Parkes – Koroit – Twelve Apostles – Hobart – Flinders Island – Moorabbin – Temora
Every two years Cirrus Australia hold a weekend “Cirrus Life Event” for Cirrus owners and pilots. Participants are encouraged to fly their (Cirrus) aircraft to the event to provide an adventure prior to and after the weekend’s activities. Previous events had been held at Hamilton Island and Uluru while in November 2019 it was at Hobart, capital of the Apple Isle. The additional challenge in this case was to cross over Bass Strait…..twice.
We planned our 9 day trip some weeks out and there was plenty to prepare for. As always, weather would be a key focus in our planning but crossing over Bass Strait was our biggest concern. We don’t know why we thought like that because the plane didn’t know it was crossing over Bass Strait.
Knowing the temperamental nature of the weather in the southern states, we departed one day earlier than necessary, on Wednesday 30th October, to provide a one day buffer. Mike was PIC to Parkes, a 2.8 hour flight with no problems. It was a normal flight, a bit cloudy out of Redcliffe, but ATC gave us a clearance and we climbed over Amberley to our assigned altitude. Clearly the country is in the biggest drought of its history; the ground colours showed that.
As we flew south west we could see how bad things were. Very sad for the farmers.
On arrival at Parkes we refuelled and ventured to the “aircraft terminal” for lunch and a cuppa. After checking out the terminal and aero club we noticed that Parkes airport also hosts an impressive aircraft museum. We discovered that it is actually part of the HARS aircraft museum in Wollongong. We paid the $5 fee and had a look through.
From Parkes I was PIC and we flew to Warrnambool, which was our final destination for the day. Most impressive was the change of the land colour. The first green patches appeared as we crossed the Murray River into Victoria and by the time we passed over Bendigo it had changed from brown to a luscious green.
Clearly the bottom end of Victoria had plenty of winter rain.
I’d phoned ahead to an Irish Pub called Mickey Bourke’s at Koroit, a small town about 2 minutes’ drive from the Warrnambool airport and arranged a pickup. We refuelled the plane just in time for Bruce the publican to pick us up in his minibus and drive us to the pub. It was a typical country pub with a typical pub menu, you wouldn’t go hungry. Black Angus steaks are their specialty, along with the odd pint of Guinness!
On Thursday morning we completed our final checks on the flight plan for the day after carefully checking the forecast. To make sure we fully understood the weather we phoned the area forecasters for southern Victoria and Tasmania. Both gave us vital information for our flight over Bass Strait. After we’d submitted our flight notification Bruce dropped us back to the airport.
So with Mike back in the left seat we departed Warrnambool for Wynyard, a town located on the north coast of Tassie, starting with a coastal overwater VFR flight. As we took off we flew past the Tower Hill volcanic crater.
We then tracked past Warrnambool to the coast, passing Peterborough with its airstrip.
Not long after flew past the “London Bridge” which is no longer a bridge since it collapsed quite some years ago and the 12 Apostles at 3000ft, then headed for Cape Otway.
At Cape Otway we switched to IFR and started climbing to our assigned level of 9000ft to cross the strait. The in flight conditions were pretty perfect, and visibility was excellent. We had a magnificent view of King Island as we passed over the top.
Not long after we commenced our descent into Wynyard. With a 40 to 50 knot tailwind we managed to squeeze 225 knots ground speed out of MSF on the way down.
At that moment ATC became very helpful, advising us that a SPECI report had just been issued for Wynyard. The weather conditions over the coast had deteriorated and the cloud was overcast at 1500ft, which was well below our minimum safe altitude (MSA). I also received a text from Gary McArthur from the Wynyard Aero Club, who was expecting us. Gary is a regular flyer in the area and knows the weather conditions very well. His text suggested we fly coastal and aim to remain under the cloud cover into Wynyard. But first, as a Plan B, we briefed the RNAV instrument approach, in case we couldn’t remain visual. As forecast, the cloud cover was mainly over the land so we were able to avoid the cloud and remain over water for the last 10 miles into Wynyard. We descended to 1100ft and, after rounding Table Cape, spotted the airport.
It was then a simple matter of joining mid downwind. We met Gary at the aero club and he showed us the clubhouse and we had a cuppa with him.
I flew the leg from Wynyard to Hobart Cambridge. Cambridge is only about 1.6 nautical miles from Hobart’s main airport, so you need to be on your game when arriving there. We’d spoken to Hobart Tower as part of the planning process and they suggested that, if weather permitted, we should downgrade from IFR to VFR before reaching their airspace. This approach would allow them more flexibility to separate us from the numerous jets that fly in and out of the main airport and speed our arrival process. I’d practised flying the last 30 miles on my home simulator so already had a good idea of the VFR route we had to fly and the topography of the area, including Mount Wellington that towers over Hobart. At 1271 metres, it’s one landmark that’s difficult to miss.
We departed Wynyard IFR about one hour after arrival, climbing out in blue skies between a few cumulus, as most of the cloud had dissipated by that time. Our track took us direct to Cradle Mountain and, believe it or not, there was snow on some of the peaks. It was spectacular scenery, with rugged mountain tops and multiple lakes as we flew over central Tasmania.
Leaving the wilderness behind, we started to descend into Cambridge, switched to VFR and tracked for the Derwent River Valley. Passing over New Norfolk, we followed the river to join the lane of entry called Victor West. This is a VFR route that takes you along the Derwent River past a number of bridges before requiring a clearance from ATC to enter controlled airspace. ATC directed us onto a wide base for Cambridge. We were fortunate to have great weather and being able to see the Tasman Bridge over the Derwent and the city was truly spectacular from the air.
On landing at Cambridge we were met by two old friends of Mike who were keen to go flying. Given the magnificent weather, and the fact that the Cirrus Life wasn’t due to start until the next day, how could we say “no”? We unloaded our gear and then took off again, to the east this time. Flying down the magnificent coastline we passed over Bruny Island, and the mouth of the Huon River on our way to South East Cape.
On the return flight we tracked via the Derwent River mouth and had another great view of Hobart as we descended into Cambridge.
Mike’s friends drove us into town where we checked into our bed and breakfast for the weekend. I had made contact with Paul Raynor prior to arrival so he, together with Narelle and their three children, met me at the B&B and we drove out to Cambridge airport to check out the planes. Later we had dinner on the quayside in one of the fish restaurants.
We were glad we had planned our arrival one day early, as strong and gusty winds were blowing on Friday and some participants cancelled their flights while others had a bumpy flight in. We registered for the Cirrus event at about 10am and had to refrain from the free alcoholic beverages on offer as Brett and I were planning to take our wives on a scenic flight around south east Tasmania in MSF. Sigi and Sharon dutifully arrive on a Jetstar flight and we all mini bussed out to Cambridge airport we experienced SEV TURB BLW 5000FT & FU with low VIS on the TAF, due to the fact that it was blowing a gale and someone was attempting to burn half of Tasmania. Brett and I watched an aircraft approach Cambridge airstrip sideways and drop itself on the RWY as it passed under them. We then decided not to scare the hell out of their wives and called off the flight.
We all bussed back to town for those free beverages we had to pass up earlier and some pre-night planning. As evening approached we headed to the Glass House Restaurant, located at the Brooke Street Pier, for a “networking” evening. Discovering that there were loads of fresh wild sea oysters, harvested that afternoon, on offer, we networked the hell out of the oyster shucker. The oysters were superb!
After it was announced that the drinks were sponsored by Flight One in Archerfield Mike, realising that they were a competitor to the Club, seized the opportunity and attempted to send them broke by driving up their drinks bill, until well into the early hours of the next morning.
I can’t recall seeing Mike at Saturday breakfast where we were entertained by a presentation from Ross Harrison & Robyn Hills (from Caloundra) sharing highlights of their helicopter excursion from north west USA up to Alaska. It was an excellent story which came alive with Robyn’s photos. I particularly liked the grin on Ross’s face as he was about to fly under San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge. It’s the look that naughty boys and pilots get when they have wicked intent.
Saturday was a “working day” with presentations from 8 till 5. There was morning tea and lunch of course with plenty of networking time and, while we digested our lunch, aerobatics champion Matt Hall gave a spellbinding presentation on his life story. His Wikipedia bio reads: “Matt Hall, born 1971 in Newcastle, a former Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) fighter combat instructor, international unlimited aerobatic competitor and the first Australian to be selected to compete in the Red Bull Air Race World Championship, starting in 2009 and 2019 Red Bull Air Race Champion”. An impressive aviator. If you ever get a chance to hear him speak, I would highly recommend it.
More talks, afternoon tea, more talks and then we were off to the networking dinner. We were bussed 20 minutes south west of Hobart to Willie Smith’s Apple Shed in the Huon Valley for a sit-down dinner. It turns out that old Willie has been using Tasmanian apples to make alcoholic cider. Mike’s partner Erica had flown in on Virgin that afternoon so she joined us all for the dinner. Brett asked the waiter to fill him up to the TABs and the rest was a bit of a blur for him but involved a bit of line dancing.
Next day, more presentations kept us entranced until it was time for the Gala Dinner. We jumped on the MONA museum’s private ferry for a bit more, you guessed it, “networking”, on the way to the museum.
MONA’s subterranean architecture has a space called the void which is where we had dinner and a bit more networking.
We then grooved the night away listening to Kate Ceberano bash out her hits.
After a packed weekend of Cirrus Life activities, Erica, Brett and Sharon headed home on a jetliner while Mike, Sigi and I had Monday off to recover, explore Hobart and complete the planning for our flight home. Sigi and I walked around Battery Point and a few other parts of old Hobart Town admiring the roses that were in full bloom.
That night we had dinner with Paul and Narelle and their children, this time at home.
The return trip started on Tuesday morning with a very casual and scenic flight up the east coast of Tassie. After topping up the tanks in a bracing westerly wind I took off VFR from Cambridge airport and departed to the south east.
Initially we skirted around the southern end of the Tasman Peninsula and Tasman Island, flying past Cape Raoul, Cape Pillar and Cape Hauy, with their magnificent organ pipe cliffs.
We also spotted a mother whale and its calf heading south near Cape Pillar. From there we remained under the Hobart control steps and completed an orbit over the ruins of the Port Arthur convict settlement. It looked resplendent with multiple convict era buildings and ruins located in between lush green lawns and the crystal clear blue waters of the bay.
From Port Arthur we tracked north over Eaglehawk Neck and on to Maria Island and Freycinet Peninsula where we had a magnificent view of Wine Glass Bay.
There were green paddocks, blue bays and white sandy beaches all the way. It was magnificent weather to fly, with great visibility and almost no clouds. Further on we passed over St Helens then flew over the water to Flinders Island. At about 60km long and 30km wide, Flinders Island is the largest island in the Furneaux Group, off the north east tip of Tasmania. It is quite picturesque with the Strzelecki Peaks dominating the south western corner. Whitemark, the largest town, has a good airport with two sealed runways.
The local hire car company had a car waiting for us on arrival so after refuelling the plane we headed into town for lunch. The afternoon and evening were spent exploring the island and enjoying the friendly hospitality of the locals.
We woke before 6am on Wednesday to a somewhat unsettling weather forecast. Although the sky was still clear, the freezing levels were down to 7000ft, 40 to 50 knot north westerlies would slow our progress across to the mainland, there was broken cloud cover and rain approaching along with a series of cold fronts. We rang the duty forecaster at the BOM and had a long chat about the weather over the next 48 hours. It was clear we should leave sooner rather than later so we had breakfast at 7:00 and were out at the airport by 7:30 to do our pre-flight. Everything was great until we checked the oil level. It had dropped by 1.5 quarts in the 120 minute trip from Hobart. This was after using virtually no oil on the flight from Brisbane to Hobart. We hadn’t packed any oil, given that an oil change had been completed just prior to our departure from Brisbane and we were due to pick up a box of oil in Moorabbin on our way back to Redcliffe. What were we to do?
Mike had a chat to the ARO who gave him the phone number of a local pilot who usually had some spare oil in his hangar. Sure enough the pilot did have some oil and he drove out specially from Whitemark to get it for us. That’s country hospitality. The oil was added (from a drum) just as the first cold front hit and it started to rain – at an angle of 45 degrees. For a while it didn’t look good for our flight back to the mainland. The local pilot offered the comment that he “wouldn’t be flying across Bass Strait on a day like today”. We thought we may have to spend a few days in windswept Whitemark but then again, he wasn’t instrument rated. After about an hour the cloud cover associated with the front receded overhead like a curtain and clear blue sky rolled eastward. The met officer had told us it was forecast to be clear after that initial front passed until early afternoon and then the weather would set in for two days at least. So we decided that we would use the window of opportunity to make the crossing, remaining below the freezing level.
I persuaded Sigi to fly commercial back to Melbourne as it looked like it could be a fairly turbulent flight and we may have to turn back if things didn’t go as planned. She booked a flight to Launceston and an afternoon flight from there to Melbourne.
Mike was PIC and we took off from Whitemark, climbeding to 6000ft as we tracked up the west coast of Flinders Island. It was slow going with the headwind, at only 105 knots ground speed. We kept a close eye on the oil temperature, which settled down after we levelled out. There was some cloud cover but we managed to remain above them all the way to Wilson’s Promontory, the most southerly point of the Australian mainland.
As we crossed the coast the cumulus clouds gathered and we flew in and out of them past Tidal River and on up the coast.
Melbourne Centre kept us on their frequency until we were only 7 miles from Moorabbin and finally handed us over to the Tower and it was a short and simple join on a right base into RWY 35R. After negotiating the network of taxiways without any mishaps MSF parked outside Blue Demon Aviation.
We had lunch at a nearby motorcycle dealership that doubles as a café with Charles Gunter from Avia.
Charles subsequently gave us four hours of tuition in their Cirrus motion simulator, deploying the plane’s parachute under various scenarios including full and partial engine failures and a mid-air collision.
The simulator session concluded with a night time flight over the Las Vegas strip. It was very lifelike, including the fireworks we flew through.
At about 5pm we headed into the Melbourne CBD by taxi, feeling a bit exhausted from our real life experience of crossing Bass Strait and our simulated one trying to fly from Mangalore to Shepperton but never quite getting there.
After checking into our city hotel we had dinner with a couple of friends of Mike. Just after we arrived back at the hotel Sigi arrived, having spent most of her day in the Launceston airport terminal by herself. Not happy Jan! But it was all for the best we explained.
Thursday 7th November dawned with a strong wind blowing and a none-too-promising weather forecast. While Sigi planned her day in Melbourne and an afternoon departure with Qantas to Brisbane, Mike and I headed back down to Moorabbin for some more simulator time with one of the instructors from Blue Demon. This time it was a less sophisticated simulator and we focussed on practising instrument approaches into Moorabbin and trying to force the plane into a spin, with limited success. We had planned to depart for Wollongong around midday but as the day progressed and we checked the weather forecasts the freezing level had lowered to 4000-5000ft and there was cloud cover over most of north eastern Victoria and south eastern New South Wales. With lowest safe altitudes up to 7700ft enroute, and without any de-icing equipment on the aircraft, we were clearly not going to be flying to Wollongong that day. In addition, the satellite image showed heavy rain over Melbourne. Even our Plan B of flying the inland route to Temora wasn’t possible in those conditions. The weather forecast was for similar conditions right through until Sunday so, as we all had some things on that weekend in Brisbane, we made the executive decision to leave MSF in Moorabbin for a few days and fly by RPT back to Brisbane. We caught a taxi out to Tullamarine and met up with Sigi.
By Saturday it was clear that the only day suitable to fly out of Moorabbin that week would be Monday. The weather would clear on Sunday but after Monday it would close in again and would make flying impossible for the rest of the week. The route to Wollongong was still a no-go so we decided to catch an early Monday morning Virgin flight to Melbourne and fly MSF from Moorabbin to Temora that day. We arrived back in Moorabbin by 2pm and were refuelled and ready to depart at 3pm. There was a strong, gusty north wind blowing but the sky was clear. Departing Moorabbin we climbed to 7000ft, passing just to the east of the CBD.
We then tracked to the east of Essendon Airport.
From there we flew over Kilmore and Mangalore with some magnificent hilly scenery.
Next came the might Murray and we tracked for Wagga and Temora.
Arriving at Temora we tied the plane down and checked into our modern unit, which was adjacent to the aviation museum. A short trip into town in a local taxi and we were relaxing in one of the pubs with a steak and a beer.
Tuesday started well with a visit to the aviation museum while the wind increased in strength outside. We visited the engineering hangar where they restore and maintain the aircraft. All of them are kept in flying condition. The place is immaculate.
There are two airworthy Spitfires that are always crowd pleasers at the monthly air shows held at the museum.
We knew a trough was passing over and it was forecast to be calmer by late morning. The sky was starting to turn red in the west though as the wind whipped up precious topsoil and carried it in a massive dust cloud towards us.
After a couple of hours in the museum the westerly wind had eased slightly but was still 15 gusting to 25 knots. The dust cloud had largely passed to the north east, the direction we would be travelling. Based on the westerly wind forecast to be gusting up to 30 knots and the fact that Inverell has only a north south runway we decided to change our refuelling stop from Inverell to Gunnedah, that has a RWY 29. We took off and climbed out of dry, dry Temora and headed for even drier Parkes. We were flying IFR and after climbing to 9000ft we were in a red dust cloud and couldn’t see the ground or the horizon and were flying on instruments. It was just like being in cloud, but red. We obtained a clearance to climb to 10,000ft where we were skimming along the top of the dust cloud. Parkes appeared briefly through the dust below us as we overflew it.
The air gradually cleared as we approached Gunnedah and we briefed an RNAV instrument approach. Although it was good visibility by the time we reached Gunnedah I did the instrument approach for practice while Mike kept lookout. The wind was almost straight down the runway at 15 to 30 knots so it was definitely the right decision to avoid Inverell with its north-south runway.
After refuelling the plane, and ourselves with muesli bars, Mike flew us out of Gunnedah and we headed for home.
The drought was so bad out there with dams almost empty. North of Inverell large bushfires were burning. A couple of them near the border had multiple firefighting aircraft populating our OzRunways map some 5000ft below us.
After passing over Amberley we were cleared into Brisbane airspace and tracked past The Gap across to the bay to join the circuit and land at Redcliffe with a 15 knot crosswind. Welcome home!
It was good to be back. The trip to Hobart and the Cirrus Life event had been a real adventure. We’d flown 4,500km in 15 hours of flying and that’s just the south east corner of Australia! It certainly is a big country. We’d covered some spectacular parts of the country, crossed Bass Strait twice, improved our planning and decision making skills, encountered and avoided all sorts of weather, safely negotiated controlled and congested airspace and airports, visited museums and a gallery, caught up lots of old friends, simulated the parachute deployment in the Cirrus and witnessed the drought and fires that are causing so much pain and anguish to so many people. It’s hard to imagine a better experience.