FNQ Safari Day 10 – Cooktown to Emu Park

Day 10 of our FNQ trip and it was time to head back south. Our destination was Emu Park, a small coastal town south of Yeppoon. It had an airstrip on the edge of town that made it a great option for a fly in stopover on the way home. It also had beaches that would be good to relax on for a day.

Hillcrest Guest House

We had breakfast at the guest house then one last cup of coffee at the Driftwood cafe.

Ray drove us out to the airport again (that’s service for you) and we loaded the gear into MSF and topped up the fuel. The weather report was for cloud and rain from Cairns down to near Townsville so I prepared the flight notification with a VFR sector as far as Port Douglas so we could fly along the coast of the Daintree rainforest area and then convert to IFR to climb above the cloud from then on.

Climbing out of Cooktown there was only scattered cloud but it soon gathered, pushed up against the mountainous country along the coast.

Heading south

Soon it was clear we wouldn’t get much of a view of the coast after all so I requested Cairns approach for an early upgrade to IFR and we were cleared to 7000 ft. Climbing through the cloud we popped out into clear blue sky at about 5000 ft and continued over Port Douglas (no views) and Cairns (small glimpses). I’d hoped to get some views of the islands between Cairns and Townsville but the cloud only really cleared as we approached Palm Island and on over Townsville.

Townsville runway, Castle Hill, downtown and port area

Just south of Townsville we passed over the Ross River Solar Farm. Built on a 202 hectare site that was historically a disused mango farm the solar farm has the capacity to generate 116 megawatts.

It was smooth flying on over Ingham and Bowen but cloud gathered again as we approached Mackay.

We were in and out of cumulus and had to remain relatively high so instead of a straight in approach the tower put us onto a course over the airport so we could lose some height and join downwind for RWY14. We had to extend the downwind to allow a Virgin jet to take off and were then cleared to land, a Flying Doctor aircraft waiting patiently for us.

Mackay refuelling with the clouds we descended through in the background

After topping up the fuel we were off again, this time heading to Emu Park. There must have been some military activity going on at Shoalhaven Bay as ATC vectored us a bit further west of the restricted area (even though our flight planned track was already clear of it) and then Rocky tower cleared us down earlier than expected to overhead their aerodrome.

Rockhampton CBD and Fitzroy River

For those who don’t know the area, there are hills, including Mount Archer, to the east of Rockhampton and the highest peaks are about 2000ft. For some reason ATC sent us over this hilly region at “not more than 2500ft”. A few clouds made it interesting as we were well below lowest safe and after I told the controller that I’d have to manoeuvre to avoid cloud she said I could “manoeuvre as required”. We overflew Emu Park to check out the wind sock and then did a 500 ft overfly of the strip so I could inspect it and check its length. I’d spoken to the council and some local pilots about the strip condition beforehand but it’s always good to check for “unknowns”.

Emu Park with Great Keppel Island offshore

The runway slopes up gently to the north and lucky for us there was a northerly wind blowing. We touched down softly on the short dry grass strip and came to a stop about half way along. While we were unpacking and securing the plane for the night a local pilot drove up for a quick chat. I asked about the strip on Great Keppel but he said it’s still off limits. He only flies the owner of the (still out of action and apparently demolished) resort out there from time to time. The weather forecast had indicated a front with some rain would pass through the next day. I mentioned the forecast of rain the following day and he said not to worry, “it needs to rain for a few days quite heavily before the airstrip becomes soft. The runway slopes lengthways and crossways so it drains well”. That was reassuring. We shouldn’t have any problems getting out.

Riding to the Endeavour motel in the centre of town and 2 minutes’ walk from the beach took us 5 minutes. After checking it there was plenty of time to explored the esplanade and have a cool beer at the RSL with a view across the water to Wedge Island.

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