Welcome to my blog.

In 2008, I received a trial flight in a light aircraft - a flight which changed my life. After a mere thirty minutes in an asthmatic old Cessna, I decided I would become a pilot. It was love at first flight. As Leonardo Da Vinci famously said - Once you have tasted flight, you will forever walk the earth with your eyes turned skyward, for there you have been, and there you will always long to return.”

However, like any relationship, there were highs (and there were puns!) and there were many moments where I thought I would never grasp this new skill.

After fifteen instructors, six flying schools and enough tears to fill a dam, I became a private pilot. And, because of a strong masochistic streak, I decided to study for my Commercial Pilot's Licence.

This blog is a working narrative of my time as a pilot, through my personal writing, my round Australia trip and my career as an aviation journalist, magazine editor, customer engagement manager for AvPlan EFB and aircraft salesperson for Cirrus Sydney.

Aviation has changed my life: through learning to fly I have discovered a part of myself that is resilient, organised and capable of great joy as a result of hard work, setbacks and learning.

In the words of Socrates, “Man must rise above the Earth – to the top of the atmosphere and beyond – for only thus will he fully understand the world in which he lives.”

Thanks for reading, and please feel free to email me with advice and suggestions on


Biggus Trippus

Thursday, October 28, 2010

The Plot Thickens

There’s a moment, a concrete place in time, where an idea becomes a reality; for all the talk, and advice-seeking, the Real Life Moment for me was when I actually booked the aircraft. When I sat down and entered each of those days into the booking system, it hit me, this time with more excitement than fear - I’m going to fly solo around Australia!

After a long chat with the amazingly helpful manager at Schofields Flying Club, I’ve managed to secure Piper Archer III, SFR (pictured above). Nelson did the maths, and worked out the aircraft would have a fresh hundred hourly just before my departure. In order to work out where I might be for the fifty hourly, he threw a circumnavigation route into Command Flight Planner, whilst I sat there reeling, muttering “it’s huge” over and over again. I think CFP predicted over 5,000 nm for the trip. I’m not sure though, because CFP is a windows-only programme, and as a Mactard, I can’t use it at home. But, as soon as my forty something WACs arrive, and I find an area large enough to lay them out (anyone have a warehouse space available?) I will have a number in nautical miles.

As Nelson and I were discussing the benefits of going coastal, people wandered by with suggestions - don’t miss Tasmania, head for the islands, the real Australia is in the middle! At this point, I have just over three weeks to complete the trip, if I’m to be back for Christmas. I’ve decided on Route A and Route B, to factor in the weather.

Here’s what I have so far - Plan A -
View Solo Round Oz - Plan A in a larger map

At this point these are just possibilities, of course. I’m open to suggestions and advice (well, begging for em, really...) so please email me if you think I’ve missed something important. I’ve been made very aware of the dangers of the Wet Season, which is why I have Plan B (to follow). If I take this route, it means ALL flying will start very early and finish my lunchtime.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Plan B

I’ve chosen only sealed strips, due to fear of being stranded on a dirt strip! This does narrow down the places I visit, but it’s still looking pretty amazing, from where I’m sitting on my bed in Sydney!

And here’s Plan B!

View Solo Round Oz - Plan B in a larger map

Tuesday, November 2, 2010


“Advice is what we ask for when we know the answer but wish we didn’t” Erica Jong

It was the first thing I asked for - on PPRuNe (the pilot’s network) on Facebook, and in Real Life. Burning questions were “should I go Up North, considering The Wet?”
“Is three weeks enough?”
“Are there any mustn’t miss places out there, that others have experienced, that I simply must see?”

Luckily for me it turns out people love giving advice - here’s a top ten of the most valuable suggestions I’ve been given so far:

- Don't assume every destination has fuel, and if they do, don't assume that they'll take the kind of payment you've got, and if they will, don't assume you can afford it

- Do all your flying in the morning, aiming to be done by midday. If it aint the monsoon, the afternoon CB's will getcha.

- Listen to the local operators, and don't be afraid to ASK them if there's anything you need to know. You will find everybody very friendly and a wealth of 'local knowledge' - so ask as you go, is my tip.....

- Take the faster aircraft if you have a choice - you'll still enjoy the trip and won't appear to be 'standing still' over the more flat 'uninteresting' areas (?)

- Keep one bag with most essentials and an overnight bag as well, this way if you are in the unfortunate position of having to walk some distance into town you won't have to lug the entire thing with you, its caught me out a couple of times! As someone else said, call the hotel/motel/accommodation ahead of time and they'll usually be more than happy to help you out and come get you and do be sure to check they are able to pick you up as well.

- carry snacks, you just never know where your gonna get stuck overnight and be without something for dinner!! Keep muesli bars or some trail mix type stuff somewhere out of direct sunlight!!

- If you plan to land at sealed strips only, you will not have a problem. If you get stuck in the weather there are plenty of airstrips around to put her down and wait it out. I would suggest doing a flight through the topend in the wet. It will give you 'wet season experience' and it is the most beautiful time to fly. The air is crystal clear (no smoke,haze, dust) everything is bright green, there is water everywhere, and the waterfalls are in full swing in all the national parks.
Green Goblin

- Don't forget to stick a roll of dunny paper under the back seat. You never know when you will need it. Outback airstrip dunnies dont get serviced all that often and when you gotta go you gotta go.

- Nominate SARTIME or leave a flight note every single leg. No exceptions. Take the mobile and home phone numbers of at least three LAMEs you can ring if you need them. Consider taking spare alternator and starter motor – someone will advise you on this.
Shelley Ross, journalist.

- Don’t be terrified; the airplane doesn’t know where it is. For it knows you could be doing ccts at Bankstown.
A chopper pilot

If you feel you can add to this wealth, please drop me a line.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Of Red Cards and Red Tape..

After realising my ASIC is nearly two years out of date, I have begun the painstaking process of completing the renewal - photocopies of passport, driver’s licence, pilot’s licence, photos (just head, not smiling, nothing in the background), forms, head of first born son on a platter, payment of $186.00 - I realised why I’d let it lapse in the first place! Filling out the form online, going through the agony of passport photos and the greater agony of coughing up over one hundred and eighty bucks for a piece of red plastic, these were the easy things - finding someone CASA deem responsible enough to endorse the forms was another matter entirely. My group of friends does not include ONE bailiff, tax accountant, chiropractor, minister of religion, sheriff or member of the Australian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy.

For some reason, pilots and instructors are not listed, although nurses, bank employees and post office workers are.

Anyhow, rant off! I managed to find a CASA employee to sign the forms, although she wouldn’t sign off the passport photocopy as I didn’t have the actual passport to hand. Sigh!

AS it happens, the CASA building is next door to the pilot shop, so I was able to drown my sorrows in 43 WACS and six VNCs - hurrah! Let the planning commence!

Monday, November 8, 2010

House of Wacs

 $380 dollars buys the funkiest wallpaper in town - 43 crisp brand new WACS. What the three hundred plus dollars doesn’t cover, however, is the cost of the near nervous-breakdown initiated by trying to hang them on a straight, flat wall. They’re a conical projection dammit! I knew that! I just happened to forget that I don’t live in a mud hut, a keep of a castle or a wigwam. The world is round and my walls are straight; my WAC world is wonky, with large gaps in the middle. Impressively, though, it goes from floor to ceiling (and that’s a Victorian ceiling, not a midgety modern one), without Tasmania. Poor Tassie.

Aside from making the wall look slightly mouldy with its green and yellow hues, it highlights just how huge Australia is. Immense. Using a ladder, ruler and pencil, I’ve just calculated the distance between Sydney and Tennant Creek is over 1600 nm. The whole trip, according to Plan B, is 6000 nm. At my planned rate of three hours flying per day - (TAS 115 = 340nm per day!) it will take me 18 days, without a rest day, or any time off for weather/diversions.

The scariest, vast open spaces are the designated remote areas of the Tanami desert - through which there is a corridor from Mount Isa, Tennant Creek, Daly Waters and Katherine, and the Nullaboor Plain - huge patches of yellow, with very few towns, and very few fuel stops. Gulp.

The mantra - one leg at a time.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Blue Skies Playlist

 Having worked out how to bluetooth music to the Lightspeeds, I've begun working on the ultimate in-flight playlist.

Here's Part One:

Ladies and Gentlemen  1:57 Spiritualized

Learning To Fly 4:01 Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers

Flying 4:19 Faces

Wings 4:31 The Fall

Aeroplane 3:56 Björk

Too Angry to Fly 2:44 Granfaloon Bus

A Head With Wings 3:40 Morphine

Fly Away from Here 5:02 Aerosmith

Aces High 4:29 Iron Maiden

Come Fly With Me 2:51 Frank Sinatra

Learning to Fly 4:53 Pink Floyd

Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds

Fly Me Away 4:26 Allegash

Fly 2:58 Nick Drake

I'll Fly Away 1:55 Johnny Cash

Straighten Up and Fly Right 2:27 Nat "King" Cole

Over the Rainbow 2:56 Ingrid Michaelson

This Flight Tonight 2:53 Joni Mitchell

Fly Me to the Moon 3:32 Shirley Bassey

Walking In the Air 3:27 Aled Jones

Blue Skys 2:25 Perry Como

Give Me Wings 1:54 Ralph Stanley & The Clinch Mountain Boys

(Ghost) Riders In the Sky 3:34 Marty Robbins

Because 2:46 #1 Beatles

Coming In On a Wing and a Prayer 2:22 Perry Como

Up Where We Belong 3:46 Joe Cocker & Jennifer Warnes

I'd welcome suggestions/additions for Part Two.

Have a splendid day x

Monday, November 15, 2010

This One's For My Dad...

Friday, November 19, 2010

Latte Lamentations

Every morning, and in fact all through the night, my Waccy Wallpaper (thanks, Shelley!) intimidates, excites and thrills me. It’s SO immense, and in places rugged and barren. It pervades my dreams with images of flying, and I wake up thinking of the freedom of roaming it, willy-nilly, visiting places that to me, at the moment, are only names. I’m loathed to pin myself down to a concrete plan all the way around because I crave that freedom, to go where the wind takes me. As I trundle downstairs to satisfy that other craving - caffeine - I realise, with something akin to horror, that my coffee options on this trip are going to be scant. How will I recognise myself without a bucket of warm, soothing coffee attached to my hand? Might it be time to give up the last of my vices? (Aviation doesn’t count as a vice, I feel I need to point out - it’s a reason to exist!)

And then I started thinking, “if coffee’s hard to come by, at least the kinda coffee that doesn’t strip the roof of your mouth off, served from a machine with a milk-encrusted spout, then what am I going to EAT??” And THEN it dawned on me that this Girl From Wales has become one of those horrid little city types - an all black wearing latte-sipper from the Muesli Belt District; a salmon-lite-cream-cheese-blini eating driver of a quirky zippy city car which can be parked in a space under a 4WD; the kinda girl who thinks “slumming it” is sleeping on nylon sheets...

oh dear, perhaps this trip is long overdue....

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Piloting One Oh One

Since I had an attack of “late-thirty-something girl goes a bit dotty and decides to fly around Australia” a few of my non-pilot friends (and let’s face it, there are only a few left) have started asking questions about flying. Usually bored to the point of sticking pins in their eyes when having to listen to my flying stories, they’ve started taking a SLIGHT interest in how a girl goes about flying across Australia. So, with apologies to the pilots who may be reading this - frequency change approved, guys - here’s Piloting One Oh One.

 - Learning to fly an airyplane isn’t hard for most people (I myself NOT being one of those “most people” as you all know). However, it demands a passion, a huge wallet, a patient instructor and hours of practice.

- Landing is the hardest part, and many students pilots (well, one, for sure) start to develop what I call Ground Fear, which means this: coming into land, speed fine, approach path good, attitude correct, fly to aim point, arrrrrghhh! Ground! Pull up! Pull up! Balloooooon! Hard landing! Shakes! To counteract this annoying and potentially dangerous condition, I invented a little song called “Eyes to the End of the Runway”

- which I will spare you. Suffice to say, it works, and elliminates the sensation of the ground rushing past you at 70kph. And it includes the pre-landing checks, which make sure you’ve got the wheels down (later, when you fly bigger, more complicated airyplanes with moving parts!)

- No matter how well a pilot flies, they will be judged by the passenger on thier landing only.

- Navigating is the second hardest part. Everyone goes on about GPS and auto-pilot, but when you’re a student, these are verboten. And, because CASA (the Gods of Aviation Red Tape) are still wearing flares, we don’t get taught anything ABOUT GPS in our exam studies. So, it’s map, pencil, watch, ruler and protractor. “Heading and Time, Heading and Time” is an instructor’s fave mantra. Along with “power plus attitude equals performance” and “oh no, not again, GO AROUND!”

- it often takes many maps to navigate from one area to the other, and the key is to be organised. For some, this is a learnt skill. I once bought a book called “Organise Your Life in Seven Days”. On day two the book went missing, only to be found a month later under a pile of To Do lists. Flying without having your plans on a neat little screen takes a level of cockpit organisation I’ve had to master. I’ve also written to CASA with the suggestion of a map-folding component in the pilot syllabus, after nearly paper-cutting an instructor in the past. Long trips are best flown solo enabling the right hand seat to act as a desk. Instructors are strangely grumpy about having maps, whizz-wheels and assorted stationary dumped on their laps.

- Have you ever seen those giant bags pilots tote? Well, I can’t speak for the Hatted Airline Variety, but here’s what’s in an everyday run-of-the-mill pilot bag:
- ERSA - a book detailing every registered runway in the country.
- National Airfield Directory - the little strips not in the ERSA
- Maps - heaps of em!
- Headset (and spare headset)
- Whizz wheel - also known as Flight Computer, which sounds glam, but is actually            a circular slide rule used to calculating endurance, range, flying times, etc.
- Protractor, pencils, rubbers, rulers, sharpeners and lots of sticky tabs
- Pilots licence and medical
- Water
-Hand held VHF radio
- Torch

And THAT’S the reason learning to fly is so expensive...

- My passengers are usually mostly impressed by the radio work involved in a flight. Radio calls quickly become routine, and there’s a standard language used, but initially they’re terrifying! The minute a student puts their finger on the press-to-transmit button, they often go into Gabble Mode. I STILL forget stuff, occasionally, and have learnt to write a script if going through complicated air space requiring heaps of radio work. It helps, too, to meet the tower guys/gals and realise that they’re people, not disembodied voices of gods. And yes, we do say “roger” and “wilco” but, for the record, we do NOT say “over and out” and frankly, find it a bit unfunny when you say it at the end of phone calls/text messages.

- A commercial pilot’s licence doesn’t mean you fly for the airlines, and a private pilot’s licence isn’t a ticket to fly for a rich oil magnate. The difference between a PPL and a CPL is that with the latter you can fly for money. If you can find a job.

And that concludes Piloting One oh One. Tune in next time for answers to questions such as: do jets really land themselves, what do those bars mean on those epaulettes, and why would anyone spend the best part of $80,000 to get a commerical pilot’s licence when there are reportedly no jobs?

Monday, November 29, 2010

Bird Without Wings...

A reason to stay on the ground
5 o’clock this morning my text message beeper went off...rolling over to see if I’d been messaged by a giant lark, I realised today was the day! Monday the 29th. I’ll Fly Away Day.

Of course, I’d been watching the synoptic charts all week, and my expectations were not high, given the huge stubborn trough sitting over the whole coast. I’d clearly picked the worst week of the year to depart, and could almost see the weather gods sitting on their nimbostratus, sticking their tongues out  and jeering.

The text message was from a Channel Ten news reporter, asking about my departure time. I’d set my alarm, optimistically, for five thirty. I knew in my gut I was going nowhere, but the aviation bug is such that one will roll out of bed at five am on the hint of a chance to get airborne.

This is what I saw:

19005KT 9999 LIGHT RAIN BKN013
    FM290100 16015KT 9999 LIGHT RAIN FEW010 SCT015
    TEMPO 2900/2912 5000 RAIN BKN008
    T 18 20 20 19 Q 1014 1013 1012 1013

19012KT 9999 LIGHT RAIN BKN010 BKN040
    FM291200 06005KT 9999 LIGHT RAIN BKN010 
    INTER 2900/2910 3000 RAIN BKN008
    TEMPO 2910/2918 3000 RAIN BKN008
    T 21 22 21 20 Q 1013 1012 1013 1014

And Coffs:
    FM290900 02008KT 9999 LIGHT SHOWERS OF RAIN SCT015 BKN030
    T 25 25 24 22 Q 1012 1011 1010 1012

In short: cloudy, wet, windy with a 20 knot headwind and conditions below the minimums for my licence category. Back to bed time, in other words.

“Exercise your patience, it’s all part of the experience” texted my calm, ever-patient instructor. And he’s right. Aviation is a lesson in patience. The 29th is just a day, not THE day. There’s always tomorrow....

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Correspondence Between an Aviatrix and the Weather Gods...

26th November, 2010

Dear Weather Gods,
I've been so very good. Please be nice.
Sweet Aviatrix of Forest Lodge.

28th November, 2010

Dear Weather Gods,
Thank you for vomiting on my flight plans!
Now, I'm going to ask you very nicely "please, scatter your weather elsewhere and leave a big hole between here and Coffs"
Desperate Aviatrix, Forest Lodge

29th November, 2010

Dear Weather Gods,
Grrrr, the only hole in the weather is YOU!
Grounded, of Forest Lodge

30th November, 2010

Dear Weather Gods,

St Swithin
This is like some sick Aussie version of St Swithin's day.
Please, let me out!
Drenched, of Forest Lodge

1st December 2010

Dear Weather Gods,
Okay, okay. Tired of this meteorological ground-hog day, I've made a command decision and rescheduled the big adventure for 30th Dec. Now, tell me what I have to do to make you happy.
Yours sincerely,
Big Sad Eyes of Forest Lodge

2nd December, 2010

Dear Melodrama of Flodge,
We regret to inform you that we've gone over to the other side and are now working for the farmers.
Just close your eyes and think of Wales.
The Weather Gods

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Observations From a Hot Air Balloon...

It's 7 o’clock on a crisp march morning. There's not a cloud in the sky. Above the horizon are two hot air balloons, silent and breathtakingly graceful.

One balloon contains a honeymooning couple, sipping champagne, remarking on how neatly structured Sydney's Western Suburbs are from the sky. They can hear dogs barking across the neighbourhood, and see a splotch of suburban above-ground pools, one in every three gardens. And if they stop for one minute, and cast their eyes down to the aerodrome below, they might just spot a tiny little aircraft lined up at runway 34, a lone bird this morning, sitting there, still, unmoving.

Were they able to peel off the roof, they might spy in the left hand seat, a raven-haired woman in a green headset, mumbling what looks like a prayer, or a mantra. Over the radio, they may even hear her talking into her headset, and in a small, squeaky voice:
"Hoxton Park Traffic, skipper LFR, lining up 34 for a solo circuit"

It might be possible to sense her hesitation as she rolls onto the runway, and observe the recognition of fear in her eyes as she realises she can't turn back now, this is it, we're lined up. If they are a sensitive couple, able to suspend their obsession with each other for more than a moment, they may feel the combination of fear and bravery emanating from the cockpit, as with steady hand the girl advances the throttle, and gathers speed along the runway. They might hear the "wheeeee" and the chorus of "Fly Me To The Moon" before turning once more to each other to smile, kiss and create a snap-shot memory to carry into their marriage (how ever long lived!)...

By the time they've discussed tonight's reservations at Tetsuya's, they're over Warwick Farm, and our solo heroine has turned base, somewhat obliquely, and is bringing out a second stage of flap. Muttering acronyms to herself, she and her 500 kg flying machine head towards the runway, a little high and a touch fast, to finally settle on the asphalt.

Life goes on, all over the world. Somewhere someone is born. An old lady dies. A girl has her first orgasm. A writer gets published. A child walks. A jackpot is hit. A single leaf swirls round and round in a vortex of wind. Cliches are generated. And a young woman becomes a pilot.

Sunday, December 19, 2010


 Or - Why I Didn't Fly to Lord Howe Island

Lord Howe Airstrip
What is that feeling?

It’s not nerves, or fear. It’s not excitement, or anticipation.

It’s doubt! Yes! That’s it, doubt.

It’s half in my stomach and half in my head. And that’s why I can’t make a decision.

The aviatrix in me insists on taking the challenge,  imagining the thrill of this remote mountainous island over 300nm off the East Coast. Remembering the aviators who flew solo around the world in Tiger Moths; the pioneers who existed merely to discover; and the kick-arse gals who had adventure pie for breakfast.

But the pilot person I’ve trained myself to be is cautious. Three outta four of those flying explorers went missing over sea or jungles, their bodies never given a burial.

More than 300 nm miles over water. VFR. With a recently qualified pilot of 50 PIC. Who is 21 years of age. A lovely, lovely fella, who is, frankly, a lot braver than I:

This is a  trip where the alternate is the departure airydrome, where a PNR is required as the aircraft has only enough fuel for a one way trip. An aircraft that has one donk. One! And only one door. In the wettest summer on record. To an island which has one strip, a strip that ends in beach. With mountains along the side. A strip whose TAF often bears the words SEV TURB. To arrive at Lord Howe is to make a commitment to land.

A long, long, three hour stretch of water. I’ll hear the engine making sounds it’s never made before. I’ll have my hand on the door handle the whole way!

And so I decided not tof go. It was a crazy idea. And although some of my best ideas have been the crazy ones, this one demanded I listened to my gut.
I’ve shelved it in the filing cabinet of my mind, marked To Do After Twin Endorsement.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Ten, Nine, Eight, Shit! We’re on Two Already....

So afraid am I of jinxing my new departure plans, I’ve become mute on the subject - and now suddenly I’ve noticed the new date, nestling in quietly between Christmas and the New Year. So, that time has once again arrived: time again to check the weather forecasts with OCD regularity, to repack the flight bag, tent and chocolate-covered coffee beans, and to confer with my passenger/co-pilot. Yeps, that’s right - a titchy bit scared of crossing the Bass Strait alone, I asked dear pal (and almost PPL) Jen to hold my hand across the water.... Here’s the Biggus Trippus Mark Three: Wed 29th - Bankstown - Merimbula Thur 30th - Merimbula - Yarram Fri 31st - Yarram - Flinders Island And that’s where it stops for now. Unable to dodge, predict or even take into account this crazy unpredictable weather, I’m going to only plan three to five days in advance! The synoptics are showing a high over Tassie which may hold as far as Sunday, long enough to plan a visit. If the wx allows, Tassie will be explored; if not, we’ll exit via King Island and back onto the mainland, where Jen will catch an RPT back to Sydders, and I’ll hopefully continue in a south-westerly direction, with Perth as the bullseye.... For those of you still hanging in there with me - thanks, and smoke me a kipper....

Plan C

View Plan C - Southbound in a larger map

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Day One - Destination Merimbula

And so, finally and inevitably, the day arrived! Groundhog Day broken! A three line TAF! Scarcely able to believe my luck, I hotfoot it out to Bankie at first light, swinging by to pick up Jen. We load up SFR (evenly, although her tail starts to droop towards the ground - maybe I don’t need THREE tie down kits and 24 bottles of water..) print out the weather and file a plan and SARTIME.

“Hey Kree, come and see this!” shouts J-Co pointing to the plastic end of the wing where the wingtip light is (there MUST be a technical name for this...LAMEs speak up!). Inside, buzzing manically, is a veritable HIVE of bees - maybe thirty of the little stripy buggers - angrily butting the perspex as if in a cult frenzy.
“Shiiiiiit” retort I, eloquently as ever. “We’d better check with an instructor. We don’t want to get done for insect smuggling”
“Especially as they don’t have a valid ASIC” points out J-Co, validly, with her own $185 piece of red plastic swinging on a string.

So, indoors we go, dragging back out Salah, and then Bill Cooper, and frankly anyone who will look. The Mass Opinion is that it’s safe, and that the bees would probably die in-flight, and at the very least would provide more lift. As long as they were dead by Merimbula (the home processing centre of the ASIC) all would be well.

With farewells to all, we started up and called for taxi clearance. We ran-up, and were cleared for departure on 11L, with a “wheeeeee” and a chorus of Fly Me To the Moon - joined briefly by the stall-warning horn, there to remind me of my extra load (a tent, 43 Wacs, a bon voyage gnome, heavy French literature and more nuts than a nudist colony).

It was a clichély beautiful day (insert your own aero-clichés here, dear Reader) and so we decided to stop at Windy Wollongong for lunch (in Timmy’s favourite five star restaurant). Nourished and caffinated, and after a quick check on the bees (dead), it was direct to Merimbula, via Nowra which was closed for the holidays. All in all, an uneventful, blissful flight to my favourite airport on the south coast, where we were greeted by a moderate wind, straight down the runway, just as I like em.

We were also greeted by my favourite LAME-kins, Rex, who nimbly fixed my door, gasped at my bee graveyard and guffawed at my girlie tie-down knots. Lacking the knotting gene (along with the Which Way is North, and the Peeing Standing Up genes), Rex took pity on us girls and showed us how to tie granny knots. We practiced til perfect, and he released us into the big bad world.....

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Day Two - Destination Yarram

Having fallen asleep at eight thirty, like two little old ladies on tour, we were raring to go at 7am with a brekkie-cum-planning sesh in the dining room. Bizarrely, the weather was taking Turns for the Even Better and Better, making Tassie look more possible by the day. Obviously Jen remains in credit with the ole gods of the weather, a fact I intend to abuse all the way across the Tasman.

Earlier, we’d heard Yarram described as a “hole” (apologies to the residents of this fine Gippsland town - it’s not a hole at all, only going to prove, once more, that the Mass Opinion often turns out to be the most retarded)  so we decided to spend the day in Merimbula. However, around one o’clock I started doing the OCD-watch-checking/sky peering pilot dance, and J-Co agreed we should leave and get airborne for our fuel stop of Bairnsdale.

Once more, with gorgeous weather and an obliging wind, we were off with a wheeee (and no stall tootin, this time). As a departure from coastal flying  I’d planned direct to Bairnsdale, over the south coast mountain range. As soon as I climbed to 6500 ft, I remembered how much I loathe flying over mountains. Glancing wistfully at the disappearing coast, I told myself to breathe deeply and to try and enjoy the amazing scenery - and to stop obsessively looking for possible engine failure paddocks in valleys. With the cloud lowering, and the buffeting from the rotor waves knocking us around, I was relieved to call inbound to Bairny and fly once more over flat farmland.

Yakitty Yak (don't talk back!)
Not much has changed in Bairny since my last visit in April - friendly locals, a Ma and Pa refuelling outfit (the type you hand crank!), lots of paddocks, ooooh, and aerobatics champ Andrew Temby and his luscious yakitty-yak. If time hadn’t been quite so tight, I’m pretty damn sure I could’ve talked him into taking a pax for a few late arvo loops. Sadly, Yarram beckoned. Apart from making the inbound call on the wrong frequency, the trip was smooth (I love flying in the late afternoon) and the landing tidy on the 800m gravel strip.

Tied down there at Yarram was a homebuilt little RAA plane, whose name escapes me (if you’re reading this, John or Jim, please refresh my ditzy memory!). Twas a nimble little thing, with a bicycle stored in the fuselage! John, the pilot, was staying in Yarram aerodrome’s onsite cabin, for an early morning departure to Tassie.

Exhausted once more, we grabbed a cab into town, and a counter meal at the local pub, and passed out, ready for another five am alarm call....

Friday, December 31, 2010

Day Three - Destination Flinders Island

 Yaaaaaaaawnn.....every morning I vow to change the alarm tone from “boing” to something a little more sombre.....having now mastered the art of rolling over in bed, grabbing the laptop and attaching the phone, I connect and check the weather with half open eyes. And, joy of joy, the TAF is short! The ARFOR speaks of a little cloud over the coast, hanging at around 2500, but clear - but gusty - conditions at Flinders.

My angel co-pilot planned the trip the night prior, whilst I was zedding, so after a few wind adjustments, we’re off to the aerodrome to gaze at the sky. That pesky cloud is there, as forecast, but is burning off slowly, so we settle into the shack to chat to John of the little red and yellow ultralight. Soon airport manager Jim turns up, and then a fella who’s crossed the Tasman over four thousand times and the whole room is bubbling with av-talk!

It seems that constant staring at the sky melts cloud, and by eight thirty it’s pretty much dissipated. We don our lifejackets, with gentlemanly aid from the fellas, and do the flying thing. I call Melbourne centre on climb, but they can’t get me on the radar, so I set up skeds across the Bass, which means reporting ops normal every fifteen mins.

There’s a layer of cloud sitting at 2500ft, so I decide to go VFR on top, with a plan to turn back after 15 mins if I can’t see through it. Funnily enough, I feel comforted being on top of cloud, as I can’t see the water that makes me so nervous! Ridics I know, but there you are. After fifteen mins, the cloud ends (insert cliché here - cotton wool, etc) and we can see an island underneath us. Guessing (after not keeping a fully accurate flight log due to the wonder of flying over cloud, and not fully accounting for a roaring tail wind) fails us, but finally we deduce that it’s Deal Island, and that, in sight, is Flinders! Hurrah!

Trouser Point Bay, Flinders island
Suddenly the boinging in my pocket reminds me it’s time to amend my Sartime, and in my hasty call in to Centre, I state 300000. A very helpful Jetstar pilot pipes up that that is indeed yesterday, and perhaps 310000 would be more valid! Publicly humiliated again! Shortly after this, the amended forecast for the area states severe turbulence below 8000 ft (we’re at nine and a half) and I don the brown trousers.

Somehow, though, the gods are still with us, and whilst the sock does have a Grade Three, it’s all down the runway. I make a presentable landing, and taxi to the bowser, remembering to bless the weather gods for their generosity....

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Day Four - Rest Day Flinders Island

I’d forgotten how tiring flying is - even with a Co-Jo doing all the planning and handing me the frequencies.

Time for a rest day.


I have to say, right here in print: Flinders is gorgeous. The air is so pure, and the island crispy clean; the people are friendly without being Scary Locals and there are FIFTEEN strips on the island! It has a population of only 700, and yet seems to be teeming with pilots! Paradise!

View from Vistas
Upon arrival, we hired a car from the refueller-cum-cabin-owner-cum-car rental-outfit and headed out to Vistas, which is - guess what? - run by a pilot! Trouser Point is the most spectacular part of the island, and the food at Vistas was incredible - I sampled my first Tassie lobster and declare it to be the finest I’ve had in fifteen years. Pilot/chef Ken and his lovely partner Carolyn run the whole thing like a cosy B+B, and, strangely, the whole thing reminded me of Cornwell in the UK.

Flinders is mountainous, and attracts climbers and hikers for that very reason. For a moment there, I think Jen was considering a bit of a climb, but I managed to talk her out of it by saying,
“let’s FLY over the mountains instead! It’ll be the very best way to see em”. That settled, we went to the beach.

As it was an unusually warm day - thanks to my lovely tailwind! - and the sun was shining fiercely through its hole in the ozone (allegedly), I became gripped by an unusual urge. The combination of heat, and travel, and crystal clear water impacted my normal judgement and made me do something quite bizarre. Yeps, I stripped down to my undies and swam in the Tasman sea. And it was gorgeous. When Jen saw me, floating on my back, singing lightly, she was compelled to do the same - much to the amusement of the family camping nearby! It was worth every second of the humiliation of having to get out without a towel or change of clothes. Every second! And even though I burnt my nose (that sun was harsh!) and ruined some fine undies, it was possibly the best swim of my life (although, in truth, there aren’t an awful lot of contenders).

In short, Flinders Island is worth crossing the Bass Strait for. Even VFR in a single engine....

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Day Five - Destination Devonport

As heart-wrenching as it was to leave Flinders, we both knew that we had to take advantage of the rare  clear Tassie weather. Already a low was causing showers in the south and west, and we were keen to spend at least one night on the mainland. We chose Davenport because it was coastal, half way to King Island, and known for its chocolate.

With quite a bit of cloud around, I set up skeds and accepted 3500 ft for the relatively short crossing. Even though this was my second trip over water, I still had both eyes on the temperatures and pressures and both ears on the sound of the engine. I don’t know whether they’ll ever be a time when a water crossing isn’t white-knuckle - maybe after I find $20,000 and can afford to fly something with two engines?
The crossing was happily uneventful, and aside from discussions with Q-Link 51 about who might land first - both of us giving way to each other (who said airmanship was dead?) - we landed, tied up and discovered that there were no cars to be hired in the whole of Devonport. With the plan being Latrobe via the chocolate factory, and then a drive out to some big mountain Jen wanted to see, we were, without a car, well, stuck in Devonport airport.

While Jen was in the terminal, I’d struck up a conversation with a chopper pilot who’d offered me his car in Launey (keys are inside, help yourself! HOW lush are Tasmaniacs?). About to pull out the maps (alright, GPS) and start replanning, I went to break the news to the Jen. Bizarrely, as I approached Avis, a man in front dropped off a car that was supposed to be dropped off in Launceston. A car that had our name on it. Hellooooo, chocolate!

Reader; we scoffed. Afterwards, I had to compile a whole new weight and balance for the aircraft. We also explored the fullest shop in the history of shops - Reliquaire - nineteen rooms of chindagoo, all themed (www.reliquaire.com). And Jen got to climb her mountain - by bus, at least.

Sated, we checked into a seedy motel - complete with Norweigan wood, patterned carpet, and family of chavs arguing through the wafer thin walls - to prep for tomorrow’s water crossing to King Island....

Monday, January 3, 201

Day Six - Destination Cheese

We went there for the cheese; I will not deny it.

Again, the weather was kind, although the cloud a little lower than I would like. Kindest of all, though, was the wind. King Island is known for its wind; over sixty ships have been wrecked off the island, and the locals have a ruddy windswept look (honestly!) So, I considered myself very lucky indeed to have a fifteen knotter - although with six strips, the wind was sure to be down one of em.
George, Michael and Mooney
Departing as we arrived were two fellas in a Mooney. I’ve never flown one, but have read much about Mr Mooney’s obsession with eliminating drag, and took the chance to fire off loads of questions. With a TAS of 180 for around the same horsepower, I asked them if they were interested in a trade. Sadly, they weren’t.

With no fuel available on the island, we tied down and tried to hire a car. The Rex flight had just arrived, and I thought our chances would be high. I hadn’t counted on some yachting event being on, and the damn low altitude fellas getting there before me. All of the island’s 15 cars were out.

Enter Lana, the angel of King. Somehow, miraculously, after seeing our distress at not being able to get to the cheese, she rustled up a ute - a huge diesel affair, which was brill! And so, it was straight to the King Island Cheese Factory for two hours of bliss.

Jen and the Cheese
Aside from gorging on every type of cheese imaginable, I learnt these interesting bits and bobs: all of the King Island cheese you see in the supermarket is made at that one factory, which employs around 200 islanders (the island has a pop of 1300, and shrinking). The cheese is made from the milk from the island’s cows, which graze on grass rumoured to have sprouted after a French ship was wrecked near the island, and their straw mattresses dragged ashore.

The dairy was staffed by two fabulous now-locals (who’d emigrated from Phillip Island) who were able to give us a fascinating insight into life on a remote island. Apparently, many of the locals remain there for life; some try the mainland (and by that I mean Tassie, which I always forget is even part of Australia) and don’t adapt, and return. As the high school only runs to year 10, at the age of 16 the kids of King must board for school on the mainland.
View From Boomerang
We stayed at Boomerang - a motel with the rooms facing out to see, and a glorious restaurant with a sweeping Wuthering Heights view (http://www.boomerangbythesea.com.au/). As I checked into mine, I noticed an R44 parked outside. I’d mentioned this to the Cheese Queens at the dairy, and they’d said “Oh, that’ll be Julian”. As we were exiting the carpark, one of the ladies came belting down the stairs, waving manically. “Come and meet Julian” she shouted with glee. We talked and talked, and he, when he discovered my latent chopper side, he promised me a buzz. Both of us, in fact, as the R44 is a four seater (delightfully, as I was secretly hoping to convert Jen, who called me the Chopper Jehovah’s Witness!)

I celebrated at dinner that night, with a Tassie crayfish, local oysters and a glass of Tas sauvignon blanc. Something about Tasmania got right inside me, and stirred up the small town girl. Hell, I could live without lattes, sourdough bread and the Sydney Symphony. Couldn’t I?

Whilst the whole place had a slight Royston Vasey feel about it, it was also completely charming - the people of King Island are possibly the friendliest I’ve ever met, and their cheese is incredible.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Day Seven - Barwon Heads

 Once more, on Jen’s weather god credit, the sky was clear. A perfect day for the largest water crossing - nearly 50nm without as much as a titchy island. A good day to be up at eight and a half thousand feet!

On my walkaround, I noticed a few tiny nicks in the prop (poss from our unscheduled toilet stop at Smithton). As luck would have it, I also noticed a LAME working on a nearby aircraft, and sauntered off to ask his opinion. With people being so endlessly fascinating, it didn’t take long to discover that Chris, flown in from Moorabin this morning, was building his own Pitts! In awe! The man was also a dab-hand with the file, and zipped away my chips in no time. CFI of King Island Air also gave me a quick brief on sweeping the prop area before start-up, and suggested a carry a broom. How we laughed when I told him about girlwithastick!

On pack-up I realised I’d left my cheese in the fridge - quelle horror! - and made a quick call to Julian of the Chopper to ask if he could pick it up for me and rendezvous on the mainland. We agreed to meet at Apollo Bay, where he’d refuel and take me for a hovver.

Well, the passage was fine. From about 20 mins in we could see land, and each minute the land was getting bigger, and closer. I spied the strip, and heard an Archer ahead of me inbound using 27. I overflew, and although the sock was slightly favouring 09, tried an approach on 27, as 09’s end was hideously hilly. As I lined up on final, the strip appeared to be impossibly narrow - no more than a garden path and it was clear I was too high. With the Archer backtracking, and still on the runway, I went round. A second attempt saw me too high again! With the wind at around five knots, I decided to try an approach from 09, but aborted when I saw the hills, and changed back to 27, where this time I got her down, but not before I was drenched in sweat. It’s been a while since I’ve done a short field landing (outside the practice environment of Bankie) and it shows! I swear, though, I’ve seen waistlines wider than this strip!

Waiting for me on the ground was Julian, his R44, my cheese (yaay!) and a dashing pilot hereafter known as 4Bars (www.apollobayaviation.com.au - experience counts!!)- who asked to see my security pass (in attempt to look down my top, one suspects!) and generally behaved in an outrageously naughty manner.

However, the wicked behaviour was truncated by the imminent helicopter experience!
“Hop on in” said the very generous Julian, and that we did - me in the front and Jen in the back.
And, oh! There it is again! That overwhelming feeling I should be flying helicopters! And Julian made it look SO easy (which I know it’s not!) and SO appealing (be able to land almost anywhere, and to not have to pour sweat over narrow runways, and to take off in the space of a handkerchief!) Oh, where oh where, will I find $30,000!Like all good things, it was over so quickly. We disembarked, and Julian headed back to King Island. Even Jen was impressed, I could tell!

The original plan was to head to Melb to drop Jen off for a flight back to Syd, via Barwon Heads for fuel, but a quick check of the weather back in Camden showed yukkiness (a technical term, dontchaknow?) We agreed it was too gorgeous a day not to check out the 12 Apostles - but had a fuel quandry - just a little too close to reserves for my comfort (and I have to admit: possibly the only area in my life where I’m conservative is in flying, and when it comes to fuel, I’m so conservative, I’d be right of Maggie Thatcher).

Petergorough runway
Of course, it was Capt’n 4Bars to the rescue! He dialled a mate, and before you know it, we were off to Peterborough to pick up 80 litres, waving goodbye to Apollo Bay, 4Bars’ 206, and the skinniest runway in Australia. In Peterborough (skinny bush strip, but at least it was flat!) we were served by the local chopper pilot and the most charming 14 year old pilot I’ve ever met.

The Apostles
Even though there are only seven and a half apostles left, they’re spectacular, especially viewed from 500ft. From there, to Barwon Heads! Another skinny strip, and difficult to find, too - but we got there, and down, and refuelled. Once again, we were attended to by kind, helpful locals - who offered us a lift into town, and gave us the experience of their local knowledge. At this rate, I shall have to call my book The Kindness of Strangers....

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Day Eight - Destination Essendon

As this was J-Co’s last day (sob!) and my highest workload flight, I took over the planning while Jen went to browse the delightful shops of Barwon Heads (a lovely chi-chi seaside town, reminding me of Sydney’s Avalon).

For a 20 min flight, the workload was heavy, with heaps of radio work. The trip went beautifully, without a hitch, although I executed my worst landing of the trip on a strip as big as a highway, with the wind straight down the runway - a couple of days of bush strips and the tarmac gave me the willies!!

Here, it was time to say goodbye to Jen. As she unpacked her luggage, and SFR’s tail raised a few inches, I wanted to beg her not to leave! But, the deal was: over the Tasman. We’d done it, and done it well. Now, it was time to go solo.....

As Jen hopped in a cab for Tullamarine, I repacked my cases and headed into Melbourne, to spend a few nights in my favourite city, before heading west for the rest of the trip.... 

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Day Nine - Gone Shoppin....

Over eight days, twelve take offs and landings and 14.3 hours of flight time, I’ve covered 950 nm. It’s now time to buy shoes....
Flight bag and new red Shoes

Friday, January 7, 2011

Day Ten - Grounded

Public Apology

Today's blog cannot be brought to you, due to pesky wind. The author suspects the intervention of the shopping gods, and what kinda girl ignores signs from the gods, eh?

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Day Eleven - Destination Ballarat

Am starting to feel like Eloise, the storybook character who lives in a hotel. And although the Hotel Lindrum on Flinders is a fine place to call home, I can’t justify blowing an hour’s flying on accommodation (it’s all about the av-dollars!)

So, reluctantly, I move on. With Jen having taken the weather with her, my options are thin; the coast is locked in by rain, and loathe to move in a backwards direction, I opt for Ballarat, NW of Melbourne - with the help of the fabulous waitress at the Lindrum, and her vast local knowledge (whereupon I discover it’s J’Long, not Geeeeeelong, as I’ve been saying!)

The wind’s still gusting up to 35, so I sit it out for as long as I can, then head out to the aerodrome, obsessively checking the automatic weather service. When I arrive, and greet SFR with the customary peck on the side, it’s howling a gale! The windsock is claiming about 20 knots (but socks, like anything with an erection, lie) but it sure feels like more.
Melbourne inbound
Wearing the new red shoes, I complete my walkaround and make a plan to get airbourne, and track to Bacchus Marsh, whereupon I will land, if wind too choppy to continue. The wind is northerly, so I’m anticipating a headwind, but it’s only a half hour flight to Ballarat, so I’m not terribly concerned. As I make my taxi call, the twr inform me my planned route is not available, due to Tulla traffic. They then clear me to taxi to 26, which confuses me, as the wind is favouring 35. I tell them I’m unfamiliar, and ask for detailed taxi instructions, and they (bless em) guide me there (SFR, make a right turn now, etc) where they line me up on 26 for runups. Just before I go to line up, and call ready, I remember I’m in class C, and have to ask for clearance! They clear me to 35 for take off, tracking via Westgate bridge.

The ATIS claims the wind is 26 knots, but....well, it’s gusty! I’m being shaken and battered around, trying to hold my height, and work out which one is Westgate bridge (the one with the chimney stack!). Then
“SFR, are you still on frequency”
“Affirm, SFR”
“SFR, you’re still in the control step there. Turn to the left and descend”
“Sodding wind’s up my arse! Can’t maintain height, dammit!” I WANT to say, but instead say
“Copy that. Apologies, SFR”
“SFR, you’re now clear of the zone. Squawk 1200, and contact Melb Radar on 135.7 for further help. G’day”
“G’day, thanks for your help!”
“No probs!”

I’m shaking like milk - my turn and slip instrument is break dancing - but now at least able to climb above 1500 ft in search of more stable air. I’ve dropped my map, and am relying on the NDB and the GPS to get me to Bacchus, which, sigh, is right there to my left. I check my watch and decide to progress to Ballarat. I’d planned to track to Yarrowee NDB, for practice, but instead hit the “direct to” button for Ballarat. After 20 mins, with a ground speed of 87 knots, I call inbound for Ballarat, which is surprisingly busy - four people in the cct. I’m glad that my previously-considered-sadistic-instructors of the past had made me fly in considerable wind, but I’m still not looking forward to the landing. As I position myself number three in the cct, and commence my downwind checks, I tell myself to stay calm. Rwy 36 is over 1200m and the massive headwind buys me plenty of time to land, and although it’s a struggle to stay straight, I get down in time for the first taxiway.

I’m shaking, and covered in sweat. It’s two o’clock and without Jen to remind me, I’ve forgotten to eat! I taxi to the bowser to refuel, and take a few deep breaths (not of the avgas, well, maybe a bit....)

There, in the car park, I spy the Kind Man from Avis, who’s agreed to pick me up at the airport. I shutdown, tie up, hire a car and blow two night’s budget on a fancy pants hotel. Then, I go straight to bed, waking up in time for dinner.

Looks like there's something good on at the cinema too.....and, oh, the massage place is open....

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Day Twelve - Destination Mount Gambier

The weather gods have PMT - first it’s raining, then it’s not. Then it’s windy, then it stops. It’s as if they can’t decide WHAT to wear. I know the only way to deal with this is by exercising patience, and so I take a breath and draw from my tiny, tiny well of thinly-coated patience.

Unable to afford to stay another night at Craig’s Royal, I check out and head to the Avis, who drive me out to the aerodrome. Ballarat sock and I seem to have a deep chemical attraction; as soon as I enter the tarmac, there he is, pleased to see me. 25 knots. As The Kind Man from Avis gives me a hand with my luggage (I had a week’s worth of washing to do!) we struggle to walk in a straight line to the aircraft. I decide to seek a Local Person for some insider knowledge.

The aeroclub is quiet, and of course no one is flying, but the lovely gentleman in residence assures me I’ll be fine if I use 11 for departure. Thing is, though, is that 11 is 544m. “Yeah, but with a 20+knot headwind, you’ll be up in 300 metres” he rationalises, sensibly.

I decide to go for it, and the Kind Gent walks out to the threshold, so I don’t get lost! He was right - I WAS up in 300m! And once again, it was bumpy. I hate turbulence. Try as I might, I couldn’t find a level at which to settle. After a fairly horrid hour or so, I made Mount Gambier and had all six runways to myself. I chose 11, hoiked myself around the circuit, and landed with a clunky bounce. Am glad the airfield was deserted - twas not my finest landing!

With wind howling, I refuelled and met Yet Another Kind Man from Avis, who gave me a great rate on a car - sensing I might be in the Gambier a few days.....

Monday, January 10, 2011

Day Thirteen - Grounded in the Gambier

Since there was absolutely NO chance of getting out today, I decided to take advantage of my discount hire car and explore the environs...last night I'd taken a drive up to the "lake" - which is a limestone hole caused by a volcano and glows bright blue (and actually changes colour throughout the year)...sadly my underendowment in the photography area prevents me from showing you their splendor - I’m afraid I cheapened the lakes and rather made them look paddling pool-ish.

This morning, after brekkie in the hotel, I headed out to the museum, which is part of the Tourist Information centre (and so, obviously, staffed by peri-menopausal women with abnormally large bosoms). It's easy to spot, even with my dodgy on-ground nav skills, as it has a life size replica ship outside (which is an historical replica of the very ship that discovered Mount Gambier. Or something.) The museum was totally brill (and a whopping eight dollars! Even I flinched, but had a gut feeling it may be worth it; when peeking through the door, quickly before Pam of the Puppies harrumped and closed it, I could see a replica cave!)

I must have been in there an hour! First up was the geology section, where I was invited to peep through various tubes to view the wetlands which were typical of the region before White Man came and sucked it all dry. Then, there was the life story of Catherine Smith, wife of somebody in the government and Friend of the Blackfellas. Although an avid god-bothering busy-body, Mrs Smith wrote a book on indiginous customs and practices in the late 1800s, begging the settlers to show them respect and not hunt them like animals. Her story was impressively related by her hologramatic form, dressed in a ghostly white dress, only slightly marred by a broad Aussie accent. It was a sad and moving story of how a tribe was as good as wiped out by disease, alcoholism and despair, with amazing black and white photos of local tribespeople in 19th century dress.

Easily impressed (one little ole hologram and I'm hooked) and something of a museum curators wet dream, I ooooohed and ahhhhed throughout, and, due to my new lonesome habit of talking out loud, perhaps even passed comments of admiration. By the time I reached the "live" volcano, I was certainly exclaiming out loud. Luckily, my only companions were a young French couple, more interested in photographing each other on their iphones than the impressive nature of the volcanic resurrection.

Sadly, the last exhibition - the inside of the giant replica ship, complete with sleeping quarters and a narrative of life on board in 1876 - was closed.To recover from my disappointment, I went to see the Sinkhole.
It's yet another true eccentric British Nob Overseas in the Heat story. Back in the late 19th century, a man with a giant moustache and pots of money bought a heap of land in Mount Gambier. Here, he erected a Victorian summer house, and whilst building it, discovered an enormous hole in the back garden.

Yet another example of a limestone erosion, and this one led to caves! He immediately imprisoned some local blackfellas and had them build stairs to the bottom, where he found a lake. He planted an English garden (lots of hyrangas, I expect everything else wilted) set up a pagoda, and rowing boats, and opened it to the public. It's about eight stories deep, and although the lake has dried up, the garden remains. I have to say, it's one impressive hole!

After all the excitement, I was exhausted, so I decided to join the ranks of the Gambier's rat-tailed children and go to the cinema. At least I know where all the Fat Aussies are.

Aside from that, though, there's something very charming about the town. It still has Proper Local shops - a shop selling hoovers, Trevor Reynolds Electricals, Tanya's Hairworks, Collars and Cuffs Coffee Bar, and of course Good Vibrations (the adult shop)...there's a Target, but it's on the edge of town, and the local cinema was staffed by the big bosomed peri-menos  - like all the shops, suspiciously...actually, come to think of it, I haven't seen ANY men, apart from the old bloke at the cafe, and a few town drunks.....no men under fifty.....hmmmmm....

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Day Fourteen - Destination Kingston

Kingston wasn’t my actual destination - I had my sights set on Aldinga, where I was to meet pal Tim and fly on to Kangaroo Island to stay in a lighthouse.

Waiting on the ground for the cloud to burn off, hopping from one foot to the other in the impatient pilot style that has become my trademark, I ask The Only Man in Town for some local advice on places to visit. I spy a town called Meningies (like the layer of the brain, and began speculating whether it was in fact named by a neurologist, wondering what in town could have possibly inspired such a name...a lake? a giant blancmange?) Turns out it’s pronounced Menin - ghee and once again I’m a silly bloody tourist!

Also on the map, with an airstrip, is Kingston, about an hour to the north west. As soon as I heard it’s the home of an eighteen metre roadside lobster, the Bill Bryson in me knew I’d be stopping there.

The cloud was really low, and wind horrid (again) - my GPS kept dropping out, and I lost my phone on the floor, so I couldn't call Tim to say I was on my way to Aldinga, and knew if I had to wait til I was there to call him he probably wouldn't make it til dinner time..

I'd really like  ONE day of calm conditions, dammit!

Anyway, I spied the little coastal strip - decided I'd had enough, an hour of low cloud and turb was enough, and I just didn't have the heart to press on....the town looked lovely from the sky, and the strip was skinny, but sealed, so I went in and landed - quite nicely, actually, I seem to do better on these little country strips than I do on the big wide bitumen! Well, the airydrome was deserted, but I could see the town was no more than a mile, so I tied up. As I was doing so, an old gentleman pulled up to a hangar, so I went off to stalk him. He was working on a little homebuilt called a Corby  - made of wood! But with a cruise of 120knots! Little rocket!

The gent took pity on me (ha ha! Right into the trap!) and gave me a lift into town to the motel. And, as it turned out, the motel was right next door to the giant lobster! It was immense! I happily sat under it for 20mins, admiring it from each angle, amazed that someone would even think of such a thing, then went inside to eat some real lobster.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Day Fifteen - Stranded, Kingston

I have to declare the owners of the Lobster Motel, Kingston, to be amongst the finest and most generous people I’ve met thus far. But then, it seems, Kingston is a TOWN full of such people. Maybe I’ve been living in the city far too long....

By 10am, I knew I’d be stranded. Although the low cloud was lifting here, my destination - Aldinga - was locked in at 700ft. I called the aerodrome and they said “forget it” and suggested I call back at 1...

Ahhh, what to do....? I took a stroll into town and spied a Hertz sign, attached to the auto-repair garage. Ducking inside, I entertained the mechanics with my tale of woe, and begged  for a car. Sadly, they were unable to oblige with a car, but offered the next best thing (a massage?) - a bicycle. Bob The Proprietor also offered to chuck the bike on the back of the ute and drive me up to the lighthouse. I’ve never told anybody this, but I have a secret thing about lighthouses. I think they’re glorious. Seriously.

I’m sure you’ll agree from the photo, it’s a pretty damn fine lighthouse. As I entered, National Trust Volunteer Fred had just begun a tour, so I tacked onto the back of a group containing two overweight, ruddy boorish Aussies, their tiny brassy Thai wives and an overweight slouchy teenager, the product of one of the couples. Fred, a Yorkshire man from way back (emigrated in 1952 and thus not Local) loves that lighthouse like a person, and there’s nothing he doesn’t know...(actually, there WAS one thing....neither of us could work out how, back in 1868, they managed to drill 13 nine feet holes into the granite, to support the lighthouse...answers in the comment box, please....)

It was by far the most charming and eccentric lighthouse I’d ever visited (and there have been a few, in the past....) and I stayed for most of the afternoon. The upper part of the lighthouse was staffed by another volunteer, who encouraged me to climb to the very top to see the lantern. It was there, right on the lattice-work floor that I had an attack of vertigo so awful I froze to the spot, and had to crawl on my hands and knees to descend the ladder. I blame the windy spiral staircase, playing havoc with one’s sense of balance. Fred found it frightfully amusing that a pilot could be scared of heights...very common, I’m sure!

Upon returning the bike to Bob, he announced he may have a car for me. In a generous but complicated arrangement, a lady from Avis would drive the car 97 kms from Naracoorte. I would then drive her back to Naracoorte, and then return to Kingston with the car. With nothing else on my agenda, it seemed like a fair enough arrangement. So I spent the next two hours chatting with the fabulous Marg, who filled me in on heaps of juicy local gossip. She turned out to be a fascinating woman, of the Kick Life In the Arse variety.

I could feel my inner Small Town Girl getting quite snug....

Arriving back in Kingston in time for dinner, I (and my new Lancer) rocked up at the Wool Shed for dinner. I was told I couldn’t be seated, unless I joined another table. Saying that was fine, I was lead to a corner table containing two chaps. When asked if I could join them, they looked as happy as if the Aussies had won the Ashes. Turns out they were brothers, both science teachers, both colour blind, and both happy to buy me drinks and chat. I’m only sorry I had to refuse the port, due to having to drive the Lancer home....

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Day Sixteen - Still Stranded, Kingston

It doesn’t matter how much charm, wit, intelligence or even money a person has, the one thing they cannot change is the weather. As I sit here writing this, in a motel beside an eighteen metre papier mache lobster, the rain is belting down, sideways. I’ve just turned the television off to the sights of sobbing homeless. Queenslanders and frustrated rescue pilots.

This is my third day in Kingston. I’ll be in danger of becoming a South “we were never a convict colonly” Australian, although of course I will never be Local.

I (and the Lancer) took a trip to Kingston’s More Attractive Big Sister today (aka Robe). Frankly, I prefer Kingston. Robe, whilst undeniably prettier, is another of those Chinos and Polo-shirts Towns, where everything is quaint, and neat, and shiny. It has an air of smugness (we didn’t pull OUR heritage buildings down in the seventies!)

Robe is one of those Middle Class Magnet towns featured in a glossy pullout in a metropolitan newspaper - the kind of place a newly wed couple might take a Mini Break. Its magnetic pull attracts four wheel drives, nautical resort wear and Timberland shoes. Oh, and dogs. Groomed dogs.

And, no matter how quaintly neat it is, any town looks dismal in the pelting rain...

Friday, January 14, 201

Day Seventeen - Destination Port Lincoln (via Aldinga)

Finally! With grumpiness at a legendary high, the weather changed. As much as I loved Kingston (and had gathered together enough town gossip and life stories to pass as a Local) I was three days behind, and suffering from flying withdrawals.

At around ten, the cloud had burnt off enough to make departure possible. I said goodbye to my new friends, and John from the Lobster Motel drove me to the airport just in time for me to catch the bank run pilot for a weather brief. Sadly, he was one of those surly types, who offered me very little information, despite the fact he’d just come from the direction I was heading, “yeah, you’ll be right” said Mr Multi Engine
Instrument Rating.

I took off and flew into cloud.

“Don’t panic! It’s only a bit of mist. Onto your instruments. Head to the coast. Don’t paniccccccc”

Of course, I was alright. It was hanging out over the aerodrome; it was fine over the coast. Just shocked me a bit, that’s all. Cloud looks harmless from the ground, all fluffy and inviting, but it’s Brown Trousers when you’re not rated to fly through it.

The rest of the trip was gorgeous - smooth air at last. I bluetoothed (that CAN’T be a word!) the ipod to the headset and flew to Aldinga to the dramatic strains of Madame Butterfly. All pilots who sing in the cockpit must live in fear of an open mike; I can’t imagine a more hideous punishment for air traffic control than to hear me trying to sing opera, so I made sure my hands were far far away from that little “press to talk” button. Amazingly, the music cuts out when radio broadcasts are made.

Landing at Aldinga was fine, although the circuit was heaving with little light planes called Sportstars (or something) and the hills at the end of downwind seemed uncomfortably close. Adelaide Biplanes have the finest, most homely school in the whole of Australia - it looks like a scene from a Whistlestop cafe in the 1910s. They serve fantastic coffee and cakes, which I sampled while waiting for my friend Tim to arrive and accompany me to Port Lincoln (another hand-holder over water, I admit it!)

After a brief chat with an instructor about the overwater bit (“ahhh, we do it all the time, the engine doesn’t know it’s over water” etc) Tim arrived, and off we rolled towards Port Lincoln.

Now, my friend T is a rather portly fella, and with full tanks and it being a hot day, my climb performance was shocking. I radioed Adelaide Radar for clearance to climb to 8500, but seriously, by the time I reached it, I was over land again! (Took 30 mins!) The flight, though, was lovely and I’m very sad that my camera chose this time to run out of batteries.

When we arrived at Port Lincoln, the wind was up again. Despite there being six runways, the pesky wind was down none of them. Pilots in the circuit were changing their minds every few mins (rwy 05. No! Rwy 15!) I decided to pick one, and handle the crosswind.

I’m not proud of this landing, or the language that went with it, but I feel it’s important to discuss one’s, ummmm, less triumphant landings, as well as the greasers. I came in too fast. I touched down on one wheel, put the ailerons into the wind but somehow skidded across the gravel, too scared to brake hard but struggling to keep the aircraft safe. I  didn’t pin it down properly, and let it get out of control. After a minute, I wrestled control back, straightened up, avoided the grass, came to a stop and backtracked. Then, I apologised to my passenger -  “what? It was fine!” he said, bizarrely. Then I noticed he’d removed his headset as the earpiece was rubbing, and had luckily not heard me badmouthing the wind, the aircraft and my total incompetence for not going round. I’ve had it drilled into me, enough times: to high - go round, too fast - go round. Shame on me!

After checking the undercarriage was still in place, we tied down, hired a car and headed to Tumby Bay for dinner, where I had a large glass of Sauv Blanc. Several hours later I was still self flagellating (“so unprofessional...who’s ever going to employ a swearing pilot...why didn’t I just go ROUND? etc) when the pub decided to partake in a Cold Chisel medley, through the night, only coming to a halt around the same time as my first attempt at self suffocation.

At 12.30 am I canned my 06.00 alarm, finally stopped beating my self up, and went to sleep...

Saturday, January 15, 2

Day Eighteen - Destination Streaky Bay

It was nearly eight by the time I woke. Tim and I headed into Port Lincoln for brekkie, where we said goodbye.

Being away from home, in a different town every night, one soon loses track of the days, and in the process starts to become a little dotty (aside from the constant talking to self, there’s also a loss of appropriateness that comes from being solo for so long - a sort of cabin fever. When I arrived at Streaky Bay motel and was informed the best room with a balcony was available, I shouted yaay and did a little jig of joy. After a few seconds, I apologised with “sorry. Don’t see many people, just the horizon for hours and hours....” and understood how easy it is for people to become Odd).

I’d noticed a few tiny nicks in my prop, and due to a previous, serious prop incident have developed a vigilance regarding prop condition. Forgetting it was Saturday, I went off in search of a Lame and, by sheer chance found one, in on a Saturday morning, perhaps in search of a little peace and quiet. Luckily I was wearing Eau de Lamé, and before he knew what hit him, the lovely fella was filing my prop.
The flight to Streaky Bay was gorgeous - smooth again, and perfect conditions for Debussy (to listen to Debussy, not for Debussy to fly, obviously)...it was 32 degrees when I landed, and as the airport is ten kms out of the town, I sat under the wing and waited to be picked up, promising myself a swim.

As the hotel pickup vehicle was a mini-van, I took advantage of the space and unloaded ALL of my luggage, with the intention of doing my laundry. It takes a military-type of organisation to look fabulous, stay clean and have clothes for all weathers. I have two suitcases on wheels - a large one which mostly stays in the plane, and the small one into which I load three days of clothes. I also have a washing bag, which gets emptied once a week. Today was to be a re-pack day, as  I would be finally moving into a new weather zone.

The hotel was lovely (and, as mentioned I snagged the best room), I had a swim, did my laundry and generally relaxed in the chill in which every Aussie beach side town excels....

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Day Nineteen - Nullarbor Roadhouse

At eight am, I said goodbye to the little Aussie Beach Town and began the Long Trek West across the Nullarbor. After popping in briefly to Ceduna for fuel, I turned onto a track of 280 and stayed there, for a hundred and fifty miles. I decided to make the crossing a GPS free one (although I programmed it and then turned it off, just in case; one wouldn’t want to be lost out there, I can assure you) to see if I could still read a map. Apologies in advance for the use of this ole corker, but I went IFR (I Follow Roads) although in my case it was just the one very long, very straight road. It was a bit cloudy, so I climbed on top of the cloud, although it was only scattered, so I could still see the road, and the occasional road train.
The conditions were beautifully smooth, and perfect for Rachmaninov’s Third. Some say the Nullarbor is boring (the dullarbor, perhaps) but I thought it splendid (although I did smugly think how sorry I felt for the plebs down there in their cars, slogging it out in the heat..) I know “Nullarbor” means “no trees” but it seemed very green to me, even if they were only bushes.

I’d been warned not to expect much of the Nullarbor Roadhouse - many people had mentioned that accommodation is outrageously expensive, and food extortionate out there, but somehow I was STILL shocked. I’m not impartial to a seedy motel, but for $120 per night I would like a light other than a fluro strip. I don’t mind the orange bathroom, and nylon sheets that cause static upon entering the bed, or the patterned carpet, but I am most certainly at an age where I cannot bear strip lighting.

I don’t think my photographs allow for the sense of isolation out there: as I taxiied SFR to the motel, people stuck their heads out of their trailers and stared (and not just because of the pencils in my hair). Huge trucks pulled up every ten minutes for fuel, driven by some of the most ghastly characters I could imagine. I’ve never seen so many sets of appalling teeth (and I’m from Wales, so am not exactly Ms BrightSmile - my bottom row are as wonky as a Jack Russel’s). It’s not that people weren’t friendly (and well, actually, they weren’t) they just seemed so desolate.

The avgas refueller invited me to “get smashed’ with her - and part of me was tempted - but I have a solemn agreement with myself regarding flying and hangovers, and didn’t want to stay there another day.

Instead, I had a forty dollar dinner (spag bol, garlice bread and glass of cask white) served by a sweet and brave English backpacker (with fine, straight teeth) and then an early night upon my electric shock sheets.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Day Twenty - Destination Caiguna Roadhouse

Well, it was that or the Travel Jayne,
(and I've already shared enough, I think...)
Being pretty keen to move on from Dental Nightmare Town, I was up early in preparation for the 280 nautical mile straight line to Caiguna Roadhouse. Again, it was a bit hazy down at 2000ft, so I climbed out and flew on top at four and a half. Again, I ditched the GPS, and tracked via the Eyre Highway (or Air highway, if you like) and the many homesteads on the way. After 200 miles, I reached Bladder Endurance, and loathe to use the Lady Jayne (hmmm, don’t ask) I decided to stop at Madura for a Ladies Break.

Now, I’ve become pretty comfortable landing on bush strips, especially the SA type - hard red earth - so thought nothing of going in to Madura, with its six strips, all at least 700m. As I circled, I realised there was no sock....I knew I’d had a tailwind as I was ripping along at 132 knots, but still..wind can be so different at the surface...I chose 09, and made a back-door-go-around pact (if I’m not down by the cross strip, I go around)...it wasn’t until I was on final that I saw there WAS a sock (or half a sock) and, hurrah, it was confirming my runway. I landed, peed, and took off again, with only 80 miles to run to Caiguna.

Outback Tie Up, Caiguna
With Caiguna only having a 04/22, I took a crosswind, and finally repaired the damage from the Port Lincoln flight (sometimes the only tonic for a crap landing is to prove to yourself you can execute a fine one - well, in my case, anyway).

After the Nullarbor Roadhouse, my expectations of Caiguna weren’t high. Happily, I was wrong. Caiguna was a very different remote outback stop. From the start it was friendly - and although in the traditional seedy motel format (plastic cups in a paper bag, one window through which passersby can see into the room, necessitating the closing of curtains for the Drug Dealer’s Den look..) it was cheaper at $95 pn. As I checked in, I noticed the time on the clock said 10.15. Immediately I checked my phone which said 12.45. It also said NO SERVICE.

“Ummm, is there no mobile reception here?” I asked, my voice becoming shrill towards the end of the sentence.
“No, love, not til Norseman”
“Not even Telstra??” (Mild hysteria)
“No, darl, nothing”

This was the first time in the whole trip I’d not had service. At the same time, the penny dropped, too. It WAS quarter past ten - there’s a two and a half hour time difference between the Nullarbor Roadhouse in SA and the Caiguna Roadhouse in WA.

So, it was 10.15 am, in a roadhouse ninety miles from anywhere, with no car and no internet. Things were looking bleak.

I’ve been in the habit of refuelling the plane upon landing (for quick getaway) so I asked about avgas (which I’d phoned ahead to check on. Twice) and they immediately called the refueller - Rob the Rescuer! I turned around, and there was a young man of about twenty, with a big beam on his face, offering to carry Flight Bag Village. I was saved!

Sometimes, age, background and culture are not important. They don’t even come into it. Sometimes, people just click. I took one look at Rob and knew I was going to be alright. By the time he’d refuelled the plane, he’d agreed to show me the sights after work (in six hours time!) and I agreed to take him for a scenic along the coast.

With six hours to kill, I went back to bed.

By the time I woke up, and dug out the maps to forward plan the rest of the trip, it was time to set out in the ute. We had a great day: a trip to the blowhole, a coastal scenic, beers, dinner, a game of pool (in which Rob played like a gentleman and let me win). We talked and talked - our lives worlds apart, yet despite this, on the very same wavelength.

For my departure, he picked me wild flowers to place in my cockpit. As I took off for another 300 mile straight line trip, I couldn’t help but wonder how many friendships we miss out on, because we only mix with our own type.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Day Twenty-One - Destination Esperance

As much as I enjoyed crossing the Nullarbor with its various bladder related touch-and-goes, in my fragrant cockpit, I must admit I was looking forward to a bit of luxury (rugged explorer I am not! I fly in heels, remember!). And, with a weakness for small country towns, I was happy to kick back in Esperance.

Having spent the last few days landing on bush strips, it was something of a shock to see Esperance’s 1800m sealed, level bitumen. By force of habit, I landed short, on the numbers, and then had to taxi the remaining 1500m to the exit!

I checked into The Jetty Resort (bliss! The proprietors Rod and Pam were SO kind - they invited me to dinner - although sadly I fell asleep at 5.30pm and had to decline. Rod is a trainee pilot, and Pam a naturopath with an onsite spa). Once again the brilliant people at Avis had come to my rescue with a car, so I headed straight out to the Cape Le Grande National Park. And, oh! Well! I do declare these beaches, this coastline, could rival Flinder’s Island in the beauty stakes!

The National Park is about 50 km east of Esperance, on a lonely road, so I was rather surprised to spy two hitchhikers on the road. As I slowed down, I spied their sign said Cape Le Grand, so they were obviously heading my way. I stopped, they hopped in and told me they’d be on the road for two hours, in the 32 degree sun! They were both named Adrian - one from France and the other for Belgium - and backpacking across Australia, without even a TENT, sleeping in the bush to save money. They were delightfully happy - almost irritatingly buoyant with youth - and they immediately brought out a Fusspot Hen side of me I didn’t even know I had (are you wearing sunscreen, young man! You know there are snakes in the bush, how long since you washed behind your ears, etc)

A few miles down the road, we spotted another one. It was their friend (not called Adrian) who’d been on the road for two and a half hours in the blazing son (but at least was wearing a hat). As we approached the park, they scrabbled in their pockets to rustle up the $11.00 entry fee between them - I said I’d pay, as I was going anyway - but the desk was unmanned, and the young men were as triumphant as those pokie players I saw back in Mount Gambier (but without the dull pallor of one who sits in the dark compulsively pressing flashing buttons).

Well, I shan’t cheapen the sight of Cape Le Grande with my words. No. Or my photos, which do not do it any justice. It was paradise, let’s leave it at that; a reward for the long slog across the Nullarbor.

I’d decided to toe the water (icy) and was contemplating getting my head under when one of the Adrians bolted over to tell me there was an even BETTER place around the corner. They’d run into another troupe of backpackers in a bus, and had scored a lift onwards with them, but had come back to share the news.

It turns out they were right. It was one up on paradise, if the imagination can permit.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Day Twenty-Two - Destination Albany

With my coffee radar at its twitchiest, and my not having had a decent coffee since Melbourne,  I’d discovered a fine place in town. I couldn’t resist the grande-skinny-latté, despite the warning bells telling me I had a two and a half hour flight ahead of me.

Conditions were lovely, and the trip was largely coastal, with spectacular views. I climbed up to 6500ft, where it was smooth, and plugged myself into my mighty compilation of songs about flight. Twenty miles past the only strip on the way, I realised I should have stopped. 20 knot headwinds (the first of the trip; I’d scored with the wind for the first 2400 nm, so could barely complain) had slowed me down, and I still had an hour to run before Albany. The dreaded moment had arrived: it was time to use the Travel Jayne.
Costal to Albany
Note: Sensitive Readers - this section contains material of a slightly inappropriate nature. If you have any sense, you’ll move on, and perhaps consider a blog by a sensible pilot, preferably one with an on-board toilet.

The Travel Jayne is an adaptation of the Travel John, a pre-purchased contraption comprising of a truncated bin liner with an absorbent interior (like a giant sanitary towel) attached to which is a sort of spout, made of plastic. My dear mate Chas, a vet nurse, had provided a kidney shaped plastic dish - with the dual purpose of being the first port of call for the liquid (yes, ok, the bit you pee in) and then the final resting place for the Travel Jayne herself, to avoid spillage in the case of turbulence.

As mentioned, I had beautifully smooth conditions, and as there is nothing worse for the concentration than having to land with bladder bursting, I knew this would be for the good. However, I was VERY surprised by how difficult it is to let one’s bladder go in an outside-the-toilet (or bush strip) situation. I decided to skip the kidney dish, and go straight for the spout (thus eliminating the pouring stage, unco as I am, and so proud of my sweet-smelling aircraft, too!) The problem here was, how does one get high enough above the spout to squat AND maintain rudder control? As I began, sorta switching from one foot to the other, I relaxed enough to begin and then realised as the flow increased, I’d have to RAISE the bag, to stop the liquid backing up the spout. With one hand on the control column and the other on the cockpit dash for support, off the rudders entirely, I can only say that I’m glad the chances of passersby in the air are nil. It was not my most elegant moment, but I am proud to report I only lost 100 feet in height and five degrees in heading.

Twenty miles inbound to Esperance the turbulence began (I’d made sure I’d sealed the Travel Jayne and placed her in the dish) and worsened as I crossed the hilly terrain. I heard the RFDS go in ahead of me on 14, and knew the wind was 200, so joined downwind for 22 (which was actually 23 -  it pays to make sure one’s compass is accurately aligned with the DI!), bopped around the circuit, trying to maintain height. After an average landing, I taxiied to tie-up, and placed Lady Jayne in a Bunnings carrier bag to dispose of immediately. As I exited the aircraft and crossed the tarmac to the sign marked ‘ladies’, one of the RFDS boys called me over and said something along the lines of:
“you have a voice so lovely you could read the weather on the AWIS”
and before I knew it, I’d fallen into conversation, bulging bag of urine in hand. The pilot wandered over, and joked about how the boys had been whining about the turbulence, and well, it would have been rude not to look in the cockpit (brand new PC 12!)

Finally, the patient arrived, and so I gathered my bag of fluids and headed out in my red heels, waving to the none-the-wiser bunch of fellas to place the liquid in its rightful place.

After washing my hands, I went off in search of a Lame to perform a fluid extraction of another sort on my aircraft - my 50 hourly oil filter change.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Day Twenty-Three - Destination Lily Windmill

Once again I was in Lame luck - Hamish was in town, but happy to come out the aerodrome and perform a fifty hourly on SFR. A lovely bloke, whose partner is also a pilot and former CFI of the aero club. He opened her up, drained her oil, filed and stained her prop and checked her brakes and landing gear, and in under an hour my winged chariot was ready to go again. Sadly, I wasn’t. I was pooped.
I hired a car, and drove into Albany, and then on to Middleton beach, stopping at a caravan park which advertised spa rooms. The first one was full, but the lovely lady phoned around and brokered a fine deal at the one up the road. In bliss, I sat in the spa for a whole hour, and only got out when death by drowning-in-sleep looked imminent.
Middleton Beach

The next morning I had a bad case of Pilot Ambivalence - I’d been chatting on FB to pal Sven who reminded me that the Lily Windmill was nearby - and I remembered that I had earmarked it as an exciting place to visit, way back in the original plan. Sven had flown in there in the past, and his rave review made me even keener to visit. However, I was tired. I’d flown six days straight, and wanted some ground time. Plus, the terrain was high, the strip short and the cloud low. My gut said “no, why not drive?  It’s only an hour” and my stupid ego said “don’t be a big titty baby, fly!”

I drove into Albany to think about it over coffee and croissant - and stumbled upon the most fabulous coffee shop ever - a decadent, plush bar/tearoom/coffee house with chaises and gilt mirrors and proper tea cups (and like so many of my fave places, they’re positively Luddite in not having a website! They’re called Liberté, in case you’re ever in Albany) After two coffees (and the previous Lady Jayne Incident) I decided to drive.

Of course, the weather at the windmill (97kms NE of Albany) was gorgeous - blue sky and light wind. I could’ve flown, but have to admit, it was kinda exciting seeing things from the ground for a change - the mountains looked massive, and (in the absence of any decent radio) I spent ages spotting faces in the ranges (that hour flew by, I can assure you!)

Dutch Cottage
I saw the windmill from miles away. And as soon as I drove up to the charming little Dutch cottages, I knew I was in for a totally different experience.

Alright, I’m going to insert a Gush Alert right here.

Warning: immense gushing about to commence:

Pleun and Hennie are possibly the kindest and most generous hosts I’ve ever met. They’ve harnessed the skill of creating an environment so warm and homely that I threatened to move in permanently. Every touch is considered without being contrived - my Dutch cottage contained multiple elephants (figurines and such, obviously, not real ones) placed here and there, in the most charming, higgledy-piggeldy way. The little house was equipped with a full country kitchen, an attic bedroom, shelves of books, a cd player with a really thoughtful selection of tunes and a big comfy sofa, which nearly imprisoned me for the rest of my life with its sinky, glorious cushions

Pleun is a pilot and owner of a Jabiru, in which we sat for an hour, chatting. As with Rob of Caiguna, Pleun and I fell into easy conversation - he’s such a warm and fascinating man, and his wife is gentle and lovely. I know I’m uber-gushing, but I arrived there exhausted and left feeling like a new girl, honestly. If they could bottle their warmth, I’d carry it around with me!

The Lily Windmill
I’ve mentioned nothing of the windmill itself (www.thelily.com.au) or the airstrip, but I simply MUST tell you that Hennie is a five star cook - they delivered my dinner to my cottage, along with local wine. It was my first home cooked meal in over three weeks, and I have to admit, afterwards I was so sated I fell asleep on the sofa, listening to Pleun’s very own cd of sax music.

The next morning I awoke at five thirty (somehow having managed to drag my body off the sofa and up the attic stairs to bed) feeling great. Pleun and Hennie invited me to stay another day, as their guest, and I cannot tell you how much it pained me to decline. I might have stayed there a whole month.

It’s time, though, to head to the west coast, then Perth and to turn my nose east for the homeward leg.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Day Twenty-Four - Destination Busselton

Regretting not having flown to the windmill, I began the drive back to Albany. WA is blessed with the best weather in the country, and once again it’s gorgeous. I get airborne about 10am, and enjoy a splendid scenic flight out to Busselton.

After some confusion over which rwy to use (the first aircraft in used 21, the second 03; the wind was swinging like a pair of crooner’s trousers), I did a nice little numbers landing. And then, hurrah! I found an aeroclub. I LOVE aeroclubs in a way that many girls my age love wine bars or tropical spas. They’re always full of interesting characters and opportunities to fly, and today was no exception. Within a very short time, I’d scored a flight in a Foxbat, with brand new CFI Will.

Now, I have to confess, whilst in TOTAL support of the recreational category (under 600kg) I’ve never really flown one (bar a Sportscruiser, once, in NZ) and, well, always thought of them (snobbishly) as “lesser” aircraft. All I can say now is: what pants! How wrong I was! The Foxbat was tremendous fun, with the visibility of a helicopter! It was easy to fly, very manoeuvrable and graceful. Will even let me land it, in a cross wind, the brave man.

In danger of yet another distraction from the CPL, I was saved by the car hire man’s arrival, but not before I had a chance to look at Michael’s motor glider....ooooooh, there’s something I’ve never flown.....and a chat with Geoff about his original cub, and V-Tail Bonanza....

I dragged myself to the car, in need of an early night, almost buckling under the temptation to join a convoy to Rottnest island

After a drive along the coast, I checked into a hotel, filled the spa, poured a glass of red and hit the eighteenth pillow of my trip.....

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Day Twenty -Five - Destination Jandakot, Perth

After a leisurely breakfast and quick toe dip at Dunsborough beach, I headed back out to the aero-club, where I found a bunch of people gathered together, all equipped to advise me on local conditions. Torn between Perth and Rottnest island, the consensus was to go to Perth, as the wind was gusty (as ever) at Rottnest, and to head out to the island in the morning.

But first, a scenic! Flying on one’s own makes it terribly difficult to take photos (and I’m not exactly gifted in that department when I can use TWO hands) so I took the opportunity to take Will (an instructor) and Dylan (a young student) up for a quick buzz along the coast. What a magnificent coastline! I must say, I’m completely smitten with south west WA.

Cape Naturaliste
By the time I took off for Jandakot, it was past two, and the heat of the day was building up. I had a bit of burbley (another technical word, dontchaknow?) on the way up, but then it was smooth and scenic all the way.

Now, I haven’t spoken to a control tower since Essendon - in fact I’ve virtually crossed Australia tower-free, and had forgotten how damn marvellous they are. As soon as I called inbound at boatyard and declared my unfamiliarity, the tower babied me right in:

“SFR, follow the highway north until you see the airfield. Turn downwind now. Cleared to land, rwy 24R”

Twas lovely, and I managed a nice neat little numbers landing, and exited off the first taxiway. Ground guided me to my parking spot, and asked me if those people milling around under the tower were here to meet me.

“Negative. I’m on my own”

I shut down and then realised - this is IT. Perth! I’m HERE!

It was a bit anti-climatic, really. 2845 nm, and nearly 38 hours of flying, and here I am, standing at Jandakot airport in my finest red shoes and nattiest scarf, with nowhere to go....

Sunday, January 23, 201

Day Twenty-Six - Destination Fremantle, Perth

Having arrived at Jandakot, I realised I had no idea what to do next. The day was muggy and hot, it was mid-afternoon and I had nothing planned. I decided to seek out the aeroclub for a cold drink and some inspiration.

My appalling sense of direction is legendary - if you ever need to find an inner city industrial estate or a suburban cul-de-sac, pop me in your car - I am the queen of the wrong direction!  Fine at 2000ft with a compass under my nose,  on the ground I’m completely clueless, unable to say which way is north or even take basic cues from the sun. So, it goes without saying that my ‘gut’ reaction as to the whereabouts of the aero club was of course in the opposite direction to the actual club. I spied a flying school, and burst in - hot, bright red and far from glamorous - muttering “aero club, hot, flown from Sydney, not in one go, phew! hot” etc.

A kindly flying instructor took pity on me, and a young female pilot sat me down and gave me water. Both pointed out that the aeroclub was “miles away” and in fact quite near to the spot where I’d parked SFR.

After twenty-six days in the air, you’d think I’d be alert to the fact that after I’ve landed I’m a brain-dead jelly-head. It always happens - I flop like a ragdoll - as if the flight has used all of my capabilities. I crave full-fat coke and a lie down. Usually, I have to hire a car and drive to a hotel first, and so I’ve learnt to take ten minutes under the wing to gather composure.

Ten minutes later, I’d cooled down, lost my tomato-face and, able to make sensible requests again, managed to score a lift into town with the instructor - who was called Adrian, and had just set up the first RA school in Jandakot (www.clouddancer.com.au).

He dropped me off at the Esplanade Hotel in Fremantle, which was magnificent, but totally over-priced (two night’s budget!). I did manage to score a room with a weather-watching view (and a pillow menu, from which I chose a king size duck down) but there’s something clinical about large hotels and their insistence that things are for “our comfort and convenience” when, really, they’re simply to make things run more efficiently and to maximise profit. I’ve learnt to judge hotels on the little things that provide comfort - late check outs, coffee with plunger, water and ice in the fridge. Frankly, I think I was a little browned off because I was unable to charm the receptionist into brokering a deal. I never pay the first price quoted, but this fella wouldn’t budge, and I was too hot and floppy to go traipsing around Freo. He had the upper hand, and he knew it, dammit!

After a little snooze, I decided a celebration was in order. I headed out to the pier, found a swanky-pants restaurant with a view and begged to be squeezed in:
“please! I’m only small, and very good and quiet and I’ll be out in half an hour, I promise”
and proceeded to order mussels, chips, salad and two glasses of local Sauv Blanc.
Obviously, I’m used to eating in restaurants on my own, but for some reason it freaks people out (they stare, and sort of mutter. And it’s NOT because of the pencils...) For improved service, I like to pretend I’m a food critic, by dressing smartly and making notes about the food in a visible notebook.

Sated, a had an early night in prep for my trip to Rottnest Island, early the next day.

I knew, before I’d even drawn back the heavy curtains (which had a pole “for my convenience”) that the weather was pants. I might not have been able to say which way my balcony was pointing (west?) but I could sense the crap weather. A quick check of the TAF confirmed it. In a sulk, I went down to my over-priced buffet breakfast, where at least they embraced the genius concept of an egg chef, who had the decency not to pull a face when instructed him to make my omelette “so runny you can see your reflection in it”

Cross wind Warning
After breakfast, I phoned the aero-club for some Local advice regarding Rotty. It turns out Rottnest island was the wrong shape to build the runways in the direction of the prevailing winds. Today was a southerly, a 22 knot direct crosswind, which on its own would be manageable. The school, however, warned me of the fairly fierce rotor waves present from a southerly off the terrain, and mention that a few people had come unstuck there and had ended up ditching. Well, that was enough for me. Coupled with the fact that it was raining. As much as I wanted to see a ‘quokka’, I told myself a rat-like marsupial is probably not worth a brown-trousers flight.

Instead, well, you know...

Reader, I shopped.

Monday, January 24, 201

Day Twenty-Seven - Locked In, Perth

What Kept me in Perth
I toyed with the idea of getting the ferry over to Rotty, but just couldn’t bring self to do it - it was to fly or nothing, dammit.

I moved from my over-priced hotel to the Norfolk pub, which was just as comfortable, but half the price. And then, I hit a slump.

I went to the cinema, got my eyebrows threaded, had a foot massage, went for pizza and a large glass of Merlot, but, despite ALL this, unslumping was not forthcoming.

I tried to tackle it, head on - it was clearly a combination of tiredness, homesickness and motel-fatigue. I was beginning to develop a phobia of miniature shampoo bottles. I wanted my own (posh) pillow. I was sick of being in command, tired of making all the decisions; over eating alone, buffet breakfasts and the smell of hire cars.

Yeps, I was having a full-blown spoilt little girl’s tanty. I locked myself in my room and held my breath til I went BLUE! (metaphorically). At half eight I fell asleep.

I woke with first light, what there was of it. A pathetic sliver of sun was struggling feebly to breakthrough the overcast cloud. I didn’t even need to check the TAF. I went back to sleep.

At eight thirty - after a mammoth TWELVE hour sleep - I slapped myself across the face (figuratively). I knew, without doubt, I was locked in and decided to stop whingeing and to get out and do something.

Aptly, I chose to visit the prison. 
Fremantle Prison
Prison Wire

Well, Reader, THAT cheered me up! The tour was conducted by an ever so slightly sinister ex-prison warder (with a twitch in the eye, I kid you not!) who was completely brilliant and knowledgeable. The prison itself was constructed by the convicts, in the 1850s, and not closed until 1991 (and right up to that day the prisoners had no lavs! They were still slopping out in 1991!) I could sense that John “wifebeater” Tour Guide thought the new prison an indulgence, twitching when discussing the modern model of rehabilitation over the former model of punishment. With delight, he showed us the stocks and the gallows (chillingly, we were standing in the very room where 44 people were hanged, and John elaborated in such graphic detail, some people chose to leave. Were I not so macabre, I might have been one of them).

It was a truly fab tour, it cheered me up no end!

After an early dinner, I sat down and planned the rest of my trip - maps spread across the room - with a new vigour.

Tuesday, January 25, 201

Day Twenty-Eight - Destination Kalgoorlie

The plan was: get to Perth. With the most fierce and fickle weather we'd seen in a decade, it was proving impossible to plan ahead.

But the time arrived. I'd conquered Perth! Now, for a new plan, one entitled: Which Way Home? The dream had been up the coast, to the North, the glorious Top End - at the very least, to Broome (where I could utilise the title “Girl with a Broomestick). Sadly, it was not to be. Cyclonic activity, coupled with time running out, meant I would have to plan an eastern track. I decided, there and then, that the North would be its own separate trip...

And so, finally, I left Perth. It was a horrid flight - windy, bumpy and in CTA. Jandakot was crazy-busy, and I was reminded of Bankie as I sat at the threshold with the VDO clicking over, waiting to get a take off spot. The vis was hazy and I could barely keep little SFR straight, unable to climb out due to controlled airspace. I got told off for popping into the 3500 step too early, and once clear of the step was unable to climb until I could verify the weather at my destination. The TAF on departure had declared BKN025, but it was obvious by a mere glance in the direction of my destination that that wasn’t the case. Nonetheless, I jigged along under the cloud until I could pick up the AWIS - which gave me the all clear to climb out to a blissful 7500 feet. Ahhhh, smooooooth air.

Picnic Under The Wing
Traumatised by the Travel Jayne, I decided to land at a small strip for lunch and the release of the morning’s coffee. Southern Cross was my choice, and I jiggled down through the layers for a windy landing and a blustery snack under the wing. It was already thirty-two degrees and there was no shade for miles. Refreshed, I took off for Kal (or The Goorlie? I don’t know...). Soon, the terrain became ochre, and I began to feel the excitement of being outside the city, outside my own zone....

Kalgoorlie, with its enormous tarmac runways and its red, red earth; its tidy little aero-club and thoughtful aircraft tie-downs....ahhh, I loved it from the start. The most perfect example of a thriving gold rush town - beautifully maintained grand high street, wonderful museums, shady verandahs - the town has an enormous sense of pride in itself - not just in its history (which is spectacular in its own right - a rollercoaster tale of riches, glory, riots, brothels...) but in the fact that it refuses to become a Faded Glory. Kalgoorlie is no Blanche Dubois. Its mines are still fully operational, and the Golden Mile is still considered to be the richest square mile on earth.
Australia's oldest Brothel
Areal View of Super pit
Kalgoorlie Gold Mine

In my very short stay, I managed to cram in two museums (bliss!), the superpit (both from the lookout, and later, from the air) and the neighbouring town of Boulder. Sadly, due to afternoon storms, I had to forgo the Big Pit Experience - in which the tourist is invited to don mining clobber and climb into the depths of the mine. And, as a girl from South Wales, you can only imagine how gutted I was to miss that opportunity...

Wednesday, January 26, 201

Day Twenty-Nine - Destination Forrest

Kalgoori From Behind
I stayed as long as I could in Kalgoorlie, but with afternoon storms and turbulence building up, I was forced to drag myself away around mid-day. Luckily, for me I had a treat in store, one which I’d saved on my way over across the Nullarbor a mere week earlier - Forrest.

Forrest - two gigantic strips in the middle of the desert; home to six houses, a met station and the only all-weather runway(s) on the Nullarbor.

After stopping at Rawlinna for my regulation Pee and Picnic (where, during the first course of the picnic (tuna and beans from a tin), a ute pulled up; immediately I began apologising for landing without permission, imagining he had a gun and was about to bellow “get orf my laaaand”. “Nurries. Just came to check you’re okay, and not in trouble, ma’am” said the sweet bloke, to my relief. Relieved also that he didn’t arrive when I WAS relieving self, if you catch my drift) I continued the smooth, blissful crossing for another hour, until those mighty strips were visible. I allowed myself a leisurely landing (well, so much tarmac, it’d be a shame not to use it) and taxiied to the bowser, where Renny was waiting to refuel me.

Renny and Mary are the Keepers of the Forrest this year - each year the post is filled by a couple whose job is to run the station, feed the pilots and maintain the runways. Renny refuelled SFR, loaded my luggage into the ute (washday, again) and grabbed a strapping young Kiwi to drag my precious airyplane into her very own hangar. Renny then drove me about 500 m to my very own little house (complete with washing machine, and Hills hoist!) where I switched on the aircon and promptly, after trying each of the beds, fell asleep.

Atop the Museum
When I awoke, it was still hot (the AWIS had said 36 degrees when I arrived) but the wind was up, and I decided to go and visit the Forrest museum, upon which one can climb for a view of miles and miles of desert! The museum was charming - a history of Forrest as a remote railway station (the Indian Pacific passes through a few times a week, bringing food and mail to Forrest) and airport (where there was once an eighteen room hostel). Each caretaker had added a collage of their stay, too documenting the changes and improvements over the years.

AS it happened to be Australia Day, I scored an invite to the evening’s barbie, where I met several Kiwi pilots working out in Forrest as surveyors (apologies to Tony - the non-Kiwi, and Rod, the quarter Kiwi) and spent the evening on tenterhooks in the hope that one of them would say “chully-bun” (which, of course, at a barbie, is only a matter of time...)

Mail Box
Three beers, a mighty feast and a round of A Day in the Life of a Surveyor Pilot (40 degree temps at 160 AGL! Five hour shifts in a 210! All flown whilst wearing a helmet -“so in the case of a crash they have something intact to put in the casket”) it was decided that the city girl MUST see the stars in the desert at night. We piled in the ute, drove to the end of the runway and stood there, in the pitch black, in total, total awe. It’s true that one has not seen the stars until they’ve been to the desert...

Thursday, January 27, 201

Day Thirty - Destination Ceduna

The temptation to stay in Forrest was enormous - I could’ve holed up for a week in that little house - although the forecast temperatures were creeping into the forties. With that I mind, I turned my nose towards the coast. Not before filing a Sartime, I hasten to add. Tony (an ex-instructor) had given me a bit of a dressing down about getting lax with the Sartimes (and quite rightly so, over the desert). He argued that a flight note with a non-pilot was not really sufficient, and didn’t have to begin to dig into the Stranded in the Desert horror stories before I agreed, completely, that it was slack to do anything but. It’s amazing how quickly things can slip when you’re flying everyday, and it was the stark reminder I needed!

Sartime lodged, I flew to Ceduna. By the time I landed it was well into the thirties, so I hired a cab and holed up at a motel with a pool.

I have nothing to say about Ceduna - it’s a town of no note, I’m afraid. But with time running out, I used the absence of activity to plan the final hop home.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Day Thirty-one - Destination Whyalla

GPS Free Day (one of many, honest!)
More than anything, I wanted to visit the outback town of Broken Hill. Too large a stretch for me and my titchy bladder, I broke the trip with an overnight stop at Whyalla, for no other reason that I have a Facebook friend there, whom I’d yet to meet.

With a brief stop at Wudinna (which is pronounced Wudna, apparently!) I arrived at Whyalla in time for lunch. Certain that too much time on my own was making me odd, I was very glad to meet Quentin - a pilot, almost-instructor and all round gent - on whom I could practice my atrophied people skills!
After a long lunch, I settled into the motel, had a swim, watched a movie and settled in for an early night in prep for Broken Hill the next day.

Photo by Quentin Blatchford
Hello Whyalla

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Day Thirty-two - Destination Broken Hill

Departing Whyalla
I don’t know how I knew, but I was pretty damn certain I was going to love Broken Hill. And I did. From the moment I lined up for a straight-in on that giant runway surrounded by red dirt and green scrub, I was in awe of its beauty. As I was taxiing to the bowser, a gentleman came out of a hangar (in which he was tinkering on a Jabiru - now the most ubiquitous aircraft for the over 55s) to inform me that the BP was inop. That gentleman was Bruce Church - King of Broken Hill. After we’d dragged out the man from Mobil and tied down SFR, Bruce gave me all the info I needed to know about BH and arranged to meet me later that arvo for a Grand Tour.

The Palace Hotel
Meantime, I was to get settled in The Most Fabulous Pub in Australia - The Palace Hotel, of Priscilla Queen of the Desert fame. It was even more magnificent than I had imagined! As luck would have it, I scored a tour of the grand Palace by one of the new owners, who filled me in on the hotel’s chequered history whilst giving me a behind the scenes peek at the upcoming renovations. In total Gush Mode, I oooohed ahhhed and squeaked my guide flicked on the lights to reveal the paintings that starred alongside Australia’s dearest cross-dressers.

Palace Foyer
THE Priscilla Room

It turns out that Mario - the eponymous purchaser of Mario’s Palace - began the mural mania in the 70s when he painted Botticelli’s Venus on the ceiling. However, the star of the walls is Gordon Waye, an Indiginous artist who lived at the hotel for four years, roaming free with the brush and the single instruction to paint “whatever he liked”. Thus, Gordon painted an oasis in the desert. It has to be seen to be experienced! And, wow, did I ever experience it - in the original Priscilla room, my suite for the stay. As I closed my eyes for the night, my thoughts: were I to die in my sleep, that giant Aussie wall-to-ceiling techni-colour landscape would be forever imprinted on my soul (if indeed I HAVE a soul...)

Bell Milkbar
When Mario died, the hotel fell into the hands of his wayward son, who (depending on to whom you speak) had his licence revoked for drug dealing, pimping and generally being a seedy underlord. The Palace was closed, forsaken and forlorn for years until being purchased by a local conglomerate of groovy people (seven altogether) each with different skills but the joint vision of reviving and restoring the Dame of Broken Hill.

Sculpture in the Desert
That afternoon, as promised, I met Bruce for a tour of the town. Churchy, Broken Hill born and bred, knows every one and every thing worth knowing in that town of 22,000 people. In one glorious afternoon we visited Australia’s Most Famous Coin Carvery, Australia’s Biggest Picture (massive!), Sculptures in the Desert, the Silverton Hotel (home of many a movie, and whose barmaid emigrated to Australia from Bradford to set up the Mad Max Museum with her husband; and whose proprietor invited me to try a bar game involving a funnel and a potato) AND Bells Milk Bar (a 1950s diner where they make their own milkshake syrups). By the end, I was smitten with BH, even more so than Kalgoorlie. Somehow, my Small-Town-Girl within had been fully embraced. I longed to belong again, to know people by name, to be a big fish in a small pond; instead of the irate driver in a funky car on her way to somewhere in big city-girl hurry that Sydney had made me. 

Silverton Hotel

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Day Thirty-three - Destination Swan Hill 

The first things I saw when I opened my eyes were the humble cumulus painted across my ceiling. Delaying the usual reflex to open the computer and check the weather, I lay there for another fifteen minutes, considering the landscape on the walls - one not too different to that which had been my backdrop for a large part of this trip. A pit in my gut reminded me that this was to be my penultimate day. The day after this I would be home, in my inner city terrace amongst my family, friends and spot under the flight path; the place where I park my car on the street, have no garden, and make no complaint when I sit on the M5 for over an hour, closing my windows and roof to the smog of the tunnel. The city where I can buy over twenty different types of bread, a double skinny latte that doesn’t leave bumps on my tongue and choose between seven various kinds of yoga. A suburb where I barely recognise my neighbours, have no local pub and have never met my postman. A town where I don’t know what colour the earth is, because I’ve never seen it; where my local swimming pool has city views and people talk on their mobiles in the sauna.

The forecast weather for the day was threatening 38 degrees, and as much as I abhor turbulence, I lingered in Broken Hill for another hour, stopping at Charlotte’s for a croissant and an over-heated coffee with a chocolate mint on the side. I couldn’t resist one last drive around the neighbourhood, before I headed out to the airport.

At the aerodrome, the gate which is “never locked” was locked, so I phoned Bruce for help. Of course, he’d been out here for hours, tinkering with that mysterious leaky valve on the Jab, and muttered something about women and locks. Turns out the padlock had a  keypad on its underside, in which one enters the CTAF frequency - duh!

As I was struggling across the tarmac with my luggage (there’s shopping in Broken Hill, you know) a gent sauntered across and gave me a hand. The pilot of the giant chopper dwarfing my Baby Archer, he introduced himself and offered to show me inside. It was a EC145, and, well, massive. In one of those share-your-lifestory-in-under-ten-minutes situations, we mutually recognised we had heaps in common and exchanged numbers, regretting the fact that we hadn’t bumped into each thser the day before, avoiding the Two Pilots in the Same Town Eating Alone scenario that must occur the world over.

And, off into the burbly blue for me! The air was thick with humidity, but the runway massive. The climb, whilst shallow, brought relief with every thousand feet. After a brief stop at Wentworth to meet Cliffy, an RA instructor and pal of Bruce’s, I eased the nose towards Victoria, for an overnight in Swan Hill (strange route, I know, but 20 knot headwinds prevented Cobar).

I was tired,  possibly emotional, and wildly overheated. The sock was showing ambivalence in committing to a runway, so I made a circuit for 08. On base, a pilot lined up for 26 asked my intentions, and as I was talking, I failed to aviate properly and lose my required height, resulting in a go-around. Now, I know there’s no  shame in going around - it’s the sensible and safe thing to do - but, for some reason, I was pissed off with myself for not being able to talk and land at the same time.

When I finally landed, I was surprised to see the place crawling with pilots - mostly of the chopper variety. I hadn’t really kept abreast of the news regarding the Victorian floods, but I gathered, from one who deigned to speak to me amongst their extremely busy schedule, that they were monitoring the river which was on red flood alert. Boiling hot, beetroot red and covered in mozzies, I called a cab into town. Turns out the whole town was filled with surveyors, pilots and police and I was lucky to snag the very last room at the All Seasons Hotel. Informed that my company for dinner would be 67 police people, I ordered Thai takeaway and went for a swim. Upon my return I noticed that a plague of small jumping, flying insects had invited themselves in, causing me to spend the rest of the evening throwing towels over them and ushering them outside (only to find another one, intent on jumping on my bare back, or landing in my beer).

It was a fitful night’s sleep, broken by the sound of leaping grasshoppers throwing themselves against the blinds. With another 38 degree day imminent, I’d set an early alarm for my four and a half hour journey back to Sydney.

Monday, January 31, 2011

Day Thirty-four - Destination Bankstown

And so, the final day - the last four hundred miles on my four thousand mile trip. It’s another scorcher - with temps threatening to hit forty, and so I make an early start. First stop is Naranderra (which to me sounds like the name of one of those ghastly houses in which a couple  have combined their names - Nathan and Sandra, or something) for fuel. It’s hot, and I’m the only one there. The bowser is a credit card operation, and both my cards are declined. A quick check of the balances on the iphone show I have credit on both, so I call the number on the machine. I’m informed that the banks take a FIVE HUNDRED dollar holding deposit on top of the fuel amount, and that my card won’t go through if I don’t have the extra in the bank. I had no choice BUT to transfer the money as the company had Cootamundra (my alternate) stitched up as well.

Browned off, I decided not to stop for an early lunch, but to move on before the heat of the day made me even more grumpy.

I tracked to Goulburn and then Bindook, and bounced and jiggled over the ranges. And then, there it was: after a month and two days, I was back on home turf, back in the Sydney basin. At the Oaks I called inbound for Camden, where I decided to stop and say hello to some old pals at Curtis. Half an hour later, I was at Warwick Farm, bringing down the flaps for my final landing of the trip - Bankstown.

A wise person once said to me, upon my failing aerodynamics (again) -“it’s at the end of a thousand mile trip, we hit the car on the gate post”

Well, that was my landing (or should I say - landingS) on my home strip 11L. I’m lucky I had the full 1100m for my three-for-the-price of one landing!

Schoey’s gave me a wonderful warm welcome, including helping me unload my mountain of stuff (thanks Joe! “May I see your weight and balance, missy?” quipped Salah).

Just as I was detailing the trip and its lack of Drama, CFI Bill Cooper walked out bearing an ominous piece of paper - yeps, one containing the words Incident Report. Turns out, back in Perth, when I got “told off for popping into the 3500 step” I also got reported. I s’pose it’s an aeronautical equivalent of speeding ticket (but without the fine, or points loss) which is a headache for CFIs as it causes their pet hate - paperwork.....

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Achievement Brings Its Own Anticlimax

4193 nm, 39 landings, 24 diff pillows and 59.5 hour flown. I'm home. With a trip really only HALF done, and no resources (as yet!) to do The Top Half (but working on it.....)

However, I think I’ve grown! Not just about the tummy (from a month of pub dinners and buffet breakfasts) but as a pilot. Being forced to take command has finally made me commanding! With no instructor to lean on and (after the first ten days) no co-pilot, I’ve been made to face my aeronautical demons alone. I’ve tackled mighty crosswinds, mid afternoon turbulence as I’ve never seen it before, low cloud, dark cloud, stay-on-the-ground cloud; landed on short strips, dirt strips, grass strips, hilly strips, and, my very scariest - a strip thinner than a model’s waistline. I’ve decided when to go, when to stay on the ground, and when to use the weather as an excuse to go and buy shoes.

Over the past thirty days, I’ve visited five states (sadly, due to our wild weather this season, I’ve been unable to make QLD and NT) and discovered places so beautiful I’m loathe to tell, lest I spoil the secret. My accommodation has included a retreat on Flinders Island, several hundred-year old pubs, a windmill, a little house in Forrest and a couple of dodgy roadside motels complete with static sheets and patterned carpet. Thankfully, I’ve not had to resort to the tent.

After the first ten days, when I said goodbye to my dear co-pilot, J-Co, I quickly established a routine - every five days I rotate the clothes (and shoes) in my small suitcase (and place them in the big suitcase which lives in the left hand pax seat) and do my washing. Upon landing, I’d refuel, clean the windscreen and tie down (thanks to Rex of Merimbula for teaching me fool-proof slip knots). I’d either hire a car or take a taxi into town; see the sights, have dinner and plan the next day’s leg. Often, I’d forget where I was only the night before. Days spent in the cockpit gazing at the horizon have brought out my dotty side - I’ve developed a penchant for talking to my possessions - “you, go in that bag, you, come with me, you, sunglasses, on my head” etc. I’ve mispronounced many towns (it’s J’long you know, not Geeeeelong), picnicked under a giant lobster, carried a hive of bees down the coast inside my wing, scored a freebie in an R44 and a Foxbat and made my first (and second, and third) crossing over water.

Indulging my love of museums and all things touristy, I’ve visited a cheese factory, a prison, a gold mine, a lighthouse, a windmill and a garden planted at the bottom of a volcanic crater. I’ve learnt to read a TAF and an ARFOR in my sleep, file a SARTIME in under a minute on the iphone, to bluetooth music to my headset and to, ummmm, creatively make up for the lack of in-flight lavatorial facilities.

However, without a doubt, I would have to say that the most exciting part of the trip has been meeting people. I’ve depended on the kindness of strangers for the entire journey, out there on my own, with only my possessions to chat to. Kind people of Australia, you know who you are -

Thank you


  1. Absolutely love this story! Request more Aviation one oh one! Please share with us the Eyes On The End Of The Runway song! : )

  2. Only recently stumbled across this fantastic story... sounds like an amazing trip!!! Congratulations on this fantastic achievement!

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  4. Gday Kreesha, I'm the fella flying the yellow Savannah who you met at Yarram. Great to catch up on your blogs. My last flying adventure is here http://jgflyingroadtrip2015.blogspot.com.au/ How do you make your blog read in chronological order like a story rather than a blog?? My email j.gilpin@bigpond.com Cheers John Gilpin