trip since we began. Terry wanted to meet with us if our time allowed. I told him that we were heading north and I wasn't sure what airstrip would be closest to his home. We talked over a few options and he offered to call his friend Kerri Schiemir, one of the flight instructors at the Williamtown RAAF Flying Club. If the Flying Club would host us, we could land and park the Xair at the RAAF Base. Kerrie made a few calls, got authorization for us to land after 5 PM, and we were airborne by 3:30. I started heading east, picking my way over the paddocks and trying to avoid as many of the populated areas as I could. I wanted to pick up the VFR lane between the restricted area to my west and Sydney airspace to the south and east but with a 25 kt east south east wind I was only making about 40 kts ground speed heading due east. I was listening to Sydney radar working with a pilot who was stuck above the overcast sky to the southwest. The ceiling was dropping to the west but I could see a blue sky to the east along the coast. As I made my way toward the VFR lane, there were several planes that called over Brooklyn Bridge and entered the corridor from the north. I heard Sydney Radar telling them that there was a contact heading northeast at 1600 ft. I knew they were referring to me so I called Sydney Radar and told them I was in the area making my way northeast. With no transponder, there was not much else I could do but keep a good look out for aircraft, try to avoid as much of the "tiger country" now below me, and hope the ceiling was getting higher to the northeast. I made it over Gosford and could see the sun shinning on the beaches near Aeropelican but there were low dark clouds to the northwest.
I decided to drop in at Warnervale to call Terry for another weather check at Williamtown. The sun was shinning when I called earlier and he confirmed that there was indeed blue sky over Point Stephens but he could see the dark clouds to the southwest. I continued on up the coast in fine weather and landed at "Willy. I refueled at the civilian side of the airfield before taxiing over to the RAAF base. I taxied over and shut down at the Airmovement Hangar when I saw a security vehicle heading over my way. Best to meet them than have them chasing me. I shut down and talked with Jamie. He wasn't aware of my arrival but we made some calls and he was told that the flying club would host me. I followed his truck in the Xair and parked near the flying club for the night. He arranged a pass for the motor home and when Lenne' arrived we drove back to the Xair to put the tarps over it in case of rain. I called Terry earlier and he drove out to meet us. We followed him back to Soldiers Pt where he had arranged a place for us in a caravan park not far from his home. We checked in and walked over to his place for a lovely dinner with his wife Janice and daughter Jessica. We had another wonderful evening with great people. Thank you. We are all having a hard time believing that this trip around Australia is about to end soon.
Day 129 - Saturday, November 25 - PORT STEPHENS/NELSON BAY/SALAMANDER/SOLDIERS POINT
We spent the day lazing around the scenic Port Stephens area. Lenne' and I left the kids to play at Toboggan Hill Park so we were able to get a break from the kids for a few hours. But the afternoon, was interrupted by a flat tire on the motor home. We fixed that problem and went to a beach for a little play time and dinner. We were planning to see "The Dish" at the local theater but it was playing at 6:15 and it was too nice an evening to spend in a movie theater. We also started talking to a woman on the beach because she heard our Yankee accents and wanted to know where we were from. Once we said Alaska, we launched into a long conversation. Later we drove back to Nelson Bay to try to catch another movie, but we drove right into a Christmas parade. So much for the movie, might as well mix with the crowd and enjoy the Christmas celebration.
Day 130 - Sunday, November 26 - WILLIAMTOWN TO OLD BAR (80 NM for 1.6 hours flown)
The weather is getting better. We awoke to a beautiful sunny day, checked out of the caravan park and drove over to Dr. Terry Linsell's house to say our goodbyes. Their son, Daniel, was there and we spent the morning chatting with his family enjoying their company. Unfortunately it was time to move on. The boys wanted to have a go at the go-carts before we left the area so before heading back to the airport we let them have one ride. With that out of their system we made it back to the RAAF Base. Terry came along and he and I took the Xair for a short flight around the area. I noticed the sea breeze had picked up out of the northeast but what else was new.
Tim joined me and we started mid afternoon. It was a short flight, but with the sea breeze, it was going to be a bit longer. I started at 1500 ft and had 25 kts of headwind. I climbed to 3500 ft and my groundspeed went from 35 kts to 60 kts. I stayed at that altitude until I was over Old Bar. Even from that altitude I could tell I was going to have a pretty strong crosswind for landing, but I also saw the caravan park right next to the runway and the beach a short walking distance away. I descended to pattern altitude and made my approach with a right crosswind component. The first third of the runway was a bit bumpy but it smoothed out the last two thirds. I didn't commit to a landing, and knowing I could put the Xair down on the last third of the runway, I went around for another try. The second approach was still a bit lumpy but I managed to make a smooth landing on the grass airstrip. I taxied over to the tie down area and shut down. It was pretty breezy and I didn't want to leave the Xair in the open so I taxied to a place behind the trees to get out of the wind. After tying the Xair down, Tim and I walked over to the caravan park across the street and checked into a cabin. Lenne', Aren, and Sungie arrived shortly after and we set up for the night, listening to the surf and watching the lightning flash to the south.
Daily Log - Week Twenty
Day 131 - Monday, November 27 - OLD BAR
The wind died down over the evening and I walked to the beach for an early morning swim in the surf. I went back for breakfast and took Tim back to the beach for another swim. Lenne' started to clean up the motor home and pack away stuff to ship home. Meanwhile the blokes walked to town for haircuts. We walked back to the caravan park and I noticed the wind was still light. Time to go for a flight to Tyree and refuel. Aren and I took off in a little crosswind, for short-field landings at Old Bar. Then we flew up to Tyree for a few more touch and go's before shutting down for fuel. We met Cecil and Margaret from the Tyree Aero club and chatted for a while then it was back to Old Bar. The wind was still light so after dropping Aren off I took Lenne' for a short flight up and down the beach. I landed and secured the Xair for the night. It was time for another swim, dinner, and a relaxing evening listening to the surf.
Day 132 - Tuesday, November 28 - OLD BAR TO NAMBUCCA HEADS (109 NM for 1.9 hours flown)
Sunshine, warm weather, fantastic beaches, outstanding flying conditions - the other day Dr. Linsell asked if we would do this trip again and Lenne' and I both said YES! And today was one of those days where we kept wishing this trip would never end. Before the flight, Tim and I went swimming and body surfing in the temperate waters of the south pacific. We could have stayed another week but our time was getting short and it was time to move along.
Aren jumped in the Xair. Flying up this coast today was like a wonderful dream. There was very little wind so we stayed at 500 ft along the coast. Jagged headlands and beachfront communities interrupted the miles of yellow sandy beaches that were being washed by the gentle surf. The distant mountains covered in thick rain forest faded in the distant western horizon. Crowdy Head, Port Macquarie, Point Plomer, Hat Head, and South West Rocks all drifted below us, as if we were watching the earth move under us and we were still. Seems like the times we wished the flight would go on and on, is when we have a bit of a tailwind component. We reached our destination of Nambucca Heads much too fast. We found our small airstrip along the river and extended our downwind leg to fly over the town, check out the beaches, and find a good caravan park. The day before, I called John Monckton, owner of the airstrip, and asked if I could land at his place. He said yes and I asked about a landing fee. He only charged me five dollars because I was in an ultralight. I made the approach and Aren was concerned about the cattle grazing along side the runway. I was more concerned about the birds that were near the cattle and decided to fly when I was in the flare. We escaped a collision, landed, and taxied to the end of the grass runway.
John came over to meet us and invited us in for tea. We met his wife Maureen and stayed for a few minutes. John and Maureen have both received medals in swimming in the Olympic Games. When Lenne', Sungie, and Tim arrived, Aren and I jumped in and I started backing out of the driveway. I rolled a few meters and heard a pop, followed by the transmission going into neutral. Seems the "Economy-Power" linkage had popped into neutral only I didn't know what happened at the time. I called NRMA for roadside assistance and within the hour we were underway again. I'm thankful all this is happening at the end of the journey and not in the middle of the Outback or in a traffic jam in Sydney. We drove to a caravan park near a beach and had time for swimming and walking along one the many jagged rocky headlands before dinner and the movie "The Dish".
Day 133 - Wednesday, November 29 - NAMBUCCA HEADS TO SOUTH GRAFTON (73 NM for 1.4 hours flown)
We woke to a warm and muggy morning, checked out of the caravan park and headed for the beach for some body surfing. What a way to start the day. By noon it was time to fly the next leg. Trevor Heinz from Grafton had been following our trip since we met at Bowen Beach and he invited us to his flying club at South Grafton for a barbeque and to stay the night. How could we resist? We left the sunny beach and drove over the hill to the airstrip. I felt a sinking feeling when I saw the tremendous thundercloud to the south. The Xair was exposed and I wanted to get it into a hangar before this thing hit. It still looked a few hours away but I wasn't going to waste time. We drove to the airstrip and found that John had put an electric fence around the Xair to keep the cattle away. Lenne', Sungie, and Tim talked with John and Maureen while Aren and I prepared the Xair.
Tim wanted to fly this leg and we were airborne by 1:30. It was another beautiful flight up the beach at 500 ft. The wind was out of the northeast at 10 kts but for once I didn't mind the headwind. I called Coffs Harbor Tower before I departed and asked if I could transit their zone along the coast. The controller approved my request so I stayed along the coast before heading northwest to South Grafton. We landed at the well-maintained airstrip and Trevor met us. The clubhouse was just repainted and refurbished after a fire about six month's ago. We had a great barbeque and evening socializing. Thanks everyone!
Day 134 - Thursday, November 30 - SOUTH GRAFTON TO TYAGARAH
Another wonderful day of sunshine but it was getting hot and thundershowers were predicted in the afternoon. Also, my flight to Tyagarah was to take me over the Evans Head Bombing Range so I called Brisbane Control to find out if the Restricted Area was going to be active. When I called the 1800 flight service number I had been using the entire trip, I was introduced to the new "user pay" flight service and an automated voice asked for a card number or directed me stay on the line for assistance. I stayed on and a briefer came on the phone. When I told them I was finishing up the "Around Australia in an Ultralight" trip I was directed to a briefer who was more than willing to assist and told me the area would be active at 13:15 local time. It was hard to leave all the wonderful people we met but if I stayed much longer I could be delayed another day.
Tim was my passenger and we were airborne in time to get through the Restricted Area. I had to climb to 3500 ft for favorable wind and when I was over Ballina I descended to 500 ft along the beach. The 20 kts of northeast wind slowed me to just below 40 kts of groundspeed but I didn't care - I wanted to savor this leg. I reached Cape Byron and orbited over the lighthouse. I had been here before only in a Drifter four months ago when I was getting my certification for ultralights in Australia. Tyagarah was just a few miles away and now I was going to land the Xair there. I called Graeme Johns before I left South Grafton and told him I would be arriving that afternoon. He told me it was blowing 15-20 out of the northeast so I was prepared for the landing. I stayed at 500 ft till abeam the airstrip and climbed to my downwind leg on to runway 05. It was still hard to believe I was bringing the Xair in for a landing at the airstrip where I first started flying in Oz but here I was. I landed in the turbulence and taxied up to SkyLimit Aviation. Graeme came out to meet us. It was a good feeling to be there. Graeme let me put the Xair in a hangar for the night. Lenne', Aren, and Sungie arrived and Tim wanted to go to the beach. We drove to Byron Bay and went swimming at Tallow Beach in the lee of Cape Bryon trying to avoid the wind. We enjoyed a swim in the cool water and drove back to the town for a pizza dinner. We also wanted to spend time at an internet café to check messages and we found Byron Bay has the lowest prices for internet use. We drove back to Tyagarah and camped at the airstrip.
Day 135 - Friday, December 1 - TYAGARAH & BYRON BAY AGAIN We spent the morning at Tyagarah Beach enjoying the sun, the sand, and the surf created by the strong northeast wind that had been blowing for the last two days. The air was warm and the water very refreshing. We kept thinking about the snow in Juneau and how fortunate we are to be here. After a few hours in the sun, Aren got toasted in spite of the liberal amount of sunscreen he applied before venturing outside. We left the beach just after lunch and headed back to Byron Bay so Aren and Sungie could spend more time at an internet café catching up on the Juneau gossip. The afternoon thunderstorm hit us by 4PM but it didn't last long. We drove to Broken Head Caravan Park just south of Byron Bay. I flew over the area and wanted to go there for the evening. The park is located on the beach so we enjoyed the sound of the surf, the wind, and the thunder that evening. After dark, Lenne' and I walked along the beach and watched the beacon from the Cape Bryon Lighthouse rotate past the flashes of lightning out at sea. Another magical night in Oz!
Day 136 - Saturday, December 2 - TYAGARAH TO CABOOLTURE (110 NM for 1.4 hours flown) THE LAST OFFICIAL LEG - OUR JOURNEY IS COMPLETE!
The wind shifted direction over night but we were in the lee of Broken Head and didn't feel the full effect of the southeast wind until Lenne' and I walked up the trail to the overlook. It was blowing at least 20 kts and I kept thinking how ironic it was that my last leg, the one I really wanted to last forever, was going to go by so quick. We encountered headwinds most of the trip and now we have a tailwind. We drove back to Tyagarah and prepared for the last official leg of our journey. I could make the leg up the coast to Tangalooma on Moreton Island, cross the water, and on to Caboolture without a fuel stop. It was a bit turbulent on takeoff and I flew 500 ft to the beach where smoother air awaited. Once on course, I was making 90 kts over the ground. I wanted to stay along the beach so, as per the ERSA, I called Brisbane Radar for clearance through Coolangatta airspace. Brisbane Radar referred me to Cooly Tower for clearance. Cooly tower approved my request and I zipped through their zone in a few minutes. I cleared the control zone and entered Southport MBZ.
The Gold Coast was a fabulous place to fly by especially at 500 ft along the beach. The 500 ft hotel towers were just abeam my left wingtip and Tim was checking out the pools on the rooftops. Next we flew over SeaWorld and continued north along the coast to Stradford Island. The wind created a haze and visibility was reduced to 10 NM. Even thought we were just 15 miles from downtown Brisbane, in the haze and strong wind, the coastline felt as remote as the Nullarbor. We reached Tangalooma and it was time to cross the water to Bald Point. I climbed to 3500 ft and made the crossing at 80 kts. Caboolture was getting nearer. We were about to land at the same airstrip that we started only coming in from a different direction. It was an uneventful landing but the moment was grand - we actually circumnavigated Australia!
I taxied up to Jerry's hangar and shut down. Jorg, Jenny, and Bill were there and welcomed Tim and I back to Caboolture. The newspaper reporter that was going to meet us was called away to another story and didn't arrive at Caboolture. Jenny drove Tim and I to the clubhouse so we could get something to eat. Ground support, Lenne', Aren, and Sungie arrived two hours later. We drove to Redcliffe so Aren could meet with Shontelle and Sandi and then we all celebrated by going out to dinner and a movie.
Day 137 - Sunday, December 3 - CABOOLTURE TO COOMERA with a stop at REDCLIFF (114 NM for 2.8 hours flown)
We were to fly to Coomera and meet Michael Coates but before leaving the area we made time to take Shontelle and her dad John, Sandi and her mum and dad - Annette & Wesley, and Sarah for a flight around the Redcliffe area. They invited us back to their house for a lunch barbeque and swim in their pool. We stayed until the clouds started to move in from the west and darken. Thanks, we had a great time and it was wonderful to meet you!
We went back to the Xair for the flight to Coomera. Michael was waiting patiently for us and wanted to take aerial video for the news. Aren flew with me and we departed Redcliffe with a 15 kt headwind. We stayed inland for this leg and weaved our way through the Brisbane airspace varying our altitude to conform to the altitude steps. We flew around Archerfield, dodged 1000 ft antenna fields, and missed the restricted area just west of Archer. We arrived over Coomera and Michael was just getting airborne again. We rendezvoused over Dreamworld (real live tiger country below) and worked our way down to the Goldcoast before heading back to Coomera for landing. Lenne' was already waiting by the time we landed. It was good to see Michael again after being away for four months. We secured the Xair in the compound. Thanks Lance for letting us keep Xair 403 there. It was getting late in the afternoon and we drove back to Burleigh Heads for the evening.
Daily Log - Week Twenty-One
Day 138 - Monday, December 4 - COOMERA TO COOLANGATTA with a stop at MURWILLUMBAH (42 NM for 1.2 hours flow) OUR LAST FLIGHT IN XAIR 403 AND THE MEDIA AWAITS!
We landed at Caboolture with no fanfare but Michael organized the media to meet us today at Coolangatta. Michael drove Aren and I to Coomera early enough so we could be at Coolangatta by 10:30. Two television stations, two newspapers, and a radio station were to film our arrival and conduct interviews with the family. I wanted to make one more landing at a small airstrip so I decided to fly to Murwillumbah, just 12 miles from Coolangatta, and wait. We were airborne from Coomera before nine and flew direct as we could to Murwillumba, staying just west of Cooly airspace and just below 1500 ft. We had our usual headwind and the flight was a bit turbulent but I didn't care, this was my last flying day of our Australian adventure.
Landing at Murwillumbah was truly spectacular. Rain forest and the 3792 ft Mt. Warning stood proudly to the west surrounded by the Tweed Range. The cloudy skies made the scene more surrealistic but in the packing the night before I forgot to take the cameras - and on our last day! Xair 403 was no stranger to the dramatic backdrop. Mt Warning was our first mountain to climb during our first week in Australia so it was fitting that we were in its shadow now. I had landed this tough little ultralight at some of Australia's most inhospitable landing strips across the Nullarbor - from landing at rainforest and beachside resorts, to dodging kangaroo, cattle, and cow chips at Outback Stations, even to the same fields the Royal Australia Air Force lands their fighter jets and now I was ready to land at a busy International Airport. The Xair had held up well and I will surely miss flying over Oz.
It was 10:00 and time to roll for the last flight. We were airborne by 10:10, enough time to slowly fly to Coolangatta International Airport just 12 miles away. I called Cooly tower, was cleared into the control zone, and then cleared to land with a right base to runway 14. I was further cleared to land mid-field abeam the windsock where the camera crews and reporters were waiting to film the landing. I brought the Xair in for a smooth landing and taxied clear of the runway. Two jumbo jets were cleared to taxi so I was directed to hold once clear of the runway. For a moment we were nose to nose with the 767's as they made their way to the runway. When the jumbos were clear, I was directed to parking and waited for the news and the rest of the family to drive around to meet us.
What a rush - TV cameras, photographers, reporters, all walking out to talk to us. We did our family hug and the cameras started snapping. Then the interviews started. It was fun to have the family be stars for the moment but I was dealing with knowing the adventure that I dreamed of over one year ago was at an end. With the interviews over it was time to take the wings off the Xair and trailer it back to Burleigh Heads where it had been assembled. Michael had a custom made trailer ready for the Xair so it didn't take long before it was disassembled and loaded on the trailer. Once back at Michael's factory, it was time to wash the Xair and get it ready for sale. Lenne' was busy cleaning the motor home and we put the boys to work packing boxes of stuff we didn't want to haul across the country. We went out for lunch and the wind was blowing. But for once, in a long time, I really didn't have to worry - I wasn't going flying.
Days 139-140 - Tuesday & Wednesday, December 5/6 - THE GOLD COAST
Tuesday was spent cleaning the motor home and the Xair 403. On Wednesday we went to Warner Brothers Theme Park to enjoy the rides and shows. Before I joined Lenne' and the boys at the theme park, Michael took me to look at the new aircraft he will be selling to overseas buyers. The new Australian made Conroy Sparrow XC is a fiberglass composite built kit. More information can be found on the web site: http://www.mcp.com.au/sparrow This plane could be my new toy for Alaskan flying! That evening, we went to dinner with Michael's family, and had a wonderful evening. As we were walking out of the mall where the restaurant was located, Tim disappeared and returned to the car without telling anyone. After looking around together for him, we split up, with the intention of meeting at the car. It was quite ironic that on one of our last nights in Oz, Tim found his way back to the car without any problems but it took Aren and Lenne' 45 minutes to get there.
Day 141 - Thursday, December 7 - BURLEIGH HEADS TO BRISBANE
After a final cleaning of the motor home in the morning, we left for Brisbane. We said our goodbyes to Michael and hit the road. We just can't thank him enough for the expertise and support he provided. This trip would have been near impossible without his help. We stopped at Brisbane Motor Camper Centre to check in and found Terry Friar to be on holiday. Yvonne welcomed us back and we arranged to drop the motor home off on Friday.
Day 142 - Friday, December 8 - BRISBANE
After spending another hour, this time on last minute cleaning of the motor home refrigerator, it was time to return the motor home to B.M.C.C. Yvonne completed the final inspection and paperwork. Then they took me to the airport to pick up a rental car. That afternoon I drove the family to Brisbane for last minute Christmas shopping at South Bank Park and Queen Street Mall. Aren met up with Shontelle for a final goodbye and later we joined them. It was a very pleasant way to spend our last evening in Oz.
Day 143 - Saturday, December 9 - AUSTRALIA TO THE UNITED STATES (6300 NM for 14 hours flown)
We will miss Oz, but we keep telling ourselves that we will be back to see places we missed and to visit our new friends. Thanks to all who helped make this journey a success!
Special Thanks to:
In Brisbane - Terry Friar at Brisbane Motor Camper Centre for getting us started with the motor home. In Tyagarah - Graeme Johns for making time so I could get my ultralight certification in just three day and for the hangar space when I flew into Tyagarah in Xair 403. In Redcliffe - Shontelle, John, and Francine Shepherd, and Sandi, Wesley, and Annette Staibe for their friendship, hospitality and support throughout our journey. In Caboolture - Jeff Underhill for letting us use the hangar prior to the beginning of the trip. In Noosa - Graham Allen for taking us under his wing and having us over for our first Aussie Barbeque when we were weathered in at Noosa. And to John for letting us stay at the airstrip, use the phone lines so we could hook up to the Internet, and for keeping the water hot for showers. In Rockhampton - Paul and Joy Hallet at Hedlow for inviting us to spend the evening listening to Jazz music in the park and letting us camp at their beautiful airstrip. In Townsville - Gordon Bailey for contacting us before we started the trip and meeting us at Jones' Road Aviation, ensuring that we felt at home and arranging a hangar space in Innisfail with Carlo. To Bill Starke at Jones Road Aviation for hosting us and providing a hangar and campsite for a couple of nights. In Innisfail - Carlo Petri of King Reef Aviation for storing Xair 403 in his hangar for two weeks while we explored Cairns, the Great Barrier Reef, and Cape Tribulation. And Ron Watson for putting the Xair in his hangar for the first night and helping me install the ballistic parachute. In Perth - Allen Gringo for helping me with the 100-hour maintenance on the Rotax and Allen Richards for support and providing me with clues to alleviate the Kak Worm problem from our laptop. In Bunbury - Brandon Watts for retorqueing my prop and providing maintenance tips on the Rotax. In Busselton - Ian Stevenson for letting us camp at the airstrip and getting coverage for us in the local newspaper and Peter Hales for hangar space. In Walpole - Donna and Greg for letting me keep the Xair at the CALM airstrip and hangar during the wet weather. In Albany - John Lewis for keeping in contact with us, and hosting us while we visited their lovely part of Australia. To Jerome and Wendy Pilkington for the barbeque and for flying me back to Walpole to pick up the Xair. To Harold Clasen for letting us keep the Xair in his hangar and his wife Uta for the support and yummy homemade fig jam, tomato sauce and pickled fruit. In Esperence - Bill Lance for providing hangar space. We would have lost the Xair during a windstorm if it weren't for that hangar. In Memory of John Cambell at Fraser Range. John was killed when his Thruster crashed on the range several weeks after our visit. To his wife Heather and son Beetle we extend our sincere condolences. In Gawler - Gawler Soaring club for your kind support and letting us stay at the club grounds. In Warrnambool - Tony Franc at Sharp Aviation for hangar space. In Torquay - Randy for letting us camp at Tiger Moth World. In Sunbury - Rod Birrell and Tony Curzon at the Airsports Flying School for your support and letting us use your facility while we visited Melbourne. In Hepburn Springs - Ted for the night at "Linga Longa". In Canberra - Paul Middleton for all your support for getting my certification to me in short order so I could start the trip with no delays, for dinner, and arranging hangar space at Dick Smith's, as well as arranging a place to stay while we were in the Sydney area. To Rod and Dean and the Australian Ultralight Federation for your friendship and support. To Ben Haseler the manager at Bowlyie for letting us put the Xair in Dick's hangar. In St. Marys - Helen Kennett for your banana cake, friendship and letting us stay at your airstrip for two nights while we visited Sydney. In Wangarretta - The members of the Wanga Aero club for providing hangar space. In Tumut - Peter Wilson and Graham Smith for putting the Xair in the hangar just before a heavy rain shower. In Soldiers Point - To Terry and Janice Linsell for dinner and support. And to his family Rebecca and Daniel (not Luke!). In South Grafton - To Trevor and Maureen Heinz for your kind support and for boosting Lenne's motivation at Bowen. And to the members of the South Grafton flying club who had a barbeque for us. In Nambucca Heads - To John Monckton for setting up an electric fence around the Xair to keep the cattle away. In Juneau - Fritz Funk for bringing our web page to the classroom and teaching the kids about Australia. And to Vanessa Roberts for taking care of our dog and house in our absence. And Very Special thanks to Michael Coates who in addition to providing Xair expertise, provided us with: water, electricity and parking for the motor home; a phone connection for updating the web page; a television for our kids' entertainment needs; hot water showers for our health and relaxation needs; and car transportation to help us get around.