Rockhampton – Yeppoon – RNP approach
On Wednesday 7th September 2022 a group of us flew from Redcliffe to Rockhampton for a couple of days playing golf. Peter is a regular golfer with a handicap while Ted, Mark and I are happy hackers who enjoy the occasional game but don’t usually bother scoring. Having flown to Bargara for a couple of games of golf in 2021 we decided to go a bit further afield this time, with Yeppoon, on the coast east of Rockhampton and on the Tropic of Capricorn, our target. There is a community course in Yeppoon itself and the “Capricorn Resort” course about 10km to the north. The resort was quite a big deal in its heyday of the 1970s and 1980s when it was visited by plenty of Japanese tourists but it’s been closed for decades and the golf course is the only thing that is still operating there.
I’d originally planned to fly to Hedlow, a private airstrip between Rocky and Yeppoon but we needed a car to get around and there were no hire cars in Yeppoon so we decided to fly into Rocky instead as some cars were available at the airport. YBRK is a D Class airport with a tower and a new approach service called “Coral Approach” that acts as a C Class overlay down to 1000ft AMSL. I spoke to the Tower and the local ARO in the days leading up to our trip to get a heads up on what to expect on our approach and once we landed. One point of interest was that the Singapore Airforce was carrying out military manouvres (Exercise Wallaby) at Shoalwater Bay nearby so parts of the apron were cordoned off as parking for their helicopters. But the ARO assured me there’d still be plenty of parking spots with tie downs available.
The weather had been a bit poor in the days leading up to our departure but cleared enough so that we could make the trip, with the weather in Yeppoon looking like it’d be warm and sunny. We wanted to hit off at 1pm so time was of the essence. Ted picked us up at 6:45 and as we drove out to Redcliffe I played Mike’s preflight video on the Ipad for Peter’s benefit. Peter hadn’t flown in the Cirrus before while Ted and Mark had both flown a couple of times so were old hands. As with all newbies, Peter was impressed by the airframe parachute and the overall design of the Cirrus.
We were out at Redcliffe just after 7:30 and after completing my preflight checks and a passenger briefing we took off at 8:30. There was a small amount of cumulus cloud forecast along the route but I’d submitted an IFR flight plan so that wasn’t an issue. I had practised flying the last 20 miles into Rocky on my home simulator to familiarise myself with the topography and also flown the RNP approach just in case we’d have to fly it. Initially the weather seemed clear up north but it could change. We climbed out of Redcliffe and I was fairly busy on the radio for the first 15 minutes. I’d explained the “sterile cockpit” concept to the guys during the briefing so after a bit of excited chatter from them as we flew along the coast I invoked the sterile cockpit so I could concentrate on the ATC directives. Eventually I obtained a clearance from Brisbane Approach to climb to 6000ft over the Sunshine Coast. There were no clouds at that stage so we had a clear view of the coast from Caloundra up to Noosa Heads.
I was switched over to Brisbane Centre who requested that I extend my first leg beyond my planned waypoint directly over the Sunshine Coast Airport to allow other aircraft to descend into it. Once we’d passed and were overhead Noosa Heads ATC advised we should track direct for Rockhampton.
The cloud gathered as we headed north and we ended up spending about 60 minutes of the 100 minute flight in IMC. Not very interesting for the passengers but good practice for me. On the way I listened to the other traffic flying out of Hervey Bay, Bundaberg and Rocky. ATC asked whether I was qualified to fly a STAR approach (a different instrument approach used by commercial jets amongst others) but I replied in the negative. We’d have to fly the RNP approach. Initially I thought we could fly the RNP for RWY33 and do a circling approach at the airport but when I requested it Centre told me to “standby”. After about a minute they came back to me and said we should expect to join the RNP for RWY15 from the north. As we approached Rocky we were transferred from Brisbane Centre to Coral Approach who advised that with the south easterly wind there’d be aircraft taking off directly towards us so we’d be vectored around the east of the CTR and could join the RNP instrument approach from the north.
This involved flying to the east of Rockhampton over the hills then turning northwest to join the approach via waypoint GOKUN.
Coral Approach vectored us to a point where we could enter the approach without having to do a sector entry (we could turn directly towards BRKNI) and descended us to 3500ft. We were still in and out of cloud as we tracked towards the approach and at NI we started our descent.
While turning at NI, Coral Approach handed us over to Rocky Tower and by the time we were passing NF we were visual with a clear view of RWY 15.
Touching down smoothly at 10:30, we taxied over to the GA apron and I refuelled while Peter and Mark fetched the hire car (involving a 1km walk to the RPT terminal) while Ted kept an eye on our bags. There were a few helicopters parked on the apron but I found a good spot to tie down MSF and soon we were off on the 30 minute drive to Yeppoon. On the way Peter, who’d been sitting in the back seat and had never flown in a Cirrus before, asked how I controlled the plane without a “steering wheel”. He hadn’t noticed the side sticks that act as control yokes in all Cirrus aircraft. He’d obviously thought it was pretty cool to be able to fly a plane “no hands”!
After a spot of lunch at the one of the beachside cafes we headed to the Yeppon Golf Club for our first 18 holes. It was a pleasant enough, open course, littered with kangaroos.
Peter was able to avoid hitting any of them and avoided landing in the water on this hole, something that the rest of us couldn’t quite manage. By the end of the 18 holes we were well and truly ready for the 19th.
Heading back to town we checked into our AirBNB, a luxurious virtually brand new 4 bedroom property about 10 minutes’ drive south of the town centre. It had everything you’d need including a view of the coastline and an 8 ball table on the deck outside.
The next day dawned perfectly and we headed into town for breakfast at one of the many cafes in the main street. The Capricorn Resort course was booked for 10am and they don’t have a food outlet there so we bought some lunch from the bakery before heading out. It was a bit surreal driving out to the resort along a dual carriageway that had obviously been built specifically for the resort a few decades ago during the head days of “Queensland Inc” with Japanese money. The road is showing signs of age, with weedy patches appearing and quite a few potholes. The hotel facility must have dozens of rooms and has been closed for many years so the question was asked why it hadn’t been used as a Covid quarantine facility over the past 2 years. I guess we’ll never know. The clubhouse itself is also looking a bit tired and one of the 18 hole courses has been abandoned but the remaining one was in surprisingly good condition.
The photo above, taken on our departure shows the operating course in the centre with the abandoned one behind it.
This course proved to be a bit more challenging than the Yeppoon one, with lots more water hazards, particularly on the second nine, tackled after a lunch break. Once again there were plenty of kangaroos and even a carpet python came to watch us play.
My game seemed to fall apart on the “back nine” and it was clear that two days of 18 holes per day was tiring us out. We lost a few balls into the water and I had some hopeless drives that went all over the place. Even though it had been fun, I was glad to reach the end. We did actually score both days but I can’t for the life of me remember what the numbers were!! I seem to remember that after taking into account the handicaps that Peter had cunningly come up with Ted emerged the overall winner.
We’d originally planned to fly home the next day and I’d been keeping an eye on the weather forecasts. Peter had asked me on Wednesday whether we’d be home in time for a meeting on Friday afternoon and I’d said I couldn’t guarantee it so he’d cancelled the meeting. This was just one part of giving them a heads up and reducing the risk of “get there itis” setting in.
As we drove back to the AirBNB I checked the aviation weather for Friday and broke the news to the others. The weather forecast for Rocky was for showers of rain starting during the night and extending into the middle of the day while the Brisbane forecast was for cloud, rain and thunderstorms most of the day. I did not feel comfortable flying with passengers in that weather and it would not be enjoyable for any of us. So we agreed that we’d formulate a Plan B, which would be an option to fly to Kingaroy to refuel and reassess the situation and a Plan C, which would be to stay in Yeppoon or Rocky and fly home on Saturday when the weather was supposed to be clear. We’d decide in the morning.
That evening we had pizzas back at the AirBNB with a few glasses of wine and a few games of 8 ball.
The morning dawned as predicted. Overcast and showers of rain. And Peter emerged from his room with a serious case of food poisoning. It appears one of the prawns on the pizza was off. So we decided on Plan C. We wouldn’t fly that day. Ted and Mark and I headed to Rosslyn Bay for breakfast at the marina while Peter went back to bed.
We were disappointed to be told we couldn’t stay another night at the AirBNB as it was booked over the weekend (no surprise) and soon discovered that there was no accommodation in Yeppoon that night but found a motel in Rocky with 4 rooms. They’d even let Peter move into his room at 11am, which was something that he really needed. We packed up and left the AirBNB at 10am as the cleaner rolled up to prepare it for the next guests. Dropping by a pharmacy Peter picked up some medicine for his condition and we drove into Rocky, dropped him off to escape to the solitude of his room while Ted, Mark and I drove out to the airport to drop off the hire car. Now hire cars are hard to come by these days since Covid so we’d been lucky to get one and we’d not managed to extend it. We didn’t need it anyway and at almost $300/day it was much smarter to use a taxi from that point on anyway. We climbed into the taxi and were entertained by the driver giving us a rundown on the drug dealing business in Rockhampton. Seems to be quite an industry. He’d apparently even earned $3000 by taking a drug dealer with a large bag to Hervey Bay one day. He called Rocky “the town that never sleeps”. So, with that bit of local knowledge, we decided to walk along the bank of the river to the Criterion, one of Rocky’s famous pubs, for a long and relaxed lunch.
By late afternoon Peter emerged feeling much better and we reconvened at a local boutique brewery to sample their ales.
Dinner was at a chock full Malaysian restaurant by which time the skies were clear, the moon was out and all looked good for our departure the following morning.
Rising at 6:30 on Saturday I noticed that a heavy fog had descended on the city. The forecast indicated that it’d clear by 8am so it didn’t pose a problem. It looked like it’d be CAVOK all the way to Brisbane so I went for a short walk along the banks of the Fitzroy River to enjoy the crisp morning air as the sun started to break through the clouds.
After breakfast we caught a taxi back out to the airport, this time to the GA apron. I made a quick call to the ARO who appeared within minutes, took a photo of my ASIC card and ushered us in through the high security gate. I’d submitted my VFR flightplan already so, after I’d completed my preflight checks and my “ground crew” had cleaned the windscreen and we’d packed our bags into the hold, we climbed aboard for the flight home.
This time we had the luxury of doing a coastal scenic in perfect blue sky weather. It started with a departure at 1000ft out of Rocky, departing on RWY15. Tower asked me to climb to 1000ft before making a left turn, presumably to avoid low flying over the city. I then had to identify a Robinson helicopter over the city and stay clear of him and then was permitted to climb to 1500ft to depart the CTR. We flew directly over Hedlow and then on to Yeppoon.
Heading north we identified the Capricorn Resort golf course from the air.
After passing over Yeppoon I tracked for Great Keppel Island off the coast. It had a resort that also closed some years ago. It also has a runway that is now closed. There were lots of boats heading out to Keppel from Rosslyn Bay and lots more anchored around the island.
We flew on past Gladstone where there were plenty of ships waiting to load with coal.
And we had a great view of the Boyne Island aluminium smelter and the adjacent “red mud” dams from the QAL alumina refinery.
Passing over Agnes Water I pointed out where our block of land is situated and we carried on to Bargara, where we spotted the golf courses we’d played on in 2021. Soon we were passing a very busy Hervey Bay with numerous aircraft coming and going, and crossed over to Fraser Island where we passed directly over Lake McKenzie with its pristine white sand beaches.
With clear air and blue skies, everyone agreed it had been a great idea to delay our return trip by one day.
Further on we passed Noosa Heads.
And passed through the sunny coast controlled airspace to Caloundra.
It was then a small hop back to Redcliffe for another smooth landing. MSF was refuelled and pushed back into the hangar.
All in all another great trip.
And what were some take home messages from this little adventure?
- Brief first time passengers thoroughly, including the sterile cockpit concept, especially if you’re planning to fly IFR. Idle chatter can lead to unnecessary distractions.
- Make your passengers aware of the need to remain flexible with flight times and dates. Ask them to avoid locking in any plans on the day of your return or the day after.
- Allow for bad weather and other unexpected events that lead to a change of plans. Be prepared to formulate a Plan B and Plan C if necessary, together with your passengers.
- A couple of days before you fly to towered airports you haven’t been to before call up the Tower personnel and ARO to get a heads up on what to expect when you approach and land there.
- Prepare for an instrument approach anytime you fly IFR. Even if it’s clear weather ATC might ask you to fly via the approach.