We’re not suggesting you’re going to kick the bucket any time soon, but there’s definitely a case for having a wish list when it comes to flying – 10 things you’d love to do before you hang up the headset. Shelley Ross dangles a few carrots.
1 - Spend a week in the Whitsundays and get your float plane endorsement
This is hands-down, deadset, the best fun you’re going to have in an aeroplane. Now there’s a statement, even by my standards. I know I tend to rave about people I’ve met and places I’ve been; that’s because they’re good. But flying float planes is better than good. Get ready to be transported.
You don’t really have to go up to the Whitsundays, but it wouldn’t be bad, would it? Truth is, if you live anywhere within cooee of a decent (and legal) stretch of water, you’re in business. I did my endorsement in 2002 up at Air Waves on the Gold Coast. It took me three days in a Cessna 185, but they were three solid days, crammed with more out-there skills training than I could imagine. You are flung so totally out of your comfort zone, the sense of achievement at the end is worth bottling.
The bizarre thing is that you’re a boat one minute, with a water rudder to guide you, a strong tide to consider, and the appropriate boating rules to comply with. Then the next, you’re an aeroplane with all the usual airframe and performance disciplines to remember. Whether in an amphibian, a floating hull aircraft or a float plane, you’ll be taught cool techniques like confined area operations, step taxiing, glassy water landings, ‘sailing’ and docking your craft; right-of-way rules (you or that floating gin palace down there, taking up most of your intended runway?) Not to mention how to pop the champagne cork and lay out the gourmet picnic for the honeymoon couple you’ve just dropped off on the pristine beach for the afternoon. It’s charter pilot heaven.
And if you’re not too partial to engine failures, there’s no frantic search for that illusive stretch of bitumen. I live over an hour from my airport; and half a minute from the harbour – flying seaplanes is definitely on my Bucket List.
A few sites to get you started:
• Airlie Beach, Qld: www.airwhitsunday.com.au.
• Sunshine Coast, Qld: www.flyingboat.com.au (Kevin Bowe).
• Gold Coast, Qld : www.goldcoastseaplanes.com.
• Port Macquarie, NSW: Guru Aviation (Bill Lane) P: 0432 328 813.
• Sydney: www.sydneybyseaplane.com and www.seaplanes.com.au.
• Melbourne: www.seaplane.com.au.
• Geelong: www.baycityseaplanes.com.au.
• Derby, WA : www.bushflight.com.
• Strahan, Tasmania: www.adventureflights.com.
2 - Fly in to an outback race meeting
Start at Birdsville and they only get better. The Birdsville Races have been a staple on the outback calendar since the year dot. There’s only ever one complaint from the hordes who gather out here on the first weekend of September each year, and that is that it takes so bloody long to drive out here. That’s why flying makes so much sense and every pilot should do the trip at least once.
Pack a swag and sleep under the wing, back the outside chance in Saturday’s Birdsville Cup and do your dough, eat some dust and wash it down with a few hundred coldies. You’ll fit right in with the crowd. Visitr www.birdsvilleraces.com for more information.
Another meet that’s worth a visit is Louth. The tiny town of Louth on the Darling River puts on a great weekend in early August each year for their annual races (www.louthraces.com.au), though you have to get in early if you want to book a real roof over your head. Just about every country town has a big race day at least once a year and the locals will be more than happy to knock those city manners out of you and give you an outback welcome you won’t forget in a long time.
Trackside antics don’t stop with horses, either. If humps are your thing, you can catch some honking, spitting, wild action at camel races all over the outback during winter at places like Alice Springs, Winton, Capella, Richmond and Boulia. Not to be outdone, the opal mining town of Lightning Ridge in central NSW hosts the annual Great Goat Race over Easter; Broome’s the place for tropical Crab Racing and south west Qld’s Eulo hosts a damn fine Lizard Race outside the pub if that’s more your style. Cane toad racing is North Queensland’s specialty – knock yourself out!
In fact, Google anything you think of – embarrasingly, it’s sure to be on somewhere in this crazy country of ours and you can bet there’s an airstrip there to welcome you in.
3- Swap automatic for manual - learn to fly a taildragger
Legend has it, that until you’ve learnt how to fly a tailwheel aircraft, you haven’t really learnt to fly. Well I don’t know about that; I’ve only had a couple of hours in a Citabria and an ancient C180. Couldn’t see a cracker out the front and almost took out the airport bowsers trying to find the runway.
But it’s on my list of 10 because so many people are so passionate about these high-personality aeroplanes that I’m thinking perhaps there’s something in it. Your stick and rudder skills, they say, will be initially unearthed, then massaged, honed and eventually refined until you feel like you are actually flying an aeroplane rather than it flying you. Compared to the stable landomatics that Messrs Cessna and Piper have spoilt us with, these little babies have a life all of their own if you let them have their head.
A highlight of the training must be learning how to control that pesky tail. With the centre of gravity on taildraggers being behind the main wheels, incorrect handling on taxi and runways can lead to a marvellous dance called the ground loop. Easily tamed with correct training, they say.
However, the rewards for effort will come your way in spades. Spend some time getting the hang of these initially challenging high performers and you will revel in their responsiveness, short field performance, suitability to bush strips and sheer fun value.
While you’re at it – you may as well go the whole hog. Taildraggers and aerobatics go together like peaches and cream (which you’ll probably bring up at some point) so spend some time inverted, then learn to do it yourself.
Enquire at your local flying school.
4 - Fly our beaches low level
Arguably Australia’s most celebrated export, experience the beauty of our beaches the best possible way, from above, and at low level. With the amount of accessible coastline we have, no matter which state you are in, there is a very special treat on offer for you and your passengers, compliments entirely of our geography. Here are a few that get the Nikon’s clicking:
• Flying the beach between WA’s Broome and Cape Leveque where flawless white sand is wedged between the blood red earth and the Indian Ocean.
• A little further south, on the Pilbara coast, the beaches and reefs of the Ningaloo Marine Park.
• The endless and remote stretch of beach along the Gulf of Carpentaria; spot the wild brumbies and count the crocs.
• Zoom down the pantomime that is the Gold Coast strip. As you fly over the breakers, yours will be an eagle eye view of this incredible panorama from Southport to Coolangatta – the justified drawcard for obscene amounts of tourism dollars.
• And (you’ve gotta be quick, or else really patient) the beaches of Lake Eyre knocked our socks off last year, and not a highrise in sight.
5- Now fly the cliffs!
From beauty to drama – there are loads to choose from:
• Try flying Sydney’s Victor One VFR route past Sydney Heads and down the coast for a million dollar view.
• Follow Victoria’s famous Great Ocean Road and waggle your wings at the 12 Apostles.
• Do some whale watching from abeam the wild exposed cliffs of the Great Australian Bight. On one side you have the crashing surf and rocky cliffs and on the other, you’ll be blown away (literally, on some days) by the massive expanse of nothingness that is the Nullarbor Plain. Fly a little way inland and you can race the massively long goods trains as they rumble their way along that famously straight railway track.
6 - Fly the Kimberley
Could we possibly leave this one off anyone’s wish list? If you haven’t flown up around North West Australia’s Kimberley region yet, then this is an order, rather than a suggestion. Do it.
• Stay at El Questro and take the champagne sunset cruise down the Chamberlain Gorge. You need not spend a fortune at the Homestead; accommodation at the Station Township is affordable and comfortable. El Questro, with its gorgeous bush walks and pristine water holes deserves every bit of the incredible reputation it enjoys.
• Fly low level down the Prince Regent Gorge, Collier Bay, and out to the Buccaneer Archipelago. This, and the more northerly Bonaparte Archipelago offer unforgettable panoramas from every window.
• Absorb the staggering beauty of the Kimberley’s trademark red rock gorges as you fly the King Leopold Ranges, negotiate the scenic route around the famous Bungle Bungles, and follow the rugged Gibb River Road without a single tyre-change.
7 - Step back in time
Track down that white silk scarf and take a Tiger Moth aloft. They’re noisy and slow and fabulous (Ed.- ain’t that the truth, Ruth!). There are plenty of schools around the country who will offer you training in one of these venerable old-timers. In stark contrast to modern instrument panels, the small cluster of analogue gauges in front of the novice pilot will delight rather than terrify. Or of course, you can keep it simple and just go for a joy flight.
8 - Support the publicans - do an outback pub crawl
The Corner Country of NSW and SA is a great place to head for if the culture of our Public Houses is your thing – purely for historical research purposes, of course. Knowing that your band of best mates has earned a break from searing urban pressures, I dare say you would have no trouble filling seats in your favourite bug-smasher once this particular itinerary is announced.
Our parched country is renowned for its abundance of hotels, particularly in the bush, so there are endless regions to which one could fly and be confident of the availability of a quenching schooner, pint or pony with the locals at the other end. To keep ourselves amused, Rossy and I do a constant survey to record the range of alarmed and bemused looks when one of us asks for a wedge of lime for my G&T. It’s hilarious! One day, Graeme Wellings, the (retiring) publican out at White Cliffs, picked up the phone to the Take-Away store across the road and got them to race over a pile of lemon wedges they’d set out for the fish and chips orders that night.
I’ve plucked Corner Country out because it’s in the middle, and chockers with pubs. You could visit all these in a week, easy. Stay overnight if you can – the breakfasts are legendary. Here are some of the most character-laden pubs you’ll find around here; all with airstrips and all prime examples of down to earth bush hospitality:
• The Royal Mail, Hungerford;
• Eulo Queen Hotel, Eulo;
• The Tibbooburra and Family Hotels, Tibbooburra;
• Albert Hotel, Milparinka;
• Cameron Corner Store;
• Innamincka Hotel;
• Noccundra Hotel; and
• Birdsville Hotel.
9 - Join a big air safari
You know you want to. It’s not going to happen if you just stare at the map. It’ll be next Christmas before you know it and your logbook will be telling you a monotonous story. There are plenty of flying schools, clubs and commercial operators who take all the hassle out of organising these trips so all you have to ‘worry’ about is the flying, and convincing Gloria not to pack the multi-speed hairdryer with countless attachments.
Any way you look at it, flying to the celebrated and far flung icons of the Australian map is going to make a remarkable holiday. If you do a few extended trips here, you might then like to try something off-shore. If you research opportunities in New Zealand and South Africa, you’ll find they offer a standout flying experience and take care of all the legal and safety issues that may otherwise be daunting.
10 - Take a kid flying
Never forget just how special it is to be able to fly. Try and share that experience. The pilots down at Royal Vic Aero Club at Moorabbin are having the time of their lives taking kids flying in their Young Eagles program (www.rvac.com.au/young-eagles). You can do it too – next time you’re popping out to the airport, offer a seat to a person less privileged or the kid next door.
Circuits would do; they won’t ever forget you.
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