Trip to Australia


The most fantastic vacation ever!

Four women in two Cessna 172s flying 2500 nm (31 hours ) in
beautiful Australia- a country of vast contrasts from ultra modern
cities of Adelaide, Brisbane and Sidney to the outback and bush and the
awesome-barren emptiness. Such fabulous people. The flying challenging at times
but the only way to go. An adventure of a lifetime!
Australia Trip

We were met after our commercial flight from LAX at the Quanta’s Terminal in
Brisbane by Sarah, the 25 year old Australian pilot that joined our adventure,
briefed us on VFR corridors that even the Australians manage to screw up,
interpreted the Australians rapid fire language (“we are divided by one common
language” became our chant). Sarah taught us that the only beverage in Australia
is Cooper’s Pale Ale. Sarah was fantastic fun, tough as they come and very
knowledgeable about flying the Australian Southeast. She was also a glider pilot
which immediately endeared her to me - she flew gliders at Waikerie!
Renting the two aircraft in Brisbane was interesting! The chief flight instructor
had no idea he was to rent out one of his aircraft to an American ( and a woman, at
that). Finally after a morning and half an afternoon, the decision was made to give
me a check ride on my way from Archer Field in Brisbane to Gold Coast. The
written was grueling as I had less than 1/2 hour to complete it before weather was
to move in, I had no idea how to convert meters to feet, liters to
gallons-fortunately altitudes are in feet and miles in nautical. The other fortunate
part was that the instructor giving me the check ride did not have time to grade the
test before turning the keys over to me.
The check ride consisted mainly of navigation and an emergency or two. I actually
flew through a rainbow-never have done that before and it had to be good luck
as after landing with a 25 kt wind ( couldn’t see the airport until 2 mile final because
of rain), the instructor stamped my log book and departed in another aircraft with a
student. We were free to begin our journey of a life time in VH-Juliet Gulf
Romeo-I grew to love this sturdy 1976 Cessna 172 with 53 gallons fuel!!! Sarah
and Phoebe flew VH Bravo Victor Yankee, a fuel injected Cessna 172 and light
weight Suzanne was with me for the 2570nm trip.

As more rain, wind and night were rapidly approaching we got our first of many
taxi cabs .Yes, and on our second day in Australia, we discovered that ALL the
toilets are weird and flush funny and the water goes the wrong way.
In the morning after walking the beach to see the sun come up over the Pacific, I
discovered the sun actually doesn’t come up exactly in the east because it grew
light BEHIND me. (11 degrees east variation was to confuse this Virginian several
times). After a delightful breakfast of iced coffee and Coolangata pastries we
walked the beach to the international surfing contest-the waves were so huge, I
could not believe people actually ran toward them. In several hours we were flying
over the same unbelievably gorgeous beaches. On our flight to Coff’s Harbor
having to deviate inland for military airspace, I realized that the KLN 89 GPS
was not as reliable as I hoped ( probably pilot error-garbage in, garbage out). We
ended up following an active railroad track and I felt very much like I was back in
the US except for the gorgeous mountains, the miles of tropical trees and farms.
My first real encounter with air traffic control was coming into Coff’s Harbor. The
airport looked deserted except for one lone airliner. Tower told me to land on the
grass strip-sort of surprised as there was no wind, no traffic, I asked how long the
grass strip was. He told me in meters, I asked how long in feet. He said , “I’ll make
it easy for you, just land on the paved strip”. The Australians all seem to love
Americans, the controllers just aren’t sure we can fly aircraft. Taxi cab to “Opal
Cove” another gorgeous resort on the beach with a lagoon that I am sure had
crocodiles-didn’t see any and never did except in a zoo near Adelaide. There were
several things we were all going to lie about seeing but as we can’t keep our
stories straight, the fact is that we never saw the Blue Mountains as we had to get
on top of an overcast going inland and coming home 13 days later again had to
come in over an overcast.

Dinner of Kangaroo- not bad, some Cooper’s Pale Ale and lots of laughs and the
next morning while flirting with the cab driver, Phoebe lost her passport.
Australians are honest genuinely nice people and this man whose name we never
even knew, somehow tracked us down by phone in Sidney to tell us he had found
the passport and would forward it to our hotel in Brisbane- “no worries” at this
point but poor Phoebe did end up spending an extra two nights in Australia as
passport didn’t arrive in time for our commercial flight back to US.
Sarah and I worked on our flight to Sidney and the nightmarish VFR corridor -we
were actually supposed to find the correct inlet and a light house, after passing
over at least ten on our 3.6 hour flight, we turned one inlet to early and ended up
flying over at least half the houses of this 4 million population city. Getting a little
nervous about the all dreaded military airspace, and not finding the Brooklyn
Bridge, I called Sidney approach which I gather is reserved for IFR only. The
controller was actually delightful even though I could only get about 1/4 of his
kindly staccato instructions. We did learn we were coming up on the Brooklyn
Bridge, which I probably would not have recognized as a bridge if I didn’t have a
good imagination. We dutifully went on our way after one more request to the
controller to “Repeat please”. The controller very pleasantly and slowly said “ I
said, Ga Day”. Oh they are wonderful people and by the end of the trip, I actually
looked forward to conversing with them.
Bankston Airport is one of the busiest general aviation airports in Australia- so
glad I was given a straight in to 11L as the taxing to general aviation from 11C or
11R would be a zoo as “progressive taxi” doesn’t seem to be an option in
Australia and in all 12 of the airports in which we landed, I never saw a taxiway
sign! How is it that they don’t seem to have the runway incursion problem we do
in the US???

Sidney is an ultra modern delightful city with beautiful harbors-people actually
ride the high speed ferries to work in the morning. While the girls went shopping,
I headed via two ferry boats to Rose Bay where I got to take my first DeHavilan
Beaver Float Plane flight. Rose Bay, since the flying boats era, has been
designated for sea planes. They let me sit right seat behind the Pratt & Whitney,
not that they were impressed with my seaplane rating and 13 hours on floats in a
PA18. Sidney is gorgeous from any view. We took a sunset dinner cruise that
night and saw it all again!

Our shortest flight, 12 miles, was from Bankston toward the Blue Mountains. We
had hoped to fly to Waga Waga however ended up at Camden, a glider, tail
dragger, small flight school airport with delightful people. We waited for an
opening in the clouds which never came. One of the Australians locals, Mike and
his son had lived in Roanoke and flew gliders with Lanier and Tachla Franz at
New Castle, Va! They gave us a ride to the only motel with rooms- Australia is a
country of festivals-they celebrate everything and instead of news casts at night
they have sports casts. The motel looked like a horse stable turned into a motel or
a motel made to look like a stable-whatever-it was clean and within walking
distance of a restaurant with great food and a lovely garden outback with huge
rose trees and every tropical blooming plant imaginable. Sarah and I waited out a
rain storm in the bar and had the best time listening to a fantastic two man band
with true Australian music that was not country but not anything else I recognized
but really liked.

Bright and early the next morning we knew it was going to be a great day when
two hot air balloons floated by and a Pitts put on a air show in apparently his
practice area-fun. Breakfast from a grocery store and off on a two leg day from
Camden to over fly Waga Waga on to Yarranwonga for fuel and downing the rest
of our grocery goods before heading over the first big dessert like flat barrenness
to the cool coast and Waranbool. It was a 6.2 hours of flying day with strap down
thermals at 8500. For 50 miles I practiced saying “Yarranwonga traffic Cessna 172
Juliet Gulf Romeo 10 North inbound for left downwind 19 Yarrawonga”- I still
screwed it up but we were so far from any other airport, they had to know I was
coming into the airport south of the huge lake. By that time the GPS was working,
although I never really trusted that it would-pilotage, pilotage, pilotage! Suzanne
was great at finding many of the check points -rivers and lakes that had dried up,
railroad beds of defunct train service, power lines that blended with the moon type
surface, towns consisting of 4 or 5 buildings, main roads of dirt. I would never do
this area of the world alone as Flight Following and 1-800 WX Brief do not exist.
No one would look for you -maybe ever! Even after learning much of the
phraseology, the airspace and rules, it was comforting to know that Sarah would
miss us if we did not arrive at sunset.
Yarrawonga was my favorite airport of the trip. Ann and Peter ran the pilot shop
from a hangar with aircraft paraphernalia hanging from the rafters and
Trike Ultralights for rent. Peter is an instructor and used to fly big aircraft. Such
nice people-I want to go back!

Waranbool was one of my favorite towns. The taxi cab driver could only
understand our Australian Sarah- wonder how many times we would have been
stranded without her? The light show of the ship wrecks would give Disney a run
for their money and dinner at Pippies would put some of our finest restaurants to
shame. By the way- no tipping in Australia, the wait staff is apparently well paid
and enjoy their jobs and their customers.
Taking off on the grass strip next morning was smoother than some paved I have
been on. This is the day to tell our second lie-we never saw the 12 Apostles in
Warnabool-head winds so strong that even with 53 gal of fuel we were a bit
nervous about getting to an airport with fuel. Airports, except in the larger cities,
are completely secure, not a soul about and card lock fuel with hoses that are so
heavy it takes two women -one to hold the hose while the other up on a spindly
ladder fuels. Our third lie: we also never saw a whales tale although we flew for
4.6 hours along the beach from Warnabool to Adelaide -apparently the
temperatures were so hot the whales went south 30 miles to cooler waters. It was


one of the prettiest flights although we searched all altitudes from 500 ft to 8,500
for less of a head wind.
Getting through and around military airspace and finding the VFR corridors were
the challenge of the long day- Sarah had briefed me to follow the Mangroves
inland once we got to the factories north of the big airport. I never thought to ask
her what the heck a Mangroves looked like on the ground much less from the air,
but somehow I managed to not violate any airspace or at least they haven’t caught
up with me yet. I remember hearing about a German that rented an aircraft in New
York and had violated over a hundred FARs and flown through multitudes of
airspace restrictions by the time the FAA caught up with him in California -they
let him go if he promised never to fly again in the US- I really didn’t want to mess
things up for future US pilots- it is too wonderful to spoil and besides-too
embarrassing.
We spent two interesting days in Adelaide with Bob and Delray Keogh, parents of
Australian Air Safaris, giving Sarah a break and us a look at the land from another
generation closer to people that developed this country.
We drove through back country winding roads to a zoo with every Australian
animal and creature-so glad I saw some from a safe distance. We actually saw
kangaroos in the wild and the funniest Emu, they look at you while they are
running away and run right into things! At Victor Harbor we walked out to the
beautiful island on the South Sea and then took a horse drawn tram back to
mainland and vehicled to the harbor of Adelaide-again so ultra modern with
gorgeous sail and motor boats, wonderful restaurants and kids and dogs picnicking
on the grass.

Northeast we flew over the vineyards and wineries we had visited. We followed
the Murry river, the longest river in Australia, for over half its length
into the bush. We flew within 10 nm of Waikie- the famous glider port
of Australia. Now I know why as fairly early morning at 7500 feet we
were getting some strong thermals. It was so desolate in this area that if
you saw dust on the road miles away, you couldn’t wait to see what was
kicking up such a trail and then you would look down and feel they were
so lonely, you circled around just to let them know you were there- a
bond in the middle on no where.
Swan Hill! The part I remember the most about Swan Hill is that after
walking along the Murry River Path, I was so hot I ventured into a RSL-
Returned Service League, like our VFWs only open to everyone because it is in
a town of 11,000 and there aren’t enough RSL people to keep it open. Deciding I
wanted to blend in with the locals and NOT be a tourist, I sat down and only said 3
words: “Cooper’s Pale Ale”. The bartender immediately said “ what part of the US
are you from”- so much for my attempt to eves drop. I learned it was 41Celsius
outside, which inspired quite a discussion from all trying to figure out how much
that was in Fahrenheit- had left my trusty E6 B in the aircraft- don’t even think
about going to Australia with out it. Anyway about 107F is what they came up
with and I decided not to continue my walk on the river. That night we had an
Italian dinner at Quovitis that was better than anything I had eaten in Italy-the
owner came to the table to take our order and actually designed several delightful
concoctions from the bar for us. Once Phoebe was talking so much , he asked her
if he had permission to leave and go fix our food!

7500 feet to Dubbo with a nice tail wind-3.1 hours. As we taxied in we saw the
Royal Flying Doctor King Air outside their hangar. What a read to learn of this
fabulous service that has provided health care for the outback stoic people since
the 1920s or maybe slightly earlier, now flying Navajos and King Airs. After
lunch in downtown Dubbo, population 30 plus thousand we enjoyed a visit at
Jedda Boomerang- the highlight of the people part of the trip. These half breed
Aboriginals were fascinating, telling of their culture and beliefs. They made their
living from art work and making boomerangs from Mulga-a wood that is so dense,
it will not float in water. I bought and wood burned a decoration on one. Another
River walk-much more beautiful and with thoughts of all we had learned from
these people who believe everything has a living spirit. As I walked under a huge
tree filled with at least 50 white Cockatoos they set up such a racket. I laughed out
loud because the aboriginal woman told me that cockatoos were really old
aboriginal women that gossiped when ever a woman walked under their
tree-wow-how did they know so much to cackle about? The lady at the art gallery
told me the walk to our motel would be about 55 minutes-after one and a half
hours, I knew these Australians were not only tough but also fast walkers!

After a delightful Thai dinner at the Rose Garden, we all walked the river path to
see the art work painted on the bridge abutments by the aboriginal prisoners as
community service projects-beautiful and so unique.

The next day a short cool flight arriving before lunch in the strangest place I have
ever been- flying over Lightening Ridge was our first indication that this town was
different-large piles of rocks, like big ant hills next to tin boxes that could be
houses with old cars sitting beside and holes in the ground. Wow-it turned out this
is how a lot of the 3,000 population made their living-going underground by day
to mine opals, to the bar at night where we found these people to be interesting
and fun to talk with. After the bar they take the roughest roads I have ever been on
back to their tin houses.
We took a tour of the mines and actually got out in the sweltering heat and
scratched around looking for something shiny or that could be polished up.
The people we met said mining was an obsession and even told of a man that
struck it rich but never left his tin house or claim and continued to live his life
going down under the ground every day.

As we had not read the fine print in the ERSA (similar to our Airport Facility
Directory) we didn’t order fuel a week in advance so had to fly to Moree the next
morning. Because it was predicted to be hot and one of our longest flights, we left
on our only drawn flight. Ended up with the sun directly in our eyes and believe
me, the sun is brighter in Australia.

Flying into Moree I had my most fun conversation with another aircraft. A caravan
was coming in about the same time and being in no hurry, I told him I would be #2
behind him. As he was exiting the runway, he thanked me and I finally got to say
it “NO WORRIES MATE”! Oh such fun.

On top over about 80 miles of overcast and we missed the Blue Mountains again.
Coming into Bellana at about 800 feet we saw Bravo Victor Yankee chukka
chukka chukking along-it was the third time on the whole trip we saw each other
although we did chat on their aircraft to aircraft 123.45.
We both had to “ORBIT” prior to clearance to pass at 500 ft on the coast at the
end of the Brisbane Int Airport. Glad Sarah had told me that “orbit” meant
“circle”. Also the pattern is called the circuit and AD means Air Drome.

Then inland at an inlet at Southport field to follow the double lane road to the
Bullseye painted on top of the Target Big Box-was really delighted when both
Suzanne and I spotted it at the same time. Called Archer Field to proceed inbound
for right down wind for 10R at 1500 ft and drop down to 1000 at the opposite end
of the runway-how is it they don’t have aircraft drop on top of each other? Then
“cleared for the roll through”-aha-had already been fooled on that one-it does not
mean a touch and go-it means to land long- apparently the Australians like to save
tires and stay in the cool air. The controller did fool me one more time -he told the
aircraft behind me that I was on “lite final”-being wary there was more of us
turning final than just me, I said “JGR is on right base”- only to find out from
Sarah’s laughter later that “lite final” means “short final”. Now we were“ home”
from a fabulous adventure. I will go back and hope I meet up with VH- JGR and
all the delightful people again-especially Sarah and I hope she becomes the
helicopter pilot she wants to be and I hope she flys for the Royal Flying Doctor
Service.

Australia Trip

 

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