We were up and outside the hotel a little before our scheduled pick-up time of 0630. The guy at the Kimberley Lodge had warned us that “all taxis in this town are terrible” and, sure enough, our ride never turned up. We set out to lug the bags on the 30 minute walk to the private side of the airport; meaning we were a little late for the appointment that I’d made late the previous night with BP. They had emailed their head office, copying me, and head office had replied with words to the effect of “of course you can fuel them, you plonkers”. We topped up the wings, shoe-horned Hiyo’s bags in, and started up.
BP, finally agreeing to fuel me
My hitchhiking copilot
Before 8am, the control tower at Broome is not open, so the field was operating as an uncontrolled field. I followed another aircraft and just copied him while getting my head around the procedures, which seemed very similar to those used in the US. Not everybody wanted to use the runway in the same direction, so after the aircraft in front of us departed we waited while another took off from the other end, and set off on our way. I turned left on course, and climbed to 3,500ft. It was calm this morning, and I wanted to enjoy the views!
Departure from Broome
Final sight of the ocean
When planning for this section of the trip, I had seen arrival in Australia as the end of the main “challenging bits”, at least regarding bureaucracy and hassle. This turned out to be correct; the Australian regulatory agency and politicians do seem to be doing their best to cause problems for pilots in general, but flying here is still much better than in most parts of the world. What I had not quite wrapped my head around, however, was the sheer size of the place; my brother helpfully sent me a picture showing Australia superimposed over the moon (Australia is bigger) to illustrate my oversight. In order to catch my 10am flight out of Sydney on Thursday morning (it was now Tuesday) I’d need to fly 18 hours over 2 days. Luckily, long distance flying is something of a specialty!
Covering plenty of ground on Australia, day 1
Entering the Outback
Within just a few miles, the landscape had turned arid and barren. There was very little sign of human activity, much less habitation, something that would continue with few exceptions to within a few hundred miles of the east coast. Eyes peeled in vain for kangaroos, we droned on towards Halls Creek. We could hear a King Air on frequency, announcing his progress from Broome to Fitzroy Crossing, and before long he appeared on my ADS-B screen as he overhauled us 15,000ft above. He descended ahead of us, and as we passed Fitzroy Crossing we could see him on the ground, unloading.
Cruising the outback
Dust plume on a dirt road
The day was heating up fast and it started to get bumpy during the last hour towards Halls Creek. My decision to keep a couple of air sickness bags staged in the glove compartment proved prescient, as Hiyo made use of both of them; a slightly concerning start as we still had more than 15 flying hours to go! Landing direction at Halls Creek was almost in line with my existing heading, so we came straight in and rolled to a stop in front of the BP fuel pump. The attendant came out to greet us and I topped the tanks again; with vast distances between airports out here, and even vaster distances between fuel stops, the more fuel in the tanks the better.
Filling up at Halls Creek
The attendant was kind enough to drive us the few blocks into town, where we bought a few snacks, and some air-sickness tablets. The town had only about 1,500 people; he was here on a few year assignment while his wife taught at the local school. Apparently life was decent, but usually very quiet! He dropped us back at the aircraft and after the essential bathroom break, we were on our way.
Climbing out, slow and heavy, from Halls Creek
I climbed steadily, to try and get above the turbulence. We eventually did; at 13,500ft! High above the outback, we cruised onward, enjoying the scenery unrolling below us. While conforming entirely to the “outback” category, it was endlessly changing, much as the deserts of Saudi Arabia had been; sand dunes, river beds, rocky plateaus, hill ranges, the list goes on. My route took us direct to Alice Springs; one of very few airports along this route; the plan was to get close, and then make a decision about whether to stop, or carry on.
A dirt strip in the desert
In the event, we were both feeling fine, and decided to keep flying another few hours to the town of Birdsville. This town has a population of about 150, although in the first weekend of September about 7,000 people descend upon it for the famous “Birdsville Races”. Given that it wasn’t the first weekend in September, we were hopeful that there’d be rooms available to stay! I used the Garmin InReach to message my father, and ask him to investigate accommodation options; he found the Birdsville Hotel, right next to the airport, but wasn’t able to confirm space. We figured we’d land and try our luck.
Haze building below us
The sun set slowly over the desert, and we droned onwards in the darkness. Hiyo took that opportunity to fill up a couple more air sickness bags, despite the calm air. As we approached Birdsville, I flew the GPS approach in visual conditions, to make it easier to find and line up on the airport. It was at this stage that a serious deficiency in my pre-flight preparation became apparent; in the US, one clicks the microphone 7 times on the airport frequency to remotely turn on the lights. In Australia, things are apparently different; and it was a very dark night.
Sunset over central Australia
My Stene Aviation Quasar wing tips came into their own here. With both of the high intensity LED landing lights on full, complementing the hull mounted LED landing lights, the ground was just about visible from minimums on the GPS approach! This allowed us to land safely, and we rolled out to end, and parked up at the end of a long line of Cessna 210s and secured the aircraft for the night.
Parked up in Birdsville
We headed straight to the hotel. The bad news was, they had no rooms remaining. The good news, the kitchen was open for another ten minutes, and there was another place that might be able to accommodate us. As there were two of us, we were able to divide forces; Hiyo stayed in the bar to receive the food, while I went off and secured rooms at the Birdsville Lodge (which turned out to be very similar to the pre-fab accommodation that we have in Iraq!) On my return, the food was waiting. I later reflected that perhaps ordering fish 1,000+km from the coast, in a desert, was not the best choice, but it turned out to be very good!
Dinner at the Birdsville Hotel
It was while eating that I received some bad news. The hangar space that I had been promised in Cessnock, from now until early December, was no longer available; and I didn’t exactly have a lot of time available to find an alternative! I threw out the question to a couple of the major Australian pilot groups and was inundated with responses; although my preference for “close to Cessnock” was interpreted by some in Australian terms, which seems to mean “within about a day’s travel”.
The other occupants of this part of the bar were a big group of Australians who turned out to be celebrating no fewer than 3 birthdays. They insisted we join them for a bit, and seemed interested to hear about the round the world flight. As we were chatting, another man walked into the bar and loudly inquired “Which one of you is Ross?” To my amazement, he was a pilot who was spending the night and had seen my online plea for help, and figured out somehow that I was in this bar. A friend of his had a space to offer, south of Sydney; added to the potential hangar space available at the airport next door to Cessnock, I was suddenly back in good shape on the hangar front. We made our excuses before it got too late, and went to bed; yet another early start was coming.
The birthday celebrations