Mountain flying in New Zealand

In March 2023 Sigi and I flew to the South Island of New Zealand for a holiday. The original idea was just to join a group of friends on a cycle trip along the Central Otago Rail Trail but it gave me the perfect opportunity to tick off a bucket list item.

As a private pilot I’m always on the lookout for challenges that both improve my flying skills and are fun. Some years ago, Dan Pearson, a member of the Redcliffe Aero Club, did a one-day mountain flying course at a flying school called “Learn to Fly NZ” in Wanaka, about one hour from Queenstown. Dan contributed an account of his experience for a 2017 edition of AirChat and I thought at the time that’d be a great thing to do one day. I’d visited the South Island numerous times for work during the 1980s and 90s and had good memories of the area and thought how cool it would be to fly there and see it all from the air. So, after being invited on the cycling holiday in Otago, I referred to Dan’s story in the old edition of AirChat and contacted I booked myself in for a three-day mountain flying course. We had plenty of time and it seemed that three days would give me enough time to learn the basic skills for flying in the mountains and visit a few spectacular spots while not costing the earth. Little did I know that it would exceed all my expectations.

Karl Hillary, my contact at LTFNZ, emailed me a link to some documents I should download and read before heading to NZ. They included useful information about mountain flying techniques, and the Queenstown and Milford Sound airspace.

We landed in Queenstown on 1st March. We knew we’d arrived because the Virgin pilot provided us with a rather “firm” landing, as they say, and I said to Sigi “I hope I don’t do any like that while I’m on the course.” Picking up our hire car we headed straight over the Crown Range to Wanaka, where we’d booked a motel for four nights. As we climbed up the Crown Range we had a view back down the valley and straight down the runway at Queenstown Airport and of the town nestled on the banks of Lake Wakatipu

Even though we’d landed around 5pm, it was light until about 9pm, so we had a great drive over the mountains and down the Cardrona Valley past the famous old Cardrona Hotel. I’d travelled this way on a motorbike in 1981 when it was still a corrugated gravel road but now, 40 years later, the road is sealed and is a much more pleasant drive.

The next morning Day 1 of the course had arrived. We woke to a wonderful sunrise lighting up the hills on the opposite side of Lake Wanaka.

I left Sigi to explore Wanaka while I drove the 10 minutes out to the airport and met up with instructor Karl at 8:30. Karl was a local who’d been working for the company for only 12 months but appeared to know a bit about mountain flying as he took me through an interactive PowerPoint presentation. He explained basics like never fly up the middle of a valley, keep to one side (preferably the right but it depends on the winds) so you have as much room as possible if you want to turn around. Fly on the side with the updrafts to give you additional lift and watch out for turbulence and rotors on the lee side when you fly over a ridge or pass. Approach a ridge at 45 degrees so you can turn and fly away from it if you decide you might not make it over. And so on. There was about an hour of classroom instruction before we headed out to the aircraft, a Cessna 172N ZK-MDR with a STOL modification on the leading edge of the wing and a touch screen Garmin G3X glass cockpit.

After a short taxi out to RWY29 we took off and turned to the east, where we tried some basic turns. Karl was illustrating how tightly a 172 can turn at 100 knots so I had a bit of an idea how little room we’d actually need in a narrow valley. Then it was off to said narrow valleys where I practised flying as close as possible to the right-hand wall and then turning 180s and 360s. From there we flew north over a couple of passes and Lake Pukaki to Mount Cook. It was perfect conditions. Clear blue sky and a bit of wind to create some updraughts and downdraughts.

Lake Pukaki with Mt Cook up the far end

As we approached Mt Cook, Karl told me we could legally fly above 10,000ft and up to 13,000ft without supplementary oxygen for up to 30 minutes and asked whether I’d be fine with that. It would allow us to fly higher than the peak of Mt Cook (12,218ft). Of course I said yes and soon we were climbing, climbing, climbing up over the Mt Cook airstrip and past the Heritage resort to get a magnificent view of the mountain and its glaciers.

Mount Cook peak is on the left

It was spectacular. We managed to get up to just under 13000ft before it was time to turn and descend via a neighboring valley to our somewhat late lunch stop at Glentanner at the northern end of Lake Pukaki.

Taxiing up the paddock we parked outside the visitor centre and cafe. We had a great coffee and munched on our sandwiches while enjoying the spectacular view of Mt Cook in the distance.

Parked at Glentanner with Mt Cook on the horizon

It was a pleasant flight back from Glenntanner, following a variety of valleys and crossing a number of passes, approaching Wanaka from the north over Lake Hawea. End of Day 1. A great day, surpassing all my expectations.

Day 2 Karl was off on leave, so I had another instructor, Austin. Austin Jones had been flying out of Wanaka for about eight years. Karl had told me that Austin knows every valley and mountain pass intimately so would be my best guide for the following two days. I met Austin at 8:30 after first stopping at the neighbouring Warbirds and Wheels Cafe for a decaf flat white. It’s a somewhat retro inspired place with furniture dating back to the 1960s.

Austin outlined the plan for the day. There was a bit more cloud than on Day 1 which would be good for learning how to judge which valleys to fly down and which passes we could (or couldn’t) make it over. We’d fly west, over the famous Skippers Canyon and the northern end of Lake Wakatipu, and head south over Lake Te Anau to Manapouri. After a lunch stop we could fly over to the west coast and up the coast to Haast and then try to fly back inland over the Haast Pass. Great plan.

Austin also introduced me to, the local flight planning tool. It allowed me to check the area weather, TAFs etc.

I also logged into, where you can find the NZ version of ERSA, aerodrome diagrams, instrument approaches and departures and other operational data.

Taking off over Lake Wanaka we had spectacular views of the town and the surrounding mountains and were soon at about 5000ft over Skippers Canyon and the Shotover River with a clear view of the southern arm of Lake Wakatipu in the background. The Skippers Canyon road, off limits to hire cars, is notorious for its sheer drops to the river below as you can see in the photo. It was originally built to allow access to gold mining areas in the canyon.

Skippers Canyon with road – Lake Wakatipu in the background

From there we dodged some cloud and avoided another light aircraft that was climbing through the valley below us and were soon passing over Glenorchy at the northern end of Lake Wakatipu.

North arm of Lake Wakatipu

Avoiding the controlled airspace around Queenstown we flew via various valleys and passes to Lake Te Anau and Lake Manapouri where we landed for lunch. The clouds were gathering by now so it appeared the afternoon flying and navigation could be more interesting.

Taking off to the north, we flew to the northern end of Lake Te Anau and then followed the Hollyford Valley to the coast.

It was one magnificent view after the other even with the increase in cloud cover. It was in fact becoming gradually more difficult to avoid the clouds but Austin was confident that we’d find our way so on we went and popped out on the west coast at Martins Bay, home to a rather exclusive fly-in resort for people who want peace and quiet and maybe a bit of fishing.

Flying north along the coast Austin pointed out Big Bay and the inlets that pepper the coastline and in about 20 minutes we were over Haast, a small settlement on the coast. It is at the base of the road over the Haast Pass, the only land-based route from Central Otago to the west coast. The clouds were BKN at about 2000ft by now, so we cautiously flew inland, up the valley, following the road, searching for a gap in the clouds. Finally Austin decided it was a lost cause and announced we’d fly back along the coast and find another valley to head inland. Retracing our steps, we made it to the Hollyford Valley and climbed between the clouds and finally made it over a pass. On the eastern side the sky cleared. We were back in SCT to FEW descending back over Lake Wanaka. The end of another perfect day.

The weather on the following day, Saturday, was not so good. There was a strong westerly wind blowing when I arrived at the airport. This would mean turbulence. We wanted to fly into Milford Sound and Austin said that’d be impossible with so much wind, so he suggested we delay our flight for two days until Monday, when the weather was forecast to be ideal. That was fine with us. We found numerous other activities to keep us busy over the weekend.

When Monday dawned, the clear blue sky beckoned as Sigi and I drove to the airport. Austin was ready and waiting. He told us the plan was to fly via a number of valleys and passes to the coast and then south to Milford Sound. We’d land there for lunch and then consider where to from there.

Sigi asked whether she could fly with us this time, as she was keen to see Milford Sound. Austin was fine with that so soon all three of us were climbing out over Wanaka once again and heading to the west coast, this time wearing Hutchwilco life jackets. These are made in NZ and are probably the most comfortable ones I’ve worn. We needed them as we would be landing and taking off over the water at Milford.

We had amazing views of Mt Aspiring and various glaciers as we headed west.

Mt Aspiring

After negotiating numerous valleys and passes we reached the coast where, after flying a further ten or so miles south, we descended to 2500ft for the flight into Milford Sound. We hugged the southern side of the valley past Mitre Peak and descended to 1000ft.

Entering Milford Sound from the coast

With an easterly wind blowing up the sound from behind, we’d have to turn and land into wind from the mountain end.

Austin described how I’d have to join downwind just to the right of the Milford strip and head directly for the mountains, then turn 180 degrees in the valley behind and align ourselves with the runway to land to the west. He coached me all the way through the approach, while Sigi did some Hail Marys in the back seat.

It was a bit gusty as we came into land, so with some slight turbulence the landing was breathtaking in more ways than one. Nevertheless, we had a soft touchdown. Much better than the Virgin landing in Queenstown. When we told Austin the story he said “Oh those Aussie pilots often have problems in Queenstown”.

It was the sort of day that pilots dream of. It’s why I learned to fly. The approach and landing was an intense experience but very satisfying.

It was a 5-minute walk to the cafe where we could eat our lunch and observe all the other day trippers who had mostly come in by ground transport and felt very fortunate to have been able to fly in. A perfect day for Milford Sound, which is renowned for its not-so-perfect days.

Soon we were back at MDR, donned our life jackets and started to prepare for departure.

Austin told me that after takeoff I should stay close to the mountain on the right side of the sound and we would experience the most lift we’d ever known in a 172. We taxied out to RWY29 again and took off over the water.

I managed to “hug” the cliffs on the right-hand side of the sound, having now become fairly used to flying close to mountain sides, and we caught an updraft that had us climbing at 2000ft/min. Not bad for a 172.

Reaching 5000ft we banked left and passed Mitre Peak and entered the Arthur River Valley. This is the valley that the Milford Track runs through and Austin had promised something special at the top of it.

Arthur River Valley

Climbing steadily, I could soon see a waterfall that was spilling out over a ledge before us. It was the 580 metres high Sutherland Falls. Continuing to climb, we passed over the top of the falls and entered a circular crater that contains Lake Quill, a brilliant blue alpine lake.

Austin wanted to demonstrate how good the 172 is at getting out of tight corners in the mountains so he told me to aim for the left-hand cliff and wait for his command before starting to turn. When we were really close to the cliff (Sigi saying more Hail Marys in the back seat) and a couple of “wait for it”s from Austin, he said “Ok, start a gentle bank to the right”. I banked right and put in some rudder but as I tried to turn the yoke a bit further noticed I couldn’t bank any more – Austin’s knee was (purposely) blocking his yoke (and therefore also mine) from turning any further. We were doing a 30-degree bank already and he didn’t want me to bank any more. He said that was plenty and sure enough we managed to stay far enough away from those cliffs to our left as we circumnavigated the lake, passing another smaller lake that was spilling into it from above.

Smaller crater lake that spilled into Lake Quill

Completing the 360 degree turn, and having thus proven Austin’s point, we headed back over the edge of the Sutherland Falls as the ground dropped away to the valley floor 600 metres below.

Turning right, we headed over the Mackinnon Pass (3,800ft) where we could just make out one of the huts used by walkers on the Milford Track perched on the ridge. That’s a huge climb up to the ridge on either side.

From there it may be a hard day’s walk on the Milford Track, but for us it was only a few minutes to the northern end of Lake Te Anau.

Sigi had originally wanted to catch a bus to Doubtful Sound that day but they’d been booked out, so she’d decided to come flying with us instead. Austin suggested we fly on to Doubtful Sound so she didn’t miss out. He gave me the task of planning a route through the valleys west of Te Anau to the coast, while avoiding clouds and mountains. I chose one with a pass height of about 2000ft at its end and made our way up and over, dodging clouds and staying on the windward side of the valleys to catch the updrafts as we went.

Fifteen minutes later we were at the coast heading for the entrance to Doubtful Sound. That was another dramatic spectacle as we hugged the right-hand side close to the mountains.

Flying over Deep Cove at the far end we were soon over the pass into a valley that leads to Lake Manapouri.

We flew over the Manapouri hydro power station that feeds the Rio Tinto aluminium smelter at Bluff. It would’ve been quite a challenge building the high-tension power lines across that rugged terrain.

Approaching Lake Manapouri Austin said “Oh it’s later than I thought. We’d better head back asap. Climb to 9500ft so we can fly direct to Wanaka above any terrain.”

So we climbed, levelling out at 9,500ft and passing over Lake Te Anau.

From there we did a bit of dog leg to avoid the controlled airspace west of Queenstown then crossed the northern end of Lake Wakatipu before descending over Skippers Canyon and the rugged mountains around the Cardrona ski field on the way back to Wanaka.

Treble Cone skifield left and Lake Wanaka in the background

Passing over Mt Barker, one of the visual approach points for Wanaka aerodrome, there was one last good view of the town and lake.

We joined midfield crosswind to land on RWY29 at Wanaka. The end of an incredible day’s flying.

Thanks to Austin, Karl and LearntoflyNZ for the three day course that worked out better than I’d ever imagined. The most amazing flying experience of my life.

A mountain flying course from Wanaka should be on every Australian pilot’s bucket list. I certainly recommend LearntoflyNZ as a place to do it.

Flying to lunch at the Gold Coast

On Sunday 19th February 2023 the Redcliffe Aero Club arranged a flyaway to the Gold Coast for lunch. It involved landing at the international airport in “Class C” airspace, something I hadn’t done for a few years. It’s not that difficult but I had to “swot up” a bit on the procedures and radio calls before we went. Nils, a friend from Canada, who inspired me to obtain my PPL many years ago, was in town so I invited him along, and invited Harpur to join us, in MSF. A couple of days before departure Sam Keenan the organiser asked whether we had room for one more so after a quick check of the weight and balance I let Garry Ayre know that he could join us too. Garry recently completed his restricted pilot licence and is now starting to attempt his PPL so is keen to learn more about flying cross country. With our combined weights I could just squeeze in 180 litres of fuel and remain under maximum take off weight.

It turned out to be a perfect day with scattered clouds at about 4000ft and light winds. We took off at 10:30 and tracked via Woorim to Tangalooma then Pt Lookout and across Straddie. I obtained a transponder code from Brisbane Centre and then tracked over water to Q1 where I had to call up Gold Coast Tower. They sent us to Robina Town Centre and then vectored us south into the controlled airspace to join a left downwind for RWY32. We followed a QANTAS 737 in, being careful to leave enough room to avoid wake turbulence. On the ground we taxied to the GA apron and shut down. Sam Keenan appeared shortly after and parked right behind us. Just before we were about to leave the airport to find an Uber the ARO appeared in his 4WD and told us we couldn’t park where we had and made us move to the grass at the northern end of the apron. Not a problem.

Soon we were in our Uber on the way to Sibllings Restaurant at Kirra Beach. Paul and Michele were already there, having flown down in one of the C172’s along with Carol as passenger. Luc turned up in a short while, having walked and swum all the way from the airport. He’d arrived quite a bit earlier.

A lovely casual lunch lasted from 12 until 2 when we called another Uber and headed back to the airport. This time I’d planned to fly inland and called up Gold Coast Clearance Delivery to obtain my airways clearance to Redcliffe via Mount Warning. They told me that I’d have to contact Brisbane Approach on 123.6 after takeoff. Next was the taxi clearance from Gold Coast Ground that took us to holding point Hotel for RWY16. The wind had changed you see so we could take off to the south, making our track to Mt Warning straightforward. We did our run ups at holding point Hotel and then taxied to the holding point for RWY16. I told the tower we were “ready” and they cleared us to line up and take off, “Make a right turn” onto our track and climb and maintain 2500ft. Once airborne I gave a departure report and Tower told me to change to Brisbane Approach. They then monitored us until we left controlled airspace on our way past Murwillimbah. Back in uncontrolled airspace we were soon passing Mt Warning and the Scenic Rim, and climbed to 4000ft to hop over the edge of the caldera and into the valley beyond. Then it was a fairly straight track via Beaudesert to Park Ridge Water Tower where we called up Archer Tower and requested a transit over Archerfield at 1500ft. Passing over the field and the Walter Taylor Bridge we had a great view of the Brisbane CBD as we headed north on the eastern edge of Mount Coot-the and via Petrie back to Redcliffe.

All in all a very pleasant outing and a great opportunity for Garry to see how to fly cross country through Class G, Class D and Class C airspace.

Beach flying at 500ft, Harbour Scenic flight, aviation museum and training lectures in Orange

Port Macquarie – Newcastle – Warnervale – Sydney – Harbour Scenic – Victor 1 – Shellharbour – Wollongong – HARS museum – Orange – Cirrus CPPP – Glen Innes

The Cirrus Owners and Pilots Association (COPA) organise training weekends in Australia every two years. The 2022 event was at Orange on the weekend of 11-13th November. Brett Silvester and I decided to go and to make it all the more worthwhile we decided to fly down the coast to Wollongong the day before so we could enjoy the views past Newcastle and Sydney and visit the Historic Aircraft Restoration Society (HARS) museum at Shellharbour Airport.

We departed Redcliffe on Thursday 10th November at about 9am. The flight plan I’d prepared originally was to depart IFR at 7000ft over the top of Brisbane airport then track via the Gold Coast and follow the coast to our first fuel stop at Port Macquarie. There were a couple of snags however. First, the RAAF was doing maneuvers and the whole Evans Head restricted area was active so we couldn’t plan or fly through it. So, I submitted a plan via the Gold Coast but around the restricted area. After takeoff however ATC didn’t clear us directly over Brisbane Airport. Instead, we were vectored out over The Gap and between Amberley and Archerfield airspace. This was apparently to avoid Brisbane International traffic. By the time the traffic around Brisbane had been avoided there was no point heading for the Gold Coast anymore, as it would’ve been a roundabout way, so ATC asked whether we wanted to fly direct to Coffs Harbour and we agreed. Even then ATC vectored us well clear of the Evans Head restricted airspace as we passed. Those jets must have been having dog fights. It was fairly cloudy on the way Coffs so views were limited but it started to clear as we progressed, and we had good visual conditions approaching Port Macquarie.

We refuelled at YPMQ then took off again, this time VFR along the coast at 2500ft, passing Taree, Forster and then descended over water at Sugarloaf Point for the VFR coastal route past Williamtown RAAF base. Flying past Broughton Island we were at 500ft and obtained a clearance from ‘Willy Delivery’. He passed us over to ‘Willy Approach’ who we monitored as we flew at 500ft and 150knots over water next to the beach past Hawks Nest, Point Stephens Lighthouse, Anna Bay and the very, very wide Stockton Beach and the Williamtown runway itself.

From there it was on past the mouth of the Hunter River and Newcastle.

Passing out of Williamtown controlled airspace we climbed to 2500ft and tracked for Warnervale, our lunch stop. We passed over the Lake Macquarie airstrip on the way.

The half hour lunch stop gave us time to collect our thoughts and plan our next leg via Sydney to Shellharbour. This time we’d fly at 1500ft along the coast from Terrigal to Barrenjoey Head at the mouth of the Hawkesbury River, then request a clearance for a “Harbour Scenic” from Sydney Terminal. All went smoothly and as we approached Long Reef ATC told us to expect Harbour Scenic 2 in 5 minutes. This meant we wouldn’t be flying directly next to the Harbour Bridge and Opera House but a few miles north at Chadstone. Never mind. We still had excellent views of the CBD as we orbited over Middle Harbour.

After the regulation two orbits we tracked back to Manly and then towards Long Reef where we descended to 500ft to be below controlled airspace and commenced our flight along Victor 1, the VFR route along Sydney’s beaches.

After passing the heads we saw Bondi Beach…

then Coogee Beach…

then Botany Bay and the Sydney International Airport.

It wasn’t long and we were out from under the controlled airspace and could climb as we were abeam the cliffs of the Royal National Park.

Our flightpath then took us past the 665 metre long Sea Cliff Bridge, a highlight along the Grand Pacific Drive on the coast of the Royal National Park.

We were soon approaching Wollongong.

We passed the Wollongong Boat Harbour and the motel where we would stay the night…

and then past the Port Kembla Steelworks.

From there it was short hop across to Shellharbour airport where we refuelled, tied down and watched an RAAF Wedgetail do missed approaches.

After a quick inspection of the HARS museum from airside we climbed into an Uber and headed into Wollongong where we checked into the Boat Harbour Motel and then had a walk along the promenade, followed by a cooling ale in the local brewery and dinner at an Italian restaurant.

Next morning, I was up early and walked along the promenade in the opposite direction, joining the masses of early morning joggers, swimmers, yoga devotees and caffeine addicts.

Some extra keen bods were partaking in ice baths. They had plastic drums that were filled with water and bags of ice that they would lower themselves into and sit in until the pain was unbearable. Certainly, one way to wake up.

I read the weather report as I drank my decaf flat white. It indicated that rain and storms would approach from the west in the afternoon so when Brett arrived we agreed to head out to the HARS museum as soon as it opened so we could get away at lunch time for Orange.

The Uber dropped us at the airport around 9:15. We carried our bags to MSF and I completed the preflight. Then it was a short walk over the apron to the museum. It was the day before the annual “Wings over Illawarra Airshow” weekend so there was lots of activity. A very kind volunteer took Brett and me on a private tour of the collection. First stop was the QANTAS 747-800 that was in service until 2015 and is still in top condition. Apparently, it held the record for the longest 747 flight and the shortest. The delivery flight from Heathrow to Sydney was the longest. The final flight from Sydney to Shellharbour was the shortest. We spent two hours on our private tour and then I had to cut it short because we had to depart by 12:30 as they would close the airspace at that time for few hours so they could practise some flight routines for the following day’s events.

I submitted an IFR flight plan direct to Orange and we headed back across the apron to MSF. The TAF at Orange indicated low cloud so we briefed the RNP instrument approach. Starting up, we heard plenty of traffic in the vicinity and the main taxiway was blocked with some aircraft so we worked out we’d have to back track a bit and would need to allow time for other aircraft in the circuit. After the runups we waited for a Jabiru who seemed to take forever on downwind, base and final. Then we could backtrack, turn and take off to the north, turning right and climbing over the field as other aircraft joined downwind below us. We gave our departure call and obtained a code from Melbourne Centre for the 40 minute leg to Orange. Passing over the Southern Highlands we could see Mittagong but then the cloud closed in below us and we flew between cloud layers for a while then eventually entered IMC. Forty miles out of Orange we informed ATC that we’d be tracking for the RNP instrument approach, and they advised of other traffic heading to Orange. Brett and I rebriefed the approach then started our descent, popping out of the cloud about 1000 ft above ground level with the runway straight in front. It was a smooth touchdown and we taxied to the bowser to fill with fuel. As we experienced in March 2022 the AvGas price was the cheapest in the country.

Then we had to find a place to tie down. After a bit of confusion, we found Rodney from COPA who guided us into a parking spot on the grass.

So started our COPA training weekend or CPPP (Cirrus Pilot Proficiency Program). It was held at the Orange Aeroclub, a very well-equipped building that used to be the airport terminal until a new one was built a few years ago. Rodney who was the “local” organiser (he was from the Gold Coast while the main organiser was from Germany and had just flown in) drove us into town in his Tesla Model X so we could check into our motel, then picked us up again later so we could attend the welcome drinks at the aero club. We caught up with old friends and made new ones and inspected the flock of Cirrus that had landed including two Cirrus Vision Jets that everyone was keen to inspect.

After the drinks and canapes, we were taken by specially organised bus into town where we had dinner at the Hotel Canobolos aka the “red pub” with a few of our new friends. Some locals had told us to go there and not across the road to the “white pub” as the food is much better. A couple of steaks and a few glasses of house red later and we toddled back to the motel.

Saturday was a day of lectures and thunderstorms.

One of the lectures was actually about thunderstorms, which was very useful as the forecast for our trip home the next day included a possibility of storms. A few passing rain showers and thunderstorms perked our interest during the afternoon.

A couple of Cirrus simulators had been set up in one of the smaller adjacent rooms and some of the attendees took the opportunity to fly the simulator under the watchful eye of an instructor.

By Saturday evening it was clear again, the sun was out, and Brett and I had a quick beer in the motel beer garden.

Then we headed to the course gala dinner, held at one of the better restaurants in town where a few of the attendees who had undertaken flying lessons during the weekend received some awards.

Knowing that we had a long day and a long, and potentially challenging, flight home the next day (weather permitting) we retired early.

The next morning the weather was foul. Low cloud and rain. We walked in the rain to a nearby cafe for breakfast, where a few other Cirrus people also appeared. Back at the motel we were ferried with our luggage to the aero club again. The weather forecast left us wondering whether we’d be returning that evening for another night’s stay. Keeping one eye on the TAFs for Orange, Mudgee, Tamworth and Glen Innes (our planned route home) we had the other eye on the lectures. These were useful again with quite a few interesting tips. During lunch I preflighted MSF and submitted my IFR flight plan so we were ready to depart as soon as the weather cleared. Looking at the skies and again at the forecast Brett and I decided to grab the moment as the lectures were about to begin again. The weather was clearing, and it looked like it’d worsen again later in the afternoon.

We said some quick goodbyes (many of the other attendees had already left) and loaded up the plane. It was still overcast at about 1500ft but the TAF indicated the cloud layer was thin and above it was clear air all the way up to 8000ft. So, we took off and entered IMC over the aerodrome. Orbiting up in the clouds we climbed up into clear air and were pleased to see no towering cumulus clouds (a sign of thunderstorm activity) in any direction. We tracked for Mudgee and climbed to our cruising level of 7000ft between the cloud layers.

It’s moments like these you think “thank God I’m instrument rated”. If we couldn’t fly IFR we would not have got home that day, that much was clear.

It was still cloudy over Mudgee and we didn’t see anything of the town. By the time we reached Tamworth however we could see parts of it between the clouds.

The forecast had indicated that the cloud was only present a bit north of Tamworth and sure enough it soon cleared and we had a great view of the amazing green countryside as we approached Glen Innes.

Originally, I’d planned to fly non-stop to Redcliffe but on the way to Glen Innes I decided to land there. I had two reasons. First, it’d give me a chance to practise an instrument approach at very little additional cost or time. And second, I was feeling a bit of pressure in my bladder and thought it would be prudent to relieve myself before it became too painful. So, we flew the RNP approach into Glen Innes, following an air ambulance who was parked on the apron when we arrived.

The kind ladies at the Orange aero club had given us some sandwiches for our journey so we ate them while the air ambulance started up and taxied out. Then it was our turn. Taking off we turned over the airfield then tracked for Redcliffe, via the Scenic Rim.

The light from the late afternoon sun was stunning as we passed over the border ranges around Tenterfield and Stanthorpe. Soon we were descending from overhead Amberley and past the winding Brisbane River.

ATC gradually descended us in the controlled airspace as we approached Redcliffe.

The airfield was deserted. Amazing on such a great Sunday afternoon. We did a nice smooth landing and put MSF away in the hangar. A great ending to a great experience.

Aero Club Flyaway to Bundy

Bundaberg – Macadamias – Bert Hinkler Museum – Fire fighting aircraft – Q400

On the weekend of 15th-16th October 2022 the Redcliffe Aero Club organised a club flyaway to Bundaberg. Aircraft taking part were Cherokee VH-BHN (piloted by Sam Keenan), Archer VH-FRF (Ron Ennis), Cherokee VH-WKE (Luc George), C182 VH-NDP (Mark Roberts-Thomson), C182 VH-ROC (Paul Smeath) and Cirrus VH-MSF (Mike Cahill), Brett Silvester and I flew in MSF with Mike. For the flight to Bundy Mike was PIC with Brett as co-pilot and I was in the back seat (flying business class) and so able to take a few photos. The weather enroute was forecast to be a bit cloudy, so Mike submitted an IFR flight plan over the Sunshine Coast and Maryborough.

We took off and flew past the mouth of the Caboolture River as we climbed over the bay.

Caboolture River Mouth and Beachmere

Further on we climbed through the clouds to cruise at 9000ft. Mike had chosen this level as the cloud tops were forecast at 8000ft. It was amazing how green the country looked after all the rain we’ve had over the winter.

Near Gympie

Bundaberg is famous for its sugar and Rum and on our descent we passed over plenty of cane fields.

Over the radio ATC informed us that there was also a Virgin Dash 8 on descent into Bundy with arrival time about the same time as us. Soon Mike was co-ordinating with the Dash 9 pilot how we’d sequence ourselves. The wind was from the south so the active runway was 14. This allowed us to join left downwind to the east of the airport as the Dash 8 flew the RNAV approach from the northwest and Mike extended a looooong downwind to allow time for the Dash 8 to land, roll out to the end of the runway and backtrack to the apron. He asked me to tell him when the jet turned at the end of the runway as that would be a good time for us to turn onto base. He timed it well so we were on short final just as the jet exited the runway and we could land, roll through to the exit point and taxi to the apron.

Most of the other RAC aircraft had arrived before us so after we’d tied down and unpacked the aircraft we chatted and watched as the last member of our party, much to our surprise, flew a right downwind and landed the wrong way on RWY14. There was much discussion about this indiscretion later.

Walking to the terminal we called the taxi company and waited. And waited. And waited.

Apparently they have limited taxis in Bundaberg. There is another company called who we should have booked with but didn’t on this occasion. We’ll know for next time.

It was about 90 minutes before we were finally transported to our lunch spot – the Macadamias Australia information centre and restaurant. This was a very impressive building located on their farm on the southern outskirts of Bundaberg. The family that owns it was originally into sugar cane farming but diversified to macadamias about 30 years ago and have been very successful.

As we were a large group they’d put us on a long table in a shady setting in the Macadamia orchard that was great for lunch.

They gave us some macadamia tastings as well, including the vanilla infused macadamias that were delicious. After a very relaxed and chatty lunch we explored the shop and bought some nuts to take home with us.

Having booked our taxi for the 3pm trip into town we assembled out the front of the Macadamia farm and were soon on our way to our overnight accommodation.

Having checked in I went for a walk/run along the river and inspected the main street. Not too busy on a Saturday afternoon. I also discovered the Ballistic Brewery just off the main street so after a quick walk back to the motel to meet up with Mike and Brett we headed to the brewery to sample one of their IPAs.

That evening we had a group dinner at one of the restaurants with a view over the Burnett River and chatted about our flight, the next day’s flight and future trips amongst other things.

Sunday dawned and from the motel balcony we could see a bit of sun and cloud and after checking the NAIPS we agreed it was a generally positive weather forecast. We could fly VFR home along the coast.

On Saturday evening some in our party had held fears of rain and too much cloud on the tirp home but these fears were dismissed as we assembled at a cafe overlooking the river for breakfast. More talk about flying and people getting their breakfast orders mixed up but generally good coffee and food.

The shuttle guys picked us up at 9am and we headed for the Bert Hinkler Hall of Aviation on the outskirts of town. Now this was the real reason for coming to Bundy. It’s a really good collection of aircraft and tells the story of Bert Hinkler’s youth in the town, learning to fly starting with his own home made glider on a nearby beach, travelling to the UK to learn how to fly powered aircraft and his world record flights in Australia, across the Atlantic and from England to Australia. It was very unfortunate that he was killed at 40 when he crashed in the Tuscan hills outside of Florence. The reason for his crash is unknown but he was always pushing the envelope so maybe it was just a matter of time till his luck ran out.

There were a couple of simulators there that we could play on. We quickly realised that simulators aren’t as easy to fly as you might think. Also that it’s not a big deal if you crash a simulator, as a couple of us did.

Bert Hinkler’s cottage “Mon Repos” is also located nearby. It’s named after the nearby beach where Bert undertook his first trial glider flights when he was 19 years old. The house was dismantled at its original home in England and rebuilt brick by brick by the local community in the 1980s and formed the first part of the Hinkler Aviation Museum.

After a quick sandwich at the cafe we climbed aboard the shuttles again for the quick trip to the airport where Paul Smeath had arranged a tour of the fire fighting aviation services for us. Paul works for the Queensland Fire and Rescue and co-ordinates the firefighters when they have a large bushfire to fight, as was the case around Bundaberg in 2019. He knows the guys well so was able to get them to come out on a Sunday to show us around. While he organised things I took the opportunity to preflight MSF ready for the trip home.

There were a couple of helicopters and a fixed wing spotter plane as well as a Q400 that is leased from a Canadian company.

Assembled outside the Q400

It can carry and dump 10,000 litres of fire retardant mix at a time and the pump station is capable of refilling its tanks in 8 minutes while the props are idling. This make a pretty fast turn around time. This winter they have had almost no work as it’s been so wet. They’ll be moving south to Avalon in Victoria in about one month to work there for the southern fire season over summer.

It was very impressive equipment and a great tour of the facility.

Mark and I inspect the Q400 cockpit

Following our tour it was back to the GA apron where I submitted my VFR flight plan. It was VFR as the weather was fine, with a bit of cloud at 6000ft so we could fly at 3500ft down the coast all the way. After letting Brett get acquainted with the avionics so he could input the flight plan, we taxied over to the runway. Mark Roberts-Thomson was right behind us and requested an intersection departure while we back tracked to the start of the runway. He’s a long-term 747 pilot with his own plane so obviously had more faith in his engine than we did. As my dad used to say – “It’s no use having runway behind you” – meaning always use all the runway that’s available to you.

Taking off we climbed quickly to 3500ft and headed directly for Hervey Bay, passing Mark at 1500ft below us. At Urangan we turned left and headed direct to Orchid Beach at the northern end of Fraser Island.

Orchid Beach

After a quick orbit over the village and airstrip to check it out (it was very green) we headed south along the coast past Happy Valley, Rainbow Beach, Double Island Point and Noosa. We were catching Sam in BKN by this stage who had not done the dog leg to Orchid Beach but was significantly slower than us and was held up by ATC at the Sunshine Coast. We were waved straight through at 1500ft and were soon over Bribie heading for Redcliffe. 

For our approach into Redcliffe I did the conventional overhead pass at 1500ft and mid field crosswind entry to join mid downwind on RWY07, while some guy in a tail dragger joined base in front of us and landed on the grass stip. I managed to slow our approach enough to give him time to leave the runway before we touched down. Then it was back to Mike’s new hangar that he’d bought a few weeks before. Much more room than the old hangar and doors that actually work smoothly. A big improvement.

Once more unto the beach

Agnes Water – Town of 1770

On October 5th 2022 Sigi and I flew up to Agnes Water for a couple of nights. As anyone who reads this blog will know, Agnes is one of our favourite beach spots. This time we were able to book the cabins in the Agnes Water camping ground with direct access to the beach. They’re normally booked out months in advance so we’ve been trying to stay there for years and finally managed to book one a few days before departure. Someone must have cancelled.

We left on the Wednesday morning and went IFR because the forecast had broken cloud most of the way. Fortunately the forecast for Agnes Water was a bit friendlier than in Brisbane. It was overcast and grey as we climbed out of Redcliffe across the bay towards Bribie Island but pretty soon we had a clearance from ATC to climb through the clouds to 6000ft.

Emerging above the clouds we had blue sky above us again but it was not to last. Further north there was a lot of stratus and cumulostratus so were in IMC for about 50 minutes of the trip that lasted just over an hour. The photo below was taken somewhere east of Gympie where there were some holes in the clouds.

By the time we passed Bundaberg the clouds were behind us and we descended under blue sky into Agnes.

We did a quick overfly to check for kangaroos (there were none visible) then touched down lightly on RWY14. With MSF tied down and our folding bikes and bags unloaded it was off into town for our first dip in the ocean. Twenty minutes from land to sand!

Lunch at Codies Place just next door to the camp ground was followed by check in to the cabin and the afternoon at the beach.

The next day we did a early morning walk/run along the beach followed by coffee at the Holidays Cafe. This is a top spot within the camp ground and literally 50 metres from the cabin. After a swim we walked along coast to the south through the bush and past a few picturesque bays, enjoying the views of the mostly deserted coastline.

We are very fortunate to have so many amazing beaches in this country.

In the evening we were invited to dinner at Wayne and Debbie’s. They live at 1770 and have built a few houses around the area over the years. As we are thinking of building in Agnes too they gave us some tips about building there. Wayne is a keen fisherman and cook so he made an amazing fish curry for dinner.

On Friday we had another early morning walk along the beach, a swim and a coffee at Holidays then packed our bags and cycled back to the airstrip. After loading the plane there was time for a ride up to Town of 1770 for lunch and to check out the views from the marina. We also inspected a modular home that Wayne had recommended we check out. It’s amazing the sorts of places they can build offsite and bring in by crane these days.

Then it was back to the airstrip and our return flight. Once again there was cloud forecast south of Double Island Point so I submitted an IFR flight plan. There was a light southerly blowing but with a downhill slope on RWY 32 I decided to use the slope and took off with a tailwind. We were off the ground less than half way down the runway and climbed out over the bay. A left turn and orbit over Agnes and 1770 gave us some great views of the towns and the beaches.

It was clear skies at 7000ft over water past Bundaberg, Bargara, Harvey Bay with scattered stratocumulus over the land. The cloud started to build over Fraser Island and Double Island point, and by the time we reached Noosa it was overcast below us. After a quick descent through the clouds we emerged above Roys Orchards and flew the last few miles to Redcliffe where we had a soft landing, put the plane away and then attended the monthly aeroclub barbecue.

Another joy flight to Noosa and back

On Tuesday 4th October 2022 I took Mary and Janet for a flight up past the Sunny Coast. They both volunteer at the Paten Park Native Nursery where I’ve volunteered since the start of Covid. After potting up together for a couple of years I offered to take them for a flight and they jumped at the opportunity. It was a great day for flying and MSF proved itself as a great sightseeing aircraft. From Redcliffe we headed for Bribie Island where we checked out Mary’s shack with an orbit over Toorbul then followed the coast to Noosa Heads before tracking to Boreen Point and retracing our steps to Redcliffe. Thanks to Mary and Janet for the photos.

Golf trip to the Capricorn Coast

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.

Caloundra and the northern tip of Bribie Island

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.

Final approach onto RWY 15 at Rocky

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.

Capricorn Resort Golf Course

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?

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. Prepare for an instrument approach anytime you fly IFR. Even if it’s clear weather ATC might ask you to fly via the approach.

2022 Biennial Flight Review

Night IFR – SID – RNP – Warwick – Stanthorpe – Archerfield – Redcliffe

Even though a Private Pilot Licence never really expires, every two years private pilots need to undertake a “biennial flight review” with an instructor. The aim is to check our competency and brush up on any skills that may have deteriorated over the preceding 24 months. We need to do this to maintain CASA’s approval to fly. I like to have some sort of refresher training every 6-12 months in any case so the BFR ticks my box for one of those refresher flights once every two years. My last BFR was in August 2020 so I needed to do another one before the end of August 2022. My licence covers both VFR and IFR including night flying so it may be a bit more complex than the average BFR so I thought it’d be good to make a post about it to show what’s involved for me at least. In the past I’ve done it with one of the Redcliffe Aero Club aircraft but I’ve never felt comfortable flying at night in a Cessna since one of my instructors in the early days of training for my instrument rating asked me a question while we were flying at night from Toowoomba back to Redcliffe over rugged bush country. “So what would you do if your engine failed right now?” In the pitch black it was not a nice thing to contemplate. He said “You set the plane up into a glide and switch on the landing light. If you don’t like what you see in front of you just switch the landing light off again”. Enough said. I decided that another huge advantage of flying in a Cirrus is that if you are flying at night and have engine trouble at least you stand a good chance of walking away from the plane if you deploy the parachute, even if you’re over rugged country. So, now I only fly at night in a Cirrus. However, the aero club doesn’t have any Cirrus. I could use MSF with one of the instructors who’s had some basic training on how to fly it but I’d rather fly with a specialised Cirrus instructor.

During a recent trip to Old Station I met Alyce Johnson, an instructor who’s set up her own “Cirrus only” flying school called Team Aviation at Archerfield. They also hire out their Cirrus to pilots who have demonstrated competency in flying them. It’s always good to have a couple of options on planes to hire so I thought I could kill two birds with one stone by doing my BFR with Alyce. By completing my BFR I’d also be approved for future hire of her aircraft. I’d actually kill three birds with one stone by completing one part of the BFR at night. I need to take off and land at least 3 times every 90 days to be able to carry passengers at night so by doing my BFR this way I’d also satisfy that requirement for another 90 days.

Team Aviation only has recent model Generation 5 or 6 (G5,G6) Cirrus aircraft with full glass cockpit (all the main instruments are represented on two computer screens), compared with the partial glass cockpit (a combination of screens and conventional dials) in MSF (G1).

The glass cockpit in the newer Cirrus is similar to the G1000 avionics system in VH-ROC, the Cessna 182 that I flew while training for my CPL in 2020/2021. Both are Garmin avionics systems, but the one in the late model Cirrus is called Perspective Plus and it does a bit more than the G1000 system in ROC.

Not having flown in a plane with a full glass cockpit for over a year I thought it’d be best to have a trial flight in a simulator first. It just so happens that Team Aviation have a Perspective simulator so Lesson 1 on 5th July was a two hour familiarisation with the system on the simulator. One of the instructors, Marcello, watched on while I practised the route I’d fly out of Archerfield in the actual aircraft two days later. We “took off” from Archerfield, tracked to Warwick, did an instrument (RNP) approach, a missed approach and then tracked to Stanthorpe for another instrument approach and full stop landing. This process refreshed my memory on how to program the Perspective system and how to plan and carry out the instrument approaches. This would come in handy when I had to do the real thing. Marcello gave me a few tips including the suggestion that we depart Archerfield by day using a VFR (Visual Flight Rules) departure, then switch to IFR (Instrument Flight Rules) once we’d left the Archerfield controlled airspace. With the right timing we’d arrive at Warwick around sundown so we could complete the night component of the BFR from then on.

On Thursday 7th July I drove to Archerfield for a 3pm start. Alyce introduced me to VH-VPZ, a G6 Cirrus SR22 with just 50 hours on the clock. It was delivered in November 2021 and is effectively brand new. The basic aircraft is very similar to MSF but there are some enhancements such as an improved wing design, remote door locking, an anti-icing system than can release de-icing fluid onto the wing leading edges and an air conditioning system, along with the Perspective Plus avionics.

VH-VPZ G6 Cirrus at Archerfield

Following my discussion with Marcello two days before, I’d prepared an IFR flight plan with the aim of departing Archerfield VFR and then switching to IFR once out of the Archerfield CTR. We’d depart tracking 135 degrees as specified in ERSA for a southern departure from Archerfield then from waypoint PONOD would fly direct to Warwick for an instrument approach. After doing some circuits there while night set in we’d fly to Stanthorpe for another instrument approach and then return to Archerfield.

I wanted to fly instrument approaches by day and night, complete at least 3 night landings and takeoffs and become more familiar with the Perspective system and its enhanced automation capabilities.

After submitting the flight plan I completed the preflight check in much the same way as I do with MSF. There were a couple of minor differences but nothing significant. With that out of the way we climbed in and started the engine. First task was to obtain a transponder code from Brisbane Centre and advise them that we’d be doing a VFR departure. Why a VFR departure you ask? This allows more flexibility for the air traffic controllers as I would be able to see clearly during the take off (it was blue sky with no clouds) and could provide my own separation from other aircraft. This meant we’d be able to take off more quickly. In an IFR departure we’d need to be slotted between other IFR aircraft including the jets overhead on descent into Brisbane Airport. There needs to be much greater separation in such cases as the air traffic controller is primarily responsible so they err on the side of caution and there’d be more delays. Departing VFR we could take off even if there were overflying IFR aircraft as we’d remain below the controlled airspace. Once we were out of the way of the flightpath into Brisbane Airport we could switch to IFR and climb into controlled airspace for the flight to Warwick. This is one aspect of instrument flying that may seem a bit odd to outsiders. You can fly IFR even if it’s blue skies without any cloud and you can see clearly. It’s just the rules that are different from VFR and they are often more restrictive but can also assist you in certain ways.

Next task was to request a taxi clearance from the Archerfield Ground controller, allowing us to taxi over to our allocated runway. There was a strong and gusty westerly wind blowing so that would be RWY28R. They’re doing an upgrade to the apron at Archerfield, so it can carry heavier aircraft so parts are blocked off and it was a bit of a winding route to reach the temporary run up bay. Finally we were ready at the holding point and Archerfield Tower gave me the clearance to take off.

Climbing out we turned left and headed out on a track of 135 degrees. Archerfield Tower handed us over to Brisbane Centre who identified us on their radar and then confirmed we wanted to switch to IFR and told us to remain outside controlled airspace. They then transferred us to Brisbane Departures who cleared us from our waypoint PONOD direct to Warwick at 6000ft.

I wanted to fly the Required Navigation Performance (RNP) instrument approach at Warwick so once we were at 6000ft I requested traffic directly to the waypoint Echo Bravo. There was another aircraft completing the same instrument approach ahead of us so it made sense to delay our landing for a few minutes by flying the holding pattern. As we approached the waypoint I went through the “QADCAPS” mnemonic (check QNH, check that the nav Aid is available (the GNSS system uses a system called RAIM to ensure there are sufficient satellites available to provide the necessary accuracy), check the compass and DG agree, brief the Chart (below), confirm the Audio frequencies, use the radio to switch on the Pilot activated runway lights, and reduce Speed to about 120 knots).

Arriving at waypoint Echo Bravo I turned left and completed one holding pattern manually. Alyce offered to show me how to let the system do it automatically but I wanted to do at least one of them in manual. Once we turned back onto the inward track to the waypoint I used the avionics to identify the top of descent and at the appropriate point we began to descend to the runway. The sun was just above the horizon and straight ahead of us as we flew in, making it difficult to see the runway. Just as well we were doing an instrument approach! The RNP approach had a circling minimum descent altitude (MDA) but no straight in approach one, so I did a circling approach, joining midfield crosswind and then completing a touch and go landing on RWY 27 as the sun set in the west.

Over the next 20 minutes I completed 6 circuits, with 3 touch and go landings in the decreasing light directly towards the glowing sky, and 3 more at night with only the runway lights to guide us in. The remaining light in the sky added an extra challenge as the runway lights were almost invisible in contrast to the sky.

On completing the sixth touch and go, we climbed within the circling area to the 10 mile lowest safe altitude of 4200ft before tracking for Stanthorpe, climbing to 6000ft. At 25 miles out of Stanthorpe I asked ATC for traffic direct to the waypoint Whiskey Echo on the RNP for RWY08.

There was a bit of cloud and some rain as we flew the short leg to the waypoint. Based on our heading as we reached the waypoint I had to fly a sector 2 entry (tear drop) after crossing WE, requiring us to fly out at 230 degrees (30 degrees less than the inverse of the inward bound flight track of 080 degrees) for one minute and then turning right onto the 080 track towards the runway, all in the dark and IMC (cloud). We crossed waypoint Whiskey India and descended through the clouds to the runway, which eventually appeared as we emerged from the cloud. This time the runway lights were much brighter and easier to discern from the surrounding blackness. Alyce had suggested I demonstrate a missed approach on this one so on reaching the minimum altitude of 3670 ft (the chart showed 3620ft but there was no forecast QNH for Stanthorpe, only the area QNH, so had to add 50ft to the value on the chart) I levelled out, added some power and continued to the missed approach point. Then it was full power, nose up, flaps up and climb to waypoint Whiskey Hotel, then make a left turn and continue the climb on a track of 280 degrees to the lowest safe altitude of 5600ft.

Once we reached 5600ft we could turn and track direct for Archerfield while continuing the climb to our cruise altitude of 7000ft.

As we flew towards Archerfield the cloud cleared and we had a great view of the lights of Brisbane in the distance. Brisbane Centre transferred us to Amberley Approach who gave us traffic for the RNP approach into Archerfield via waypoint Whiskey Delta.

This approach has a complication in that there are not only minimum altitudes as you descend but also at waypoint Whiskey India you have a maximum altitude of 2500ft. This limitation is to ensure separation from aircraft above you that may be descending into Brisbane Airport. So it’s important to fly the glide path fairly accurately. This time Alyce explained how to use the power of the Perspective Plus to do a fully automated descent profile. The aircraft descended at the correct rate and at WI turned us automatically about 80 degrees to the right onto the final approach path into RWY10L at Archerfield and the runway lights came into view.

It was not over yet though. The tower at Archerfield was closed as it was after hours. This meant it was an uncontrolled aerodrome so I announced our position on the CTAF frequency when we were about 10 miles out. Switching to the AWIS frequency we noted the strong westerly blowing still, confirming I’d need to do a circling approach and land from the east. So on reaching the circling Minimum Descent Altitude added some power to stop losing height and tracked over to left downwind for RWY 28R, turned onto base, then final and completed my last landing for the night.

We taxied to the hangar and put VPZ away for the night. One flight completed successfully. One more to go.

On Wednesday 13th July I was ready for my second flight with Alyce to complete my BFR. This time it would be a day flight so we could undertake some basic flight skill checks and a Standard Instrument Departure (SID). For this flight I planned to fly IFR out of Archerfield via the SID, then fly direct via the controlled airspace over Brisbane to Redcliffe. I’d do a full stop landing and switch to VFR, then conduct a few circuits at Redcliffe, then fly to Bribie Island for some air work, and finally return to Archerfield.

I arrived at the Team Aviation office in Rocklea at 8am and spent about one hour answering a barrage of questions about the privileges and restrictions on my private IFR rating. The theory is another part of the BFR process. Having successfully answered the questions with a few additional hints from Alyce we headed over to the airport, a five minute drive away. VPZ was already out in the front of the hangar ready to go. The flight plan was submitted and I completed the preflight.

After obtaining a transponder code from Brisbane Centre and a clearance to taxi from Archer Ground we headed for the runway. It was another strong westerly so once again we were directed to the holding point for RWY28R. Archerfield Tower asked us to hold until advised otherwise. This time it was about a 5 minute wait as various other aircraft arrived and departed. At times we couldn’t see any other aircraft in the circuit so I can only presume that there was traffic overhead flying into or out of Brisbane Airport that we had to be separated from. Finally our turn came to line up. We obtained our clearance to take off on and climb to 4000ft on the SID. This SID is called Archer Three Departure (Radar). It requires the pilot to take off and maintain a minimum climb gradient of 4.3% to 1900ft and then 3.3% while tracking 277 degrees until you are at least 900ft AMSL and past the departure end of the runway. These minima ensure that you clear the “obstacles” on Mount Coot-the (TV towers) before turning. Although it was a clear blue sky that day, I could have taken off into cloud with a 300 foot minimum ceiling and if I followed the instructions on the SID chart I’d remain clear of obstacles. The required gradient is equivalent to about 400ft/min at 100knots and the Cirrus can climb at 1000ft/min so there’s no difficulty achieving those minima.

As we climbed Tower transferred us to Brisbane Departures who “vectored” us onto the track to Redcliffe (telling me to turn onto a particular heading) and cleared us to 6000ft for the short flight.

We had a great view of the city as we flew straight towards Redcliffe and soon we were at our top of descent where ATC stepped us down out of the controlled airspace. We descended quickly so that we could join the circuit. It was clear that a strong westerly was blowing at Redcliffe so we joined via a mid field crosswind for RWY25.

We landed and taxied off the runway, and I cancelled my SARWATCH, ending the IFR segment of the flight. Taxiing over to the holding point for RWY25 Alyce suggested we do a couple of glide approaches. This would involve cutting off the power while on downwind in the circuit then trimming the plane for the best glide speed (92knots) and judging how to land without further use of power. Even though the Cirrus has a parachute you still need to know how to glide the aircraft, especially if for some reason the parachute failed to deploy in an emergency.

Taking off and turning onto downwind we noticed how the wind was pushing us away from the runway. My first attempt to glide in was thwarted by another aircraft in the circuit ahead of us, meaning that we couldn’t safely conduct the glide while maintaining sufficient separation. I did a go around and set myself up on downwind again. The next attempt I misjudged the strength of the wind and had left myself a bit short of the threshold so when we were about 300 ft I applied power and went around for a third attempt. This time was better and I managed to land the plane on the runway successfully. Tick! Then it was off to Bribie Island for the air work.

I climbed to 3000ft over Bribie Island and announced on the CTAF frequency that we’d be conducting air work over Bribie for the next 20 minutes. First I did a few steep turns at 60 degrees left and right. The Perspective Plus system has an automated straight and level feature that tries to level the wings if you bank more than 30 degrees. I had to overcome this by holding the red “autopilot disengage” button while turning. Alyce then demonstrated the “blue button”. This Cirrus feature allows you to automatically return the plane to straight and level flight if you inadvertently enter an unusual and unwanted attitude. I went into a spiral dive, pressed the blue button and the autopilot returned the plane to straight and level. Impressive.

Then it was time to practise some stalls. First with no flaps and then with full flaps. There was a bit of buffet and a very slight wing drop but I was able to hold the wings level with rudder while the plane descended in the stalled condition.

Next we headed to a nearby airstrip where I practised a couple of FLWOP (forced landing without power) from 2500ft. The first one I was a bit short (that westerly wind again) but the second one would have worked. I applied power at 500ft and we headed for the TV Towers at Mt Coot tha. On the way Alyce asked me to put on “the hood” so I could fly under “simulated IMC” conditions while she gave me various instructions to keep us out of controlled airspace. I also had to do some recoveries from unusual attitudes. This exercise involved closing my eyes while she set the plane up in either a turning climb or descent and when I opened my eyes I had to use the instruments to return quickly to a wings level attitude.

Discarding the hood as we approached the TV Towers I called up the ATIS and then advised Archer Tower that we were incoming for a full stop. They acknowledged my call and at Centenary Bridge I reported our position. I was to remain at 1500ft and join right downwind for RWY28R. There was another plane ahead of us so once we’d advised that we had it in sight the controller cleared us to descend to 1000 ft for a visual approach. This landing I’d be practising a flapless one, which meant it would be a bit faster (90 knots) and flatter approach. We turned onto final at 500ft and flew to the threshold. Alyce reminded me to hold off and be patient, waiting for the plane to touch down when it was ready. And so we touched down ever so lightly, completing the last task of the BFR successfully.

We taxied back to the hangar and Alyce filled out the necessary paperwork to prove that I’d passed all the requirements of the BFR successfully. I was ok to fly for another 24 months.

Where there’s a Murwillumbah there’s away!

Scenic Rim – Mount Warning – Round Mountain – O’Reilly’s

One of the most scenic flights in this part of the world is to follow the NSW/Queensland border from the coast to the west through the area called the Border Ranges. It’s full of the remnants of volcanos including one which has as its centre a volcanic plug, called Mount Warning. The caldera that surrounds it forms numerous cliffs and valleys, much of which is still wilderness but there’s also miles and miles of rolling farmland with villages and towns scattered around. I’ve loved flying there since I first went on an early cross country flight with an instructor out of Redcliffe. The town of Murwillumbah is at the foot of Mt Warning, on the banks of the Tweed River, that winds its way through farms and sugarcane fields on its way to Tweed Heads and the Gold Coast. Whether you want to see spectacular mountains, cliffs, beaches, rivers, skyscrapers, lakes this border ranges have it all, packed into a very compact area. We’ve spent many holidays at the beach just south of the border and have climbed Mt Warning on three occasions (when it was still permitted) and have friends who’ve built an amazing house on a hill called “Round Mountain” nearby. So we love to visit the area. And you know what? There’s an airfield at Murwillumbah so we can actually fly there and land.

I’d wanted to fly there and land for some time but finally on Sunday 10th July 2022 the planets aligned. Our friends Harry and Rianne would be home and were keen to go for a flight around the area. My pilot friend Luc and I had been discussing a flight there for a while as he was a member of the Murwillumbah Aero Club a while back and knows the area so he agreed to go as navigator and co-pilot. And the weather was fine! We had had some rain in the week leading up to the day so I checked with the aero club president, Martyn, who warned me against flying any earlier as the airstrip had been a bit soft but after some stiff westerly winds on Thursday and Friday said Sunday would be fine.

Luc and I topped up the tanks of MSF to about 230 litres to give us sufficient fuel for the flight down, a one hour scenic with Harry and Rianne and the flight back, while not exceeding the MTOW. Then we were off into the wild blue yonder and that’s what it was. Not a cloud in the sky as we flew VFR from Redcliffe via Lake Samsonvale and squeezed between the Archerfield and Amberley controlled airspace then on over Beaudesert towards the Scenic Rim. The Great Dividing Range was visible on the horizon to the west.

Beaudesert and Dividing Range

We’ve stayed at a couple of mountain lodges in the Border Ranges called Binna Burra and O’Reilly’s that I’d never spotted from the air so, given the perfect weather, and with Luc’s navigational skills, and some help from OzRunways and the VTC map we flew right over the top of them.

O’Reilly’s with Mt Warning in the background

From there it was a short hop, making sure we descended in time to remain below the controlled airspace steps, into Murwillumbah.

Mount Warning

There was a light breeze from the south west so we landed on RWY19, which has the interesting challenge of some industrial buildings quite close to the threshold, so there was a last minute nose down attitude to bring us down to a point near the threshold just before the flare.

I’d texted Harry our ETA as 10:50 and we were right on time. Taxiing off the runway we found a patch of grass that didn’t look too soft and shut down. Harry and Rianne came over and after a short meet and greet and chat about the flight they watched Mike’s Cirrus briefing video on my Ipad while I chatted with Bill, one of the local club members. He was taking the club’s 172 for a scenic flight down the coast.

We took off and headed over to the coast so we could have an aerial view of Harry and Rianne’s house.

Heading for Round Mountain

In a few minutes we were over the top with a birds eye view of their house.

Orbiting over Round Mountain

From there we followed the coast down to Brunswick Heads…

Brunswick Heads

…then headed inland over the hills to Nimbin, and followed one of the many valleys past Mount Burrell and back towards Mount Warning.

You could see the Gold Coast skyscrapers in the distance.

Soon we were landing back at Murwillumbah.

Short final RWY19

Harry and Rianne invited us to lunch at the River View Hotel overlooking the Tweed River in Murwillumbah and we chatted about the flight and the natural beauty of the area. All agreed it had been spectacular.

After lunch Luc and I were dropped back at the airstrip and were soon heading for home. While we were still on the ground we obtained a transponder code from Brisbane Centre, then took off and retraced our steps to Round Mountain at 1000ft.

Over Hastings Point, we obtained a clearance from Gold Coast Tower to transit through their airspace along the coast at 1000ft.

Lake Cudgen and Cabarita

First we passed Kingscliff and the Tweed River. Then it was on past Fingal Head to Point Danger.

Fingal Head and Tweed River

A jet took off to the south as we passed the Gold Coast airport. Otherwise there was no other traffic flying in, out or around. We had the airspace all to ourselves!

As we flew past Surfers Paradise we had an excellent view of mini Manhattan including one new building that looks like it will be taller than Q1.

We tracked from there over Straddie and Moreton Island as the first clouds were building in over the water. Soon we were touching down at Redcliffe once again.

Way out West – A trip to Lake Eyre (Kati Thanda) and back

With Lake Eyre filling up after all the summer and autumn rains I thought it’d be a good idea to fly out there in June 2022. It started as a sort of aviators’ outback pub crawl but eventually morphed into a nine day bucket list trip there and back again. Key bucket list items were Cameron Corner, Marree and Maree Man, Coober Pedy, William Creek, Kati Thanda itself, Birdsville and Big Red, Burke and Wills Dig Tree, the Noccundra Pub, Eromanga Natural History Museum and the Cosmos Centre at Charleville. Sigi was keen and when I mentioned what we wanted to do to my friend Harpur he immediately signed up his wife Anne and himself to accompany us.

Another pilot friend, Luc, had shown interest in tagging along on the trip and as the date approached he confirmed that he and another friend, Scott, who’s also a pilot, would join us. Luc has his own Piper Cherokee that flies about 110 knots compared to the Cirrus at 165 knots so he planned to depart a day earlier and stay overnight at St George. We’d meet them there.

There was quite a bit of planning required. First I needed to include regular refuelling stops, as in order to remain below maximum take off weight we could only load 230 litres (rather than full tanks of 300L) after allowing 10kg of baggage for each of us. This gave us a range of about 500 nautical miles (just over 900km) in just over 3 hours. I normally like to have a break every 2 hours for my own sake but also so that my passengers can stretch their legs so this seemed fine. We just had to make sure that Avgas was available at these intervals. I rang up all the refuellers during the weeks prior to our departure and the only one with limited supply was Marree, but they seemed confident that they’d have fuel by early June. The supplier at Innamincka seemed to have the most limited supply and he noted down our arrival date and that we’d need about 100 litres so that he’d have it on hand.

Trip itinerary spreadsheet

Accommodation was generally available. It appears that in 2022 things aren’t as busy in the outback as in 2021. Partly because the borders are open again and partly due to high fuel prices keeping people closer to home. Transfers from the airport to the town are always an issue so I tried to target stops where the strips were close to town or where the refueller or the hotel could provide transfers. The most difficult place was Coober Pedy, where there is no taxi or uber service and oddly only a few of the accommodation options would provide a transfer for the 3km from the airport. They generally said they were short staffed so couldn’t spare the time to pick someone up. Must have more than enough business I thought. So in Coober Pedy we went for the most expensive option as they could also provide a transfer. The refuellers at Charleville were the most accommodating, providing an old Barina as a loan car for free if we bought some avgas from them. I had to reshuffle a couple of dates along the way to make it all work out but by late May it was all locked in, our rooms were booked, and we were ready to go. Then first Sigi, then Anne and Harpur caught Covid. Luckily they all recovered in time and I avoided catching it so that we could all depart together as planned.

We set off on Friday June 10th 2022. Our first day was a big flying day. In fact, it was the biggest of the whole trip. It took us across almost the entire width of Queensland to the far north west corner of New South Wales. Taking off from Redcliffe at 8:30, we tracked over Toowoomba and then direct to St George to refuel.


On the way to St George a cloud layer built up below us between 3000 and 4000ft AMSL. This wasn’t a problem as we were flying IFR, until we landed at St George when we just froze in the cold southerly under the overcast sky. We had been expecting cold weather and had rugged up but it was still a bit of a shock.

St George

We had another refuelling stop at Cunnamulla where the clouds gradually started to part. The refueller was very generous at this stop. She’d been called away on business but the pump was accessible and all I had to do was note down how much fuel we used along with my contact details and she would email me an invoice. How good is that? We met Luc and Scott at Cunnumalla, who told us of problems they’d had with the Piper. The suspension on the right main wheel had collapsed and the local LAME at St George had managed to fix it but it was a temporary fix only. They had to decide whether they could continue. In the end they decided to proceed to Tibooburra’ sealed strip but not land at Eulo as it was a dirt strip and they didn’t want to stress the undercarriage. They’d then try to see if they could arrange a repair at William Creek.

Up above the clouds

From Cunnamulla it was a quick hop over to Eulo for lunch. Eulo is a small community with a great amount of pride that is evident when you visit. Famous not only for the infamous “Eulo Queen” and the hotel named after her but also for the abundant local produce and product as well as opal and craft which can all be purchased in the town. Adjacent to the Paroo River, and boasting a colourful history, the Eulo Queen Hotel awaits the weary traveller with her old world charm and generous hospitality.

Eulo apron

The story of the Eulo Queen is the story of the great, late Isabel Gray. Thought to have been born in 1851 her first marriage certificate recorded her as born in England, the daughter of an army captain. Things had changed it seemed by the time of her second marriage in 1871 where she was then recorded as being born in Mauritius! Her back story included a good education in Switzerland and then in 1868 she was sent to Australia. In Australia she married, only to be widowed a few years later and in 1871 she married Richard William Robinson with whom she became hotel-keepers in Eulo in 1886. Eulo was a gathering place for travellers and wayfarers and the Robinsons acquired further licenses to run a butcher shop and store. But the cunning Isabel began to conduct business outside of the boundaries of the hotel beguiling her guests in other ways. Her seemingly complaisant husband allowed her to freely fraternise with travellers in exchange for opals – for which she acquired a feverish penchant. So captivated was she by the gems she used them as currency in exchange for her services and adorned herself lavishly from head to toe in the stones, including a glamorous girdle fashioned with alternate large stones and nautilus shells. She was said to have some physical beauty, but her talent was surely her ability to enrapture her male counterparts with ease.

It was a 5 minute walk down the main street to the Eulo pub where they had delicious hamburgers. The publican turned out to be a former pilot with more than 10,000 hours, many of which were with the Royal Flying Doctor Service based in Cairns. He said he had lots of bad weather experiences that he wished he hadn’t had. He also told us that business was very poor compared with 2021 when he’d do 60 lunches per day. There was only us and one other couple for lunch that day.

While walking around the pub we learned about the Eulo Queen. Her scintillating stories and newspaper clippings adorn the walls as she plays host to locals and wayfarers alike.

Eulo pub

After lunch it was a one hour flight to Tibooburra. On the way we passed over Lake Wyara, a tip from the Eulo publican, to spot some of the thousands of pelicans that were nesting there. There were some amazing patterns in the sand surrounding the lake.

At Tibooburra we refuelled again and were taken into the Tibooburra Hotel for our overnight stay. The owner of the hotel is the refueller so that made things easy.

Tibooburra is a two pub town steeped in history. Charles Sturt passed through the area during his Inland Expedition in 1845. Soon after pastoralists arrived with their flocks of sheep and the wool industry began.

Formerly known as The Granites, the town began as a gold-rush town when gold was discovered early in the 1880s in the region known as the Albert Goldfields. This extended from Mt Browne, Milparinka, Mt Poole through to “The Granites”. For a while several hundred people lived in the area known as the Granites, named after the granite tors which surround the town. These days the population is around 100 people. The town’s name was later changed to Tibooburra, a local Aboriginal word for “pile of rocks”.

There is a museum under construction that amongst other things celebrates the role the Afghan cameleers played in opening up the country. There’s an amazing sculpture made out of chicken wire outside the museum.

Luc and Scott met up with us at the Tibooburra Hotel and after phoning around decided they’d head for Broken Hill the next day as that was the only place a LAME would be able to repair their suspension. The hotel burned down in early 2021 so it was still in the final stages of rebuilding when we were there. They’d build some comfortable motel units out the back and we stayed in them. The bar was open and there was a temporary kitchen doing meals. They were a bit rushed off their feet that night as it was Friday so it took over an hour to get our meals but it didn’t really matter as we weren’t in a hurry.

On Day 2 the first challenge was to find some breakfast. The pub didn’t do breakfast and the grocery store, which had good ratings on TripAdvisor, was closed due to lack of staff. Luc and Scott had discovered that the roadhouse on the outskirts of town was open so we went there, only to find that they could at best manage some toast and jam. Coffee was just a bit too difficult. So we ate the toast then headed back to the hotel and packed up and after a delayed transfer to the airstrip (the hotel owner’s partner thought we’d already left) took off on the short flight to Cameron Corner, where Queensland, NSW and South Australian borders meet. The home of Tri State Golf and so much more.

It has a lovely smooth dirt strip only 5 minutes walk to the store but no Telstra coverage and a very basic “waiting room”. My next challenge was how to cancel my SARTIME.

Luckily Tina at the store was so helpful and let me use her landline to cancel the Sartime and their wifi to submit another flight notification. She was a mine of information and very chatty – and had great coffee and cake too.


We continued to fly across the southern Strzelecki Desert to Marree to top up with fuel and have some lunch at the pub. Marree is a small South Australian town situated on the old (now defunct) Ghan railway line. There was a great refuelling service and a free lift into the pub by one of the young pilots who is based there and grew up in Brisbane. There was limited Telstra coverage however – data but no voice calls possible on my mobile. We were later to discover that it was due to the micro cell mobile system in place and my phone needed to be reset.

Marree Pub

The hotel includes the “Tom Kruse Museum”, full of information about the great Birdsville Mailman; and then there’s the John McDouall Stuart Museum with unique drawings and a host of information about Australia’s greatest inland explorer.

From Marree we headed west, passing over the Marree Man. Only visible from the air, this mysterious figure was discovered on 26th June 1998, and over time eroded to almost ‘extinction’. Following the granting of Native Title to the Arabana, the Marree Hotel was asked to restore the Marree Man.  Three years later with painstaking analysis of GPS data, the Marree Man was brought back to ‘life’. Speculation as to the origins of the Marree Man are captivating – theories; assumptions; mystery; intrigue; and controversy abound.  It appears unlikely that it could be created without the help of a GPS system. These were not in common use in the 1990s. The most likely story appears to be that some US Airforce personnel who were working at Woomera, went out there on a day off with a grader that had been fitted with an early GPS tracking system and carved it out in the desert. 

We passed the southern end of Lake Eyre South to the Anna Painted Hills then Coober Pedy, opal mining capital of the world and home of some very interesting underground buildings, not to mention underground people. Arriving at Coober Pedy we topped up the tanks and after a bit of a mix up picked up our 4WD hire car at the Desert Cave Hotel.

We spent Day 3 at Coober Pedy. The town’s name is an English adaptation of the local Aboriginal (Dieri) words ‘kupa piti’, meaning “whiteman’s holes”. More than half of the town’s population live underground, where temperatures are maintained at a pleasant 23-25 degrees C throughout the year while in summer above ground they often exceed 50 degrees. There are underground churches and art galleries too.

A highlight was an afternoon tour with Aaron Noble from Noble Tours Australia | 4WD tours from Coober Pedy out to the “breakaways”, a cluster of hills about 30km to the north where we saw an amazing sunset, and dropped into Aaron’s opal claim where he hopes to make his fortune one day.

On Day 4 we had a tour of one of the underground houses, built by a feminist miner in the 1980s. Faye apparently found quite a bit of opal while extending the house to include three bedrooms, a lounge and even a swimming pool.

Later in the morning we headed for William Creek, the closest settlement to Lake Eyre. It was only a 30 minute flight so we were there in time for lunch. It sits on the famous outback “highway” called the Oodnadatta Track, between Marree and Oodnadatta. If you land on the gravel runway you have to watch for road traffic as you taxi, as you have to cross the “highway” to get to the apron. We landed on the sealed runway however. William Creek is surrounded by Anna Creek Station, the largest cattle station in the world, and is the gateway to the vast Simpson Desert. I had a chat to some of the local pilots about how they do scenic flights over the lake and after lunch we did a scenic of our own. The southern end of the lake was full of water and we could see the dry salt pan stretching way off into the distance to the north.

That evening we enjoyed dinner in the atmospheric William Creek pub along with numerous other pilots, truck drivers and tourists, some of which were returning from the Finke Desert motorbike rally.

We rose early on Day 5, walking around checking out the William Creek airstrips as the sun rose, and running into the owner Trevor Wright as he did his early morning rounds.

After a hearty breakfast we took off and flew north east over Lake Eyre North to Birdsville. There was not much water in the lake but a lot in the Diamantina and Warburton River catchments, heading south.

We passed over a couple of cattle stations on the Warburton. As we descended into Birdsville we did a couple of orbits over Big Red then headed for the town, managing to park opposite the pub.

After arriving in Birdsville we checked into our motel room at the pub and then headed on our Big Red Tour with bus driver Greg. He drove us around town, first pointing out the interesting spots like the flooded causeway at the Diamantina River (the road had been closed for weeks limiting the movement of tourists and supplies), the school (it has only 3 students), the other pub (Royal Hotel) that has been decommissioned for many, many years, the geothermal power station that was shut down because it was contaminated with sulphur, the famous bakery and more. I hadn’t realised that Birdsville was so big. Then it was off to Big Red, a 30 km drive. The 4WD bus climbed effortlessly up on to the sand dune where we enjoyed the end of another day with beers, bubbles and a big red while watching the sun set in the west and a beautiful full moon rise in the east. We returned to town for dinner at the iconic pub.

On day 6 of our “Way out west” tour we rose in time to see the moon set in the western sky and visited the old gaol and courthouse, saw the first plane take off and headed to the bakery for breakfast. They didn’t have a huge selection of rolls or fillings but we managed to buy a few things for a picnic at the Burke and Wills Dig Tree.

Then we packed up and took off, passing over the flooded Diamantina River, for Betoota. Greg our driver from the Big Red Tour had told us we just had to go there for a cup of tea (or something stronger for the non-pilots). Made somewhat famous by the satirical newspaper “The Betoota Advocate” the only things at Betoota are a pub, a racetrack and a superbly kept airstrip. Twenty minutes to the east of Birdsville we were landing next to the Pub. The original owner Ziggy died there about 10 years ago and Robbie the new owner has been doing it up gradually ever since. His “staff” of friends and family took good care of us, showed us around and shared stories of the pub’s history, including the infamous “yellow bus”. Robbie insisted on driving us back to the plane in his superbly restored 1927 Model T Ford for our departure to the Dig Tree.

From Betoota we headed south, passing into South Australia and over Cordillo Station then on to the Burke and Wills Dig Tree, just over the border in Queensland again. The memorial is on Nappa Merrie Station and has its own airstrip. Once again very well maintained, the strip is 5 minutes walk to the Dig Tree on the banks of Cooper Creek. A great spot for a picnic under the Coolibah trees.

From there it was a 10 minute hop over the border to Innamincka where we stayed overnight. We landed 5 minutes after Luc and Scott who we last saw in Tibooburra as they’d been stuck in Broken Hill for a few days. We celebrated our reunification with a couple of drinks in the pub’s beer garden.

Day 7 of the Wild West Wander it was time to head back east. After a chilly start to the morning at Innamincka we loaded the planes and took off. Luc and Scott went first as they were landing at the Dig Tree, having missed out on it the day before. We flew over the top and followed the flooded Cooper Creek for a while and then on to Noccundra. It’s a pub without a town. That’s all there is. The airstrip is really good and there is a free public phone box out front so you can cancel your SARTIME easily (no mobile coverage). It’s a 5 minute stroll from the apron to the pub where they had great pies for lunch and pretty good coffee.

After lunch it was off to Eromanga, home of the Eromanga Natural History Museum.

This amazing facility was opened in early 2021 and houses the bones of the largest dinosaur found in Australia – Australotitan Cooperensis (or Cooper for short). The first fossil was discovered in 2006 by a 14 year old boy on a property about 100km away. Since then they’ve been excavating and sorting many, many fossilised bones of various animals. Volunteers work with paid staff to chip away patiently to expose the fossilised bones that are about 95 million years old. The museum also houses bones of megafauna like the Diprotodon, giant wombats discovered near Eulo to the south (our lunch stop on Day 1). We’d booked to stay overnight and a tour at 3pm so, touching down at 1:30 we were met by a couple of the staff who drove us the 2km to the museum. We watched a very good video of the history of the earth and the dinosaurs in Australia followed by a tour of their workshop. They supply barbecue packs that you could cook yourself at the luxurious accommodation nearby so after the tour, hearing that we needed some drinks to have with our BBQ, one of the girls drove us about 3km into the Eromanga Pub to buy some wine. It was a great evening chatting to some fellow travellers and relaxing around the fire pit as the night chill set in.

On Day 8 blue skies beckoned once again. Sigi and I went for a walk around the property surrounding the museum, startling a couple of wallabies as we went, then headed back to the accommodation block for a serve-yourself continental breakfast on the verandah. Luc and Scott wanted to head off early as they had to return to Broken Hill to pick up Luc’s plane so we accompanied them to the museum for a coffee then soon after we were dropped at the airstrip. The museum staff were amazingly hospitable and helpful. Our next leg was to Quilpie to refuel. We walked into town for lunch at the bakery and inspected the opal altar at the catholic church. Unfortunately Lyn Barnes’ Gallery wasn’t open so we couldn’t see her outback landscape paintings. We headed back to the airport and visited the Amy Johnson display in the old terminal building instead. Famous aviatrix Amy landed at Quilpie on her solo flight from England to Australia in 1930. The story is she was supposed to land in Charleville but she had an outdated map that showed Charleville at the end of the railway line when in reality it had been extended to Quilpie a year or so before. So, when she spotted the railway line she thought she was off course to the east and followed it to the west, bringing her to Quilpie instead of Charleville, much to the delight of the locals. After refuelling she continued to Charleville to an even more rapturous reception.

From Quilpie we followed in Amy’s footsteps to Charleville where we were met by the refueller at South West Air Services They have an amazing service at the Flight Deck Cafe where they lend their “Mighty Barina” to flyin visitors. Free of charge – just fill it up with fuel before you return it. After a visit to the bar at the famous Corones Hotel (the one where Amy famously bathed in champagne after her belated arrival) for a quick beer we had dinner at the Rocks Motel before rugging up and heading out to the Cosmos Centre for an of evening of star gazing. They have a great set up there where we had a close up view of alpha centauri and a few constellations.

On Day 9 it was time to head for home, but with a lunch stop in Surat. We’d stopped in Roma a few times before so wanted a change and the airstrip at Surat is walking distance to the main street so it seemed an obvious alternative. The Cobb and Co Staging Station Museum…/cobb-co…/ was another attraction. It was about one hour to Surat over country that gradually turned greener.

After a light lunch and a tour of the museum we were back on board, this time back to Redcliffe. We passed over Jimbour and the Brisbane Valley, taking in the Glass House Mountains on our descent into Redcliffe.

Lake Somerset

Our western wanderings were over. It was a great trip and we really are fortunate to be able to travel around this great country of ours so freely. It is a huge land mass and travelling by air is a great way to see it. When we get out in the outback I am constantly amazed how friendly, trusting and helpful people are.

Redcliffe to Caloundra – some video

On Friday 3rd June 2022 I went out to Redcliffe in the early afternoon to prepare for the monthly club barbecue. There was time to spare, and as one of the club’s 182s (my old favourite VH-ROC) needed to be ferried back from AMS, the aviation maintenance company located in Caloundra, Mike and I took Brendan, one of the instructors, up there, so he could pick it up. I was in the back seat on the way up and made the most of the opportunity to take some video along the way.

The first video is of our departure from Redcliffe and flight over the bay past Beachmere, with the Glasshouse Mountains in the distance.

The second one is passing Bribie Island.

The third is joining the circuit in Caloundra.

The fourth is approach and landing at Caloundra.