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Pacific Adventure - Part II - Australia

By Sue Ramsey

Landing at Melbourne International at 1900 hours local, we figured would give us ample time to pick up our auto rental and arrive at our hotel in Mentone before total night fell. Talk about figuring wrong!

A drive on thruways which should have taken us tops three quarters of an hour ended up taking four and a half hours. We became hopelessly lost more than once and all this whilst attempting to adapt to driving on the “wrong” side of the road.

We once narrowly escaped a potentially grave accident because we both instinctively looked in the “wrong direction” for oncoming traffic. Luckily for us, the Ozzy driver involved was quick off the mark and stopped before broad-siding us. However, I think, had our windows been down, we might have learned some rather choice Australian language!

Eventually arriving at our hotel somewhere south of Melbourne near midnight, we were more than ready to collapse onto our downy couch for some much needed rest, our only traumatic experience of the whole trip!

The next morning we proceeded to Moorabbin Airport to meet up with Joe Ferlazzo, CFI at the Royal Victorian Aero Club, with whom we had made arrangements some months ahead for our Australian document validation, compulsory test flights, maps, and the rental of our aircraft-to-be for the next few weeks: VH-HAB, a P28RT201.

The first part of the morning was spent visiting CASA (Civil Aviation Safety Authority, the Australian version of Transport) to finalize arrangements (read: pay) for our Australian restricted-to-day-VFR licences.

Temporary endorsements of foreign licences are apparently no longer permitted because of the new Security measures, our new Australian licences to remain valid so long as our Canadian Licences/Medicals are valid - which means that we could envisage flying Down Under again without further formality.

We followed this up with a Ground School to familiarize ourselves with Australian VFR navigation and Wx, maps and air space “formalities.” Quite different from what we are used to, VFR advocates a very scant radio communication policy, even approaching busy airports, with strict adherence to designated VFR routings.

We each underwent a test flight with our instructor, John Harvat, and flew a second time with just the two of us the following day, for familiarization not only with the aircraft itself and VFR airspace navigation - but for weather procurement, flight planning and Sartime procedures - and contending with a variety of Australian Air practices markedly different from our own.

Moorabbin is a very busy airport with multiple runways and all amenities that include the onsite CASA office, numerous flight schools, a restaurant, a pilot shop where I obtained a variety of maps for our trip, and a technical communications outlet which allowed me to rent a Satellite Phone, just in case.

Thus equipped, including some aircraft “spare parts,” considerable water and a supply of edibles, my trusty Tr?o telephone and Telstra’s very efficient PhoneAway System pre-paid card for Wx access, we departed Moorabbin the morning of March 24, heading westward on the first leg of our trip - first fuel stop Adelaide/Parafield.

About half way between Melbourne and Parafield, we encountered lowering cloud through the mountain ranges between Ballarat and Stawell that had not been forecast.

However, it continued to leave us plenty of room to stay beneath it as we followed the valleys over lush farm country, the cloud eventually dissipating on the western edge of the ranges in the vicinity of Horsham. From Horsham, farm country abounded, with some forested areas, a crossing of the Murray River, and what appeared to be man made dams.

Though Parafield (YPPF) is equipped with all the customary ATS communications equipment, perhaps because of the rugged Mount Lofty ranges east of Adelaide, on approach we were unable to communicate with the tower until we were almost atop the Airport.

Directed to land, we practically “dove” onto base, only to have to “go around.” A large, very busy airport with multiple runways and an impressive number of flight schools catering to uncountable foreign student pilots, this encounter with our first unfamiliar Australian airport was to be a bit of an eye opener of what we might expect to find further along our route.

No such thing as a “welcome mat” here, only tight security, and for such an active airport, surprisingly not a soul around to ask for assistance or direction with no access to any facilities. It was here that I got my first inkling of just how invaluable my trusty Tr?o would prove to be, for without it, we likely would not have found access to fuel at Parafield either!

After eventually being fuelled by a very helpful bowser operator, we departed to the north alongside the Gulf St. Vincent, receiving some unsolicited, but essential vectors to help keep us clear of the military area. Crossing Gulf St. Vincent, the Yorke Peninsula, and the Spencer Gulf north of the Southern Ocean was truly eye candy, as we entered the Eyre Peninsula on our way to Ceduna, where we planned to overnight.

The vast expanses of arable farmlands inland from the coastline of the Great Australian Bight made Texas look small, and it was evident that the crops had been recently harvested, with some control burns underway, this being the fall of the year in Australia.

The terrain was becoming progressively more flat, with salt lakes visible to the north of our track, the land increasingly more arid.

Ceduna is in South Australia and is the last town East of the Nullarbor. Situated on the Great Australian Bight, it is flanked inland by farmland, then nothing between it and the vast expanses of Australia’s Designated Remote Areas to the north.

Arriving Ceduna (YCDU) early afternoon, though there is an excellent sealed runway (11-29), we landed on the gravel strip because the gusty winds made it more favourable, and though unrated, it was in excellent condition.

Ceduna being our first airport away from busier hub areas, we discovered some quite evident procedural differences. As we were landing, a scheduled flight announced his departure off the paved runway, which gave us some insight into how things operate at outback airports.

Since few are manned in any way, your call is replied to with an automated beep followed by the name of the airport, the only indication that you are indeed where you think you are, especially since many of these country airports use the same frequency.

The little traffic there is, simply announce their intentions and go about their business, rarely even communicating with each other, so you learn to listen up!

Upon exiting the aircraft, we found the small terminal building quite vacant other than a passenger who had missed the departing flight. He was waiting for the next flight later that evening. With his help, we found a notice that indicated parking procedures, so we parked HAB next to a Skymaster, the only other aircraft there.

Having been vigorously reminded to apply the security lock provided on the front wheel, and to tie down, we soon discovered that there were no tie downs and to use those that we had taken along with us would have required a jack hammer to insert them into the rock hard ground.

We called a cab (with the Tr?o) who took us to the hotel and informed us that because the following day was Easter Friday, everything would be closed, and when they say everything, they mean everything, including the staff at the hotel, restaurants, shops, taxi, everything!

Because our next stop was out in the middle of the Nullarbor and we had no idea what to expect there on an Easter weekend, we decided that perhaps discretion was the better part of valour and it would be wise to spend an extra day in Ceduna, where we knew that at least we had a roof over our heads!

The folk at the hotel were incredibly hospitable, loaning us the hotel Ute to get around the area a bit, and making sure that we had enough cold food in the fridge to get by.

The weather was extraordinary and I walked and talked with many of the townsfolk down by the beach, not only learning about life in the area, but watching this spectacular sunset!

The next day, we took our leave of our new found friends in Ceduna, following along the spectacular coastline of the Great Australian Bight, crossing salt mining operations before reaching the actual coast line, which we straddled for a short while.

Part of the Nullarbor, the empty white sand dunes and exceptional beaches along the Bight meet the Bunda Cliffs that stretch in an unbroken rampart for over 200 km, this area of the southern ocean known as prime for whale watching. These cliffs stand over 300 feet high and are quite spectacular, even from our altitude of 6,500 feet!

But soon we left the coastline for the interior of the Nullarbor, which actually means “no trees.” No kidding! Flying over expanses of barren, very flat, red land covered in low bushes with no sign of life, including animal tracks.

The realization gradually dawns that we are effectively all alone out there. Talk about no R’s: no roads, no radar and definitely no radio. Nothing but an acute awareness of the sound of our smooth running engine. Then, shortly after entering Western Australia, off in the distance, a spec on the horizon of red dirt turns out to be our fuel stop, the “town” of Forrest.

Personally, I found Forrest (YFRT) to be one of our more interesting stops, and had we been better informed, we would have known that we could have stayed over, which I would very much have liked to do, having had the luck to meet both the outgoing and incoming airport managers who look after the Forrest Airport. That includes anyone who happens through, be they flying, driving or traveling by train.

Their management posting consists of one year cycles, and the manager lives in one of the six houses that make up the “town” of Forrest, the other houses being nicely appointed with multiple rooms for visitors passing through. There is also a well-equipped camping area and the Forrest Museum which recounts the quite abundant background history of the place.

Forrest got its name from explorer Sir John Forrest, who was also the first Premier of Western Australia. It was originally a maintenance settlement for the Trans-Continental Railway, and in 1929 became an essential stop-over point between Perth and Adelaide for flight operations carrying mail, passengers and freight.

A meteorological station was set up in 1930, and the houses built for the personnel stationed there to operate the facility. The Met Station was closed in 1995, since then only an automated station remains.

Departing Forrest, we headed westward, deeper into the Nullarbor. “Dry” does not adequately describe the red earth terrain, with farms here and there and dams surprisingly full of water, making one wonder what there is out there to farm, let alone feed any livestock, though tracks were evident into the fenced dam areas.

Stunningly beautiful to me, there is no doubt that it would take mighty hardy folk to opt for living in such a region, which remained similarly barren as we continued westward, flying around 6,500 feet, our track taking us north of the railway line on our way to our next stop, Kalgoorlie-Boulder.

Reaching the eastern edge of the Kalgoorlie Region, turbulence increased considerably, pushing us up to 8,500 feet. The land beneath us remained ever arid with salt lakes abounding, and short stubby trees within which we spotted a Willi-Willi giving us an indication of just how turbulent our arrival in Kalgoorlie might be.

The circuit into Kalgoorlie (YPKG) was rather spectacular since final approach took us right over the Golden Mile Super Pit Gold Mine.

Once again, we found the airport locked up and no official soul to get any directions. However, as luck would have it, there was one person working in a hangar nearby on his homebuilt, aerobatic RV8.

Andy George (Managing Director and principal engineer of Rapallo, a consulting and contracting firm of engineers and friend of Jon Johanson), proved to be amazingly hospitable and helpful throughout our stay in Kalgoorlie, pointing us in all the right directions.

Here we rented a car for some sightseeing, it being a very historic mining region not to be missed. The town itself was very attractive, with interesting buildings and wide streets, and places to visit such as the actively operational flying doctor.

However, I found the operating Golden Mile Super Pit open cut gold mine, over which we had landed earlier, most impressive!

We also visited the museums that contrasted sharply with the existing modern operations and illustrated the rigors and hardships of work and living conditions for the early miners back in 1893, when gold was first discovered in Kalgoorlie by Paddy Hannan.

Leaving Kalgoorlie, we headed toward Perth, pretty well in the same direction as the eastern highway. However, somewhere over the Boorabbin National Park, the ceilings that were forecast for bases of 5,000 feet were constantly lowering with rain.

There being no source for any form of any radio contact, we decided to remain within the parameters of our day VFR restriction and make an expedient unscheduled landing at Southern Cross (YSCR), a small unlicensed airport that we happened to be approaching.

The ceiling was barely at circuit height as we made our approach in and out of cloud and quite heavy rain, to land on a wet, red, unsealed runway.

There being nowhere else to go anyway, just a very small, locked building that was perhaps a “terminal,” we simply sat it out and I phoned Wx services for an update whilst we were on the ground (my trusty Tr?o again).

Doubtless another interesting “Outback” place, as we departed we observed that the town was located amidst a mixture of wheat belt and gold mines. At an elevation of 1,163 feet, some 368 km east of Perth on the Great Eastern Highway, Southern Cross could be considered as either the last town on the edge of the wheat belt, or the first town on the Eastern Goldfields.

It is interesting to note that all of Southern Cross’s attractions relate either to gold mining, or to water supply, in fact a commodity far more precious to the whole region than the gold they were mining!

Within approximately a half hour, the weather improved enough for us to take off again, and we encountered clearing conditions barely a few miles west of Southern Cross, affording us an exceptional view of that massive wheat belt.

Approaching Perth, the farmland gave way to solid trees and the hills of the Darling Ranges, and over the broad Mortlock River at Northam, we initiated our track according to the very specific VFR routing outlined into our destination airport, Perth/Jandakot (YPJT), situated just south of Perth International.

Upon landing, having no clue where to go on this relatively larger airport, after some “amusement” for the folk listening to the ground frequency, we eventually found a place to tie down and approached the nearest of multiple flight facilities. I guess I chose right, for “Chucker” of Air Australia proved to be a most gracious host, arranging for our aircraft’s care, our hotel, and transportation that included a tour of historic Freemantle.

An altogether too short stay in Freemantle, upon our departure the following morning, Chuck’s staff obtained our Wx for us and helped us to map out our navigation routing through the considerable military areas north of Perth, so that we might avoid the distinct possibility of blundering into it and potentially creating an “international incident!”

Leaving Perth in a hazy background, other than navigating around the aforementioned restricted military zones, we remained mostly alongside the Indian Ocean coastline as we wended our way northward.

Once we were far enough north and beyond the restricted zones, we climbed to 6,500 feet for a smooth ride, with the Indian Ocean to our left and starkly brown, arid farmland to our right that included a smattering of open mining operations.

North of Geraldton, along the Coral Coast where the “desert meets the sea,” the land becomes progressively more uninhabited with mainly red dirt, bush and “bad” lands, which we over flew for a while, our routing taking us temporarily inland from the coastline.

We eventually rejoined the increasingly spectacular shores of the Coral Coast, over flying Shark Bay in the vicinity of Monkey Mia, a very popular tourist area where one can feed the wild dolphins, who have learned how to panhandle to people!

Since I was particularly interested in the Ningaloo Reef, the western equivalent to Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, we had originally intended to land further north than Carnarvon. However, I had learned by now from experience to always call ahead before flying into little frequented areas, not only to ascertain fuel availability, but to confirm accommodations and ground transportation and access to airport terminals!

Thus, upon phoning the hotel in Exmouth, our next projected stopover, I was informed that any type of pick up from the Learmonth Airport was only available when Sched flights were due in and we had already missed that opportunity for that day.

So Carnarvon (YCAR) it was, which turned into a very pleasant, though short, sojourn, an interesting community of some 6,000 people, where the main industry was the production of fresh fruits and fishing, with a little tourism provided by a myriad of busses out of Perth, en route the Ningaloo and destinations further to the north.

Once again the lone parked aircraft, we found the usual security, the terminal building all locked up and no one around. However, by now we had become pretty well used to this as a fact of life, so we took it all in stride, resorting to the Tr?o to call a cab and proceed to the hotel.

A quiet evening there, then off the next morning to Learmonth, to be landed ahead of the Sched flight due out of Perth.

Once on the ground at Learmonth (YPLM), though there were comings and goings of helicopters transporting personnel to and from the Oil Rig Platforms in the region, and a few private aircraft in and out for fuel, we were yet again the lone aircraft parked in the (you had to know it) “designated” parking area.

Because the Sched flight was due in, the Terminal was “operational,” including a coffee shop just as well, since said flight was announced to be some two hours behind schedule, a not surprising happening in remote areas, so we had to wait for our transportation to arrive from Exmouth anyway.

A 45 km drive from Learmonth to Exmouth revealed an attractive wilderness close up, with precious little traffic, an interesting red, sandy dirt landscape that appeared to have never known any water.

However, most dips in the road sported a measuring stick that showed Spillway water heights reaching up to two meters. Our driver informed us that when it does rain, about once every few years or so, it really rains, everyone staying home on such occasions because it is too dangerous to go out.

It had been my intention to go on a dive in order to see up close the coral reefs and abundant sea life along this spectacular coastline. However, for various reasons, that did not materialize, so, once in Exmouth we rented a car at the hotel and drove around the Cape instead.

Starting in town for lunch, we found that people were not the only residents, Roos and Emus roamed the streets freely, the animals obviously without any sense that they did not “belong” there, apparently coming in for water and the easy pickings to be found around a town, every one apparently co-habiting quite happily.

We left town and drove out around the cape from the Exmouth Gulf side to the Ningaloo Marine Park side, starting at the lighthouse, then down the Marine Park coast road.

All along this drive were interesting things to see, some of which included wild horses roaming freely, attractively protected turtle spawning grounds with educational booths, and such things as slews of Termite “towns” spread across the relatively barren landscapes.

Then there were the magnificent beaches along the Indian Ocean, which remained essentially deserted, and I was quite alone when I took my one and only dip in sea, the water being most pleasantly warm!

The Exmouth region was previously an active military area, but with the pull-out of most of the military installations, it has gradually changed its commercial base toward attracting tourism. Though as yet still relatively “undiscovered,” it is increasingly becoming a popular destination for multi-national boaters and fishing enthusiasts, but especially for connoisseur divers who can appreciate unparalleled diving opportunities.

Departing Learmonth, with no Sched flight due in, we found the usual difficulty getting back into airside of a locked-up-tight terminal and our aircraft. We were finally given the access code to the gate from our fueller whom we had contacted via the Tr?o.

Finally off again, we headed directly away from the coast toward our next fuel stop, Meekatharra, our routing taking us back out over what I had now taken to calling “The DRA” short for Designated Remote Area, no exaggeration!

Our plan was to refuel at Meekatharra (YMEK), which we did after landing in gusty 30+ knot winds, then to proceed further south to overnight at Laverton. While at Meekatharra, a Sched flight came in, deplaned a capacity load of folk, refuelled, re-planed and departed without further ado, another example of how Australians have adapted to getting around in the Outback.

Proceeding south out of Meekatharra, the winds at Laverton (YLTN) were forecast to be gusting over 40 knots, but when we arrived there, they were, happily, considerably diminished. Nonetheless, we opted to land on the unrated, natural surface runway because it was into the wind.

The airport was totally deserted, and once again via the Tr?o, to cut a long story short, we soon discovered that for the first time, we had actually flubbed on our homework, for there was no longer fuel available at Laverton!

After quite some discussion, and multiple Tr?o calls, we found out that an unscheduled stop at Warburton would be an option. A “spot on the map” that Chuck of Air Australia had alerted me to whilst we were in Perth.

With HAB’s 72 gallon tanks, fuel was not an issue, the only concern being to arrive there before dark for at this stage, I had come to fully understand and appreciate the requirement for day VFR only. With no potential landing areas between Laverton and Warburton, we were once again out over the DRA heading north-eastward, luckily without a headwind.

We arrived at Warburton (YWBR) at dusk, to land on Runway 36 on a 6,000 foot paved surface in mint condition, right over the heads of numerous members of the townsfolk out for their evening stroll on the runway, quite unaware that an aircraft was approaching! As they scattered, I purposely landed long.

We were greeted by Warburton’s charming young Airport Manager, Trohan Harslett who wore many other hats in his multiple duties around the town of Warburton. It was he who had arranged for our accommodations at the Warburton Road-House.

Since everything in Warburton, a town of less than 600 mainly aboriginal souls, closed at 1700 hours, and we had landed around 1900 hours, though the airport was situated right on the edge of town within walking distance of our accommodations, Trohan drove us with our luggage in his Roo-barred Ute the less than half a kilometer to our “room.”

A key awaited us in the lock and our dinner and the following morning’s breakfast had been placed in a refrigerator just outside the door. In another room across the way was the pilot of the Cessna that had arrived shortly before us. The Mail Delivery pilot for the whole region with seven landings under his belt that day, he was a wealth of information about flying in the Outback, and since he stayed at the Warburton Road House on a regular basis, he filled me in on some fascinating facts and customs of the place.

Departing Warburton the following morning, our Mail Delivery Cessna pilot companion of the previous evening long gone, we headed back out into the vast expanses of the DRA toward our next destination, Uluru, better known as Ayer’s Rock, and the Olga’s.

Though temperatures were high, even at this early hour of the morning, with a very high density altitude, the ride was smooth at 6,500 feet for the about three hour flight to Uluru.

Our original intention had been to land at Uluru and stay overnight for a ground tour of the famous Rock. However, once we were in close enough, we could more than appreciate the view from our altitude of 6,700 feet. The cap for Uluru and hearing the multitude of radio calls from inbound commercial flights, as well as an abundance of both helicopter and fixed wing short sight seeing flights out of Uluru Airport, all circling the Rock at their restricted altitude of 4,000 feet, we decided to remain where we were and announced our intentions to take our own “tour” around the Olga’s and the Rock.

Our well worthwhile tour of the Rock and Olga’s completed, we announced our departure toward the south, and headed out over yet more remote area toward our next point of landing, Coober Pedy.

Known as the “Opal Capital of the World,” the approach into Coober Pedy gave the appearance of a mass of dugouts, as we learned later, well over a million of them, to be exact. To quote my flying companion, he had “never seen so many gopher holes all in one place!”

In considerable turbulence and gusty winds, we landed into the wind on Runway 04 at Coober Pedy (YCBP), to find the usual locked up terminal and not one other aircraft to be seen.

During a chat with another guest at the Warburton Road House, a Road Train driver for a company out of Coober Pedy, had highly recommended the Desert Cave Hotel, and had even given me their phone number. So out came my trusty Tr?o, and as luck would have it, the Desert Cave had one underground room available for one night, which was exactly what we wanted.

Since the airport was in close proximity to town, the Desert Cave’s shuttle arrived promptly and their driver generously volunteered to drive us the “long way round” to the hotel, detouring through multiple actual mine digs, and giving us a close up view of the famous Coober Pedy Race Course, where thoroughbred and stock horse races take place late in October.

He also took us on a tour of the totally treeless Coober Pedy Golf Course, devoid of any greenery, made up of sand fairways, the holes dug in dirt mounds of sand, the “greens” actually look black because they are made with oiled sand!

The Desert Cave Hotel proved to be most hospitable and comfortable, “living underground” an interesting experience. The Aboriginal words “kupa piti” are commonly assumed to mean “white man in a hole,” living in underground dugouts a habit developed in the region over time for expedience, because the mine holes were there and afforded an escape from both the considerable heat of day and cool desert nights above ground, even temperatures of +/- 23 C prevailing in the dugouts.

A cosmopolitan community of some 3,500 people of many nationalities and ethnic backgrounds, Coober Pedy reputedly produces over 85 per cent of the world’s opal. It is also a popular tourist area with an interesting variety of things to do and see, both in the town, and out into the adjacent Coloured Desert regions, and just north of town, the longest Dog Fence in the world around which the film “Rabbit Proof Fence” was made.

It was here that we met Vaughn Stibbard, an interesting Australian character who was traveling almost the exact route that we had just flown, in reverse but he and his friends were dirt biking it off the beaten track, somewhere under our own route of flight towards Broken Hill. Only in Australia?

Departing Coober Pedy the next morning, we headed southeast, once more out over the DRA. About two hours into a projected three and a half hour flight, what began without incident as a clear, smooth ride around 7,500 feet, with a good horizon, started to noticeably change, with interesting salt swirls visible blowing off what I think was Lake Frome.

As we got closer, these plumes gradually took on a distinctly more yellow look as desert sand was apparently “mixing” in, and it was not long before we realized that we were witnessing the un-forecast development of a very real Australian Outback Dust Storm!

Having no knowledge of the progression of dust storms, and all our attempts at radio contact to obtain any information about the developing conditions and updated weather reports proving to be an exercise in futility, we debated our options.

As radio silence prevailed, we gradually climbed to remain just above the ever rising cloud of dust. Luckily for us, it topped out around 11,000 ft, where we stayed just above it and decided that at this point, our best option would be to continue on to our planned destination and hope that it too was not also enveloped in this, shall I say impressive weather phenomena, which I could only imagine would be considerably more impressive at ground level! (*Addendum I Dust storm ground zero)!

Having no other choice, we remained essentially IFR for over an hour, without any radio communication until about 60 NM north of Broken Hill when we picked up a radio call from an aircraft out of Adelaide inbound into Broken Hill.

Contacting him, he informed me that Broken Hill was still CAVOK, though forecast high winds there would be a consideration, and he would let me know what conditions prevailed upon approach.

Mentioning the dust storm, a second pilot spoke up, his communications breaking up badly, he being apparently lower than us, right in it, giving me pause to wonder what his progs for a safe landing were going to be.

Crossing what I believe is known as the Dividing Range into New South Wales just north of Broken Hill, to our relief, we left the dust storm behind us, and landed Broken Hill’s (YBHI) unrated, brown sand Runway 32.

It was generally more into the wind and, following a surprisingly good approach and landing, actually experienced more trouble taxiing because of the prevailing changeable, gusty, high surface winds.

Once parked, we went into town originally intending to fly out the next day.

However, this time, the morning’s weather report was indicating “BLDU, FU, TSR” and a Sigmet for severe turbulence at our destination. So no contest, we were staying another day! We spent time visiting the appealing town of Broken Hill before renting a car to tour some of the numerous attractions in the surrounds of this historic area.

Since the area was originally developed on mainly silver mining, we decided to visit Silverton, and in particular the Day Dream Silver Mine, now an historic site. The drive to the mine was of great interest, providing insight into life in desert regions of the Outback, with camels and horses to be seen ranging freely here and there.

Proceeding on a dirt road toward the mine, out in the middle of nowhere, was this amusing “his n’ hers” rest station beside the road leading up to the Tea Room at the mine.

I took a personal tour down into the mine, and visited the remnants of an “abode” that the miner’s actually lived in, acquainting me with the unbelievable harsh realities of a miner’s life in days of yore, and all for this shiny metal!

Emerging from underground, Kevin White, who now operates the mine tours, and his partner Max, showed us around “topside,” including the remnants of the old smelt, and introduced us to his two horses, whom Kevin rides frequently many kilometres, and who roam freely around the considerable acreage of the Day Dream lands.

Upon departure, Kevin asked for a ride back into town. A veritable “walking encyclopaedia” about the area, his presence was more than appreciated as he acted as our personal guide, detouring us through Silver City and escorting us up to the Umberumberka Reservoir that at one time supplied all the water for the region, the water level actually overflowing the wall of the dam, but which has now been no more that a muddy pool for many years!

Returning to the outskirts of Broken Hill where Kevin lived, we stopped at his house for tea, where we met two more of his horses, both in superb shape, and watched the ABC Documentary “Big Red” made some years earlier about the Mine and surrounding region, in which Kevin and members of his family were active participants.

Taking our leave of Kevin, we returned for a quiet final evening in Broken Hill, in order to fly out in good time the next morning this to be the final leg of our VH-HAB adventure.

Arriving at the airport, baggage stowed, upon walk around, initially alerted by the smell, I noticed that a quite steady stream of gasoline was blowing in the wind, laterally, from behind the nose wheel. Since there was a busy repair shop across the tarmac, we taxied over for one of their AME’s to have a “look-see.”

As luck would have it, the owner of the facility, Chris Harrison, was an Aviation Engineer who quickly determined that the problem was a warped sediment bowl and gasket.

Following some back and forth phone calls with HAB’s home base, the go ahead was given to replace the necessary parts, which, as luck would have it, Chris had in stock.

Within about two hours, our problem rectified, we were on our way south-eastward again, out over the last vistas we were to see of the Outback desert and its salt lakes, this time with rather more benign weather and a smooth ride, sans blowing dust!

After flying Outback Australia for even a short while, one comes to realize why the folk who live there are all so laid back, kind, generous and ever helpful, never in too much of a hurry, taking everything in stride, as it comes a noteworthy attitude that I came to appreciate very much and had no difficulty adapting to.

As we progressed southward, the desert gradually gave way to civilization, with more vegetation and small towns alongside roadways, and an abundance of those fertile farmlands so much preferred by my husband, who by now had had more than enough of the Outback, unlike me who would gladly go back out there again. There being still so much left to see and do and so many great folk to meet!

Without further ado, over ever greener landscapes, we reached HAB’s home base, Moorabbin (YMBB) for a perfect landing to end our all too short flying adventure.

Entering the RVAC office, it was as usual still very busy so we returned the Sat phone, finalized the trip paper work, then found an instructor who had enough time to fly us in HAB (since our baggage was already in it) up to Mangalore (YMNG). It was an airport located not too far from my cousin’s house near Seymour, a town just north of Melbourne.

Following our evening flight, as dusk was falling we touched down at Mangalore where we bid adieu to Vaughan and our trusty VH-HAB as they took off befittingly “into the sunset” for the return to their RVAC home base at Moorabbin.

IN RETROSPECT

With some 40-plus air time hours flying the Outback of Australia, we certainly gained another perspective of the real meaning of “VFR” flying, some insight and a better understanding of why Australian Air Navigation for GA is what it is.

With such incredibly vast expanses between so few facilities, and so few opportunities for any kind of communication, it becomes evident that anyone venturing into those regions better have a reliable, well maintained aircraft with long-range tanks, a GPS being a must.

HAB was essentially IFR equipped, with a slaved King GPS, a VOR, an ADF/DME, Mode C Transponder and 72 gallon fuel tanks, an “asset” that we came to fully appreciate.

Nonetheless, flying over those barren areas, one becomes acutely aware of the potential ramifications should there ever be an emergency, making it a further indisputable “must” to have on board a known-to-be-operational ELT, backup radio and navigation equipment (we had our hand helds), an appropriately equipped first aid kit, a formal survival pack, sufficient water and food for at least three days, a reliable, functioning means of communication such as a fully charged Satellite phone and to never take off without having filed a flight plan that includes Sartime.

A few notable differences when flying VFR in Australia include:

• There is essentially no air filing/cancelling of flight plans. With some variables, basically flight plans and Sartimes begin the moment they are phoned in and end at the stated period for the flight or cancellation by land phone. Nevertheless, IF flying in an area and/or at altitudes where radio contact can be established with Flightwatch, en route modifications may be made. However, when radio contact is not possible, which we discovered was most of the time along our route of flight, individual pilots must nominate a Sartime period that covers the total flight time to a landing facility that is suitable for ground cancellation.

• For navigation, of the 14 landings that we made along our route, all 14 aerodromes were served by Australia’s system of high frequency NDB. Six airports had DME, five had VOR and one had a TACAN. Ayer’s Rock had an NDB and a DME.

• Manned ground radio communication was only present at five of 15 aerodromes, including Ayer’s Rock. All others were pilot monitored, with a voice activated aerodrome frequency response unit (AFRU) that provided an automated identification of the landing facility, pilots communicating directly with each other.

• Though it took me a while to become adept at associating Wx patterns to the relative regions outlined in the actual Wx reports, the system for obtaining Wx and NOTAMS was very efficient.

In brief, Australia is divided into Wx grids, each assigned a number. Phone contact is established with a Weather specialist by means of a prepaid Telstra PhoneAway card, the appropriate grid number(s) stated, a verbal briefing provided, and/or any requested weather and NOTAMS promptly faxed to any fax number you supply.

In flight, an automated information service (AERIS) is also available, that is, if you happen to be within range and/or at an appropriate reception altitude.

• All horizontal measurements are indicated in metres, vertical measurements in feet. Altimeter settings are stated in millibars.

A further noteworthy factor was the extent and efficiency of mobile phone coverage, even in the Outback. Only once throughout the whole trip were we out of range of my mobile phone and its Internet capability, and happily, we never did need to use the Satellite phone.

At the conclusion of our all too short Outback tour-of-a-lifetime, we spent some time with my Australian family members (** Addendum II), and with much regret, eventually took our leave of my homeland for our final stop, New Zealand.

WEB RESOURCES AUSTRALIA

Airservices Australia: www.airservicesaustralia.com 

Australian Bureau of Meteorology: www.bom.gov.au

Telstra PhoneAway Card: http://getaway.ninemsn.com.au/article.aspx?id=16384

Royal Victorian Aero Club: www.rvac.com.au

Royal Flying Doctor Service’s Outback Travel: www.flyingdoctor.net/travelinfo.htm

Nullarbor: www.nullarbornet.com.au; www.southaustralia.com

Forrest Airport: www.forrestairport.com.au

Kalgoorlie: www.kalgoorlie.com/tourism

Southern X: www.walkabout.com.au/locations/WASouthernCross.shtml

Perth: www.westernaustralia.com 

Air Australia @ Jandacott: www.airaustralia.net 

Carnarvon/Exmouth/the Ningaloo: www.exmouthwa.com.au; www.ningalooreefdive.com 

Warburton: www.kalgoorlie.com/tourism/warburton.asp;

www.outback-hwy.gov.au

Ayer’s Rock: www.deh.gov.au/parks/uluru  

Coober Pedy: www.opalcapitaloftheworld.com.au

Coober Pedy’s Desert Cave Hotel: www.desertcave.com.au 

Broken Hill: www.visitbrokenhill.com.au

Silverton Day Dream Mine: www.abc.net.au/adelaide/stories/s949698.htm