Primarily for general aviation discussion, but other aviation topics are also welcome.
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#1753753
Coober Pedy was a lot of fun, but we had to leave before Rowan went native and ended up living in a hole in the ground. It was another early start, leaving the motel just after six in another of the manager’s rental cars. We stopped briefly at the Coober Pedy town sign for some photos, before heading out to the airport, loading, and refueling. We backtracked down the runway, and departed, with great views of the town off to our left as we climbed out.

Morning in Coober Pedy
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A happy loadmaster
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Coober Pedy
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We set course south across the outback for the 280nm flight to Whyalla, a coastal town in South Australia, and a convenient place to break the trip to Kangaroo Island. The flight at 4,500ft was smooth, although a little warm at that altitude, and we finally picked up a slight tailwind component to speed us along.

The flight to the coast
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Dry lakes south of Coober Pedy
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Whyalla drag strip
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We landed at around 10am, and took a taxi to our beachfront motel. Despite the early hour, our rooms were ready and we were pleased to be able to dump the luggage before heading for brunch at the nearby Beach Cafe. After this, we retired for a short nap, and then a walk along to the seafront to the marina and back but the heatwave that was still blasting much of Australia forced us back to the rooms to rest.

Whyalla
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The marina
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We spent the afternoon reading and swimming in the motel pool, before meeting up again at a picnic table on the grass overlooking the beach and enjoying a dinner of cheese, crackers, and fruits.

Picnic time
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Evening in Whyalla
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The day’s flight would be short, so we didn’t leave the motel until mid-morning, enjoying a lie-in. Despite ordering a van taxi for the 5 of us and our luggage, a small car turned up to carry us all, so we had a bit of a wait while the correct vehicle was sourced. The airport was quiet with no commercial flights scheduled, and it didn’t take long to fuel up and get underway for our final tourist stop of the trip, Kangaroo Island.

Morning refueling
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We wanted to ensure that we were never out of gliding distance of land, as we were not carrying life jackets. We therefore flew south along the coast to gain altitude, before turning east to cross the water at the narrowest point, still climbing. As soon as we were in gliding distance of the far shore as well as the near one, we turned back on route to the south east, creeping closer to land on a direct heading to Kingscote on Kangaroo Island.

Climbing out from Whyalla
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The flight to Kangaroo Island
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More dry lakes
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The final water crossing, to Kangaroo Island, was short and we were soon touching down and taxiing to the grass parking area. I left the others securing and unloading the aircraft while I headed off to collect the rental car. It seems I arrived just in time; despite having turned up exactly when I said we would, the Hertz rental car staff told me they’d assumed I was meant to be on the earlier (and last) flight that day and they were about to leave on the flight back to the mainland. Not sure what we’d have done if they’d all left! As we drove out, we had a very Australian experience; a koala bear was hanging out in the trees at the entrance to the airport!

Koala!
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We decided first to drive into Kingscote for lunch, having been recommended the fish and chip restaurant attached to the Caltex petrol station. Quality food served at petrol stations seemed to be common around these parts. The recommendation was solid, and we greatly enjoyed our fish before jumping back in the car and driving the length of the island to our accommodation. We checked in; 3 of us at one place, 2 at the other; and then set off to visit the Flinders Chase National Park. We’d heard that the following day was likely to be declared an “extreme fire day”, which would mean most places were closed, so we wanted to ensure we had the chance to see the national park if that turned out to be true.

The park was just around the corner from where we were staying. We elected to drive out and see the three main viewpoints, given our limited time. The first stop was “Admiral’s Arch”, a natural sea-arch out right at the end of the island. Despite the 40+ degree weather that had us sweltering, this little part of the island was affected by a fierce, cold southerly breeze that has us shivering as we made our way down the paths to the arch, and the many fur seals lazing on the rocks all around it.

Admiral's arch
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From here we checked out the old lighthouse, before continuing to view the old cable car that used to bring the stores up the cliffs from the sea below. The cable itself was long gone but the foundations and the route were still clearly visible. As we enjoyed the views of the ocean, we saw thrashing and flashes of red in the sea down below, which we were all fairly sure must have been a shark attacking a seal! That was our explanation, anyway. The last stop out by the coast was the “Remarkable Rocks’. Unsurprisingly, this is a rock formation, that is indeed quite unusual and interesting. The photos speak for themselves!

The remarkable rocks
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Before leaving the park, we decided to walk along the nature trail. We’d hardly gone 100 meters before spotting a koala asleep in a tree! This was real Australia… We pointed it out to a French couple who were walking the other way, and it was the first one they’d seen. We continued and saw absolutely nothing for about the next 40 minutes, so turned around to start the walk back by another route.

Wildlife walk
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At this point all the nature clearly came out to play. We first saw kangaroos and wallabies, before entering a more wooded area where it seemed every single tree had a koala or two. We happened upon a couple of large kangaroos, asleep in long grass by the path; I’m not sure which of us and the kangaroos were more startled.

More Koalas!
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Having completed the most impressive nature walk I’ve ever taken, we headed back to our respective accommodation, enjoying an easy dinner of food and wine that we’d picked up earlier that day at the supermarket. As we sat and ate on the veranda of one of the cabins, 15 or so wallabies came down and grazed on the lawn in front of us, in the slowly setting sunlight.
Dave W, kanga, Charles Hunt and 5 others liked this
#1754005
It turned out that the day did, in fact, turn out to be a “catastrophic fire danger” day. As a result, pretty much all of the visitor attractions on the island were closed. It wasn’t a big surprise; it was dry, and blisteringly hot. We had waited until mid-morning, to phone around and check the status of various attractions, so decided to head out for a drive along the island’s north coast which was supposed to be stunning. The Hertz representative had told us very clearly that the car was not insured on gravel roads, so we elected to just drive very carefully on those bits.

Kangaroo Island's north coast
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At the beach
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We headed north, along little winding country roads, towards Snelling Beach. I don’t think we saw another car the entire time until we got there, although we did stop several times and get out to admire the beautiful views. The other tourists were clearly missing out! We spent a little time admiring Snelling Beach, where a number of others were braving the scorching sun, before retreating to the car and driving eastwards along the coast to Stokes Bay.

The path to Stokes Bay beach
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The beach at Stokes Bay is deceptive; by the parking area is a thin, grey, rocky stretch that does not look at all welcoming. However, if you follow the signposts a winding path takes you through a long tunnel through and among the rocks, and you pop out of a narrow crack onto a long stretch of beautiful sand, with plenty of families enjoying the sun. By this stage we were hungry, and the cafe was closed, so we headed into Kingscote to find a light lunch at a local bakery and general store.

After a bit of souvenir shopping, we set out to drive the length of the island back to our accommodation. We decided to take the southern road this time for a change of scenery. As we drove, ominous weather was apparent; dark skies, towering clouds, heavy rain showers, and lightning. It was this kind of weather that started fires, and indeed the fires that would go on to devastate the island started on this day. Not long after settling back at the farm, the hostess came out to find us; numerous dangerous fires had been reported nearby, and the owner had banned anyone from leaving the property.

The bathroom at the Flinders Chase Farm Stay
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Ollie and I got together to work out a plan, and after checking the fire maps and calling the airport to check out conditions, determined it was safer to leave the aircraft where it was. We also gained permission to leave the farm for a nice dinner at the nearby eco-resort, by virtue of having an Ozzie with us who was experienced in dealing with bush-fires! Little did we know that these fires were the genesis of those that would almost completely devastate the island, including causing several deaths, over the coming weeks.

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Ready to go on the final day
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Fire fighting aircraft ready for action
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It was a very early start to the last day of this section. We’d have to fly to Albury to return the aircraft, with a fuel stop along the way, and then go our separate ways. Ollie would fly off with some friends, while the rest of us would have a long drive up to Sydney. We took the southern road back towards the airport, as the northern was closed due to the fires, which were still burning fiercely. Luckily, the airport was unaffected, and we refueled and headed out to the east without any trouble.

Departing from Kangaroo Island
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Crossing Victoria
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Arriving at Bendigo
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4 of the team at Bendigo, thanks to Ollie for taking the picture!
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Departing from Bendigo
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Mining facilities near Bendigo
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Getting smoky again as we enter NSW
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The flight was uneventful, across a landscape so parched that it was not difficult to see why the fires were such a problem. We made a brief stop at Bendigo to refuel and stretch out legs but otherwise simply made best speed for Albury, where we returned the aircraft and said our goodbyes after a great couple of weeks. Ollie stayed behind, and the rest of us piled into Jen’s car and set off in the direction of Sydney.

The final day's route
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Approaching Albury
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Goodbye, KFI
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Stephen Death's recently arrived water bomber, being readied for service
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Normally, the drive would take a little over 5 hours. Today, the fires had closed much of the main highway meaning that we were diverted along heavily trafficked alternate routes. The journey took more than 8 hours, with some uncertainty at times whether there’d even be a route clear at all; we eventually rolled into Sydney well into the night time, and all fell into bed. Rowan and I would be spending another 10 days visiting my aunt in Newcastle, but those stories don’t belong on a flying site, so this brought section 4 of the trip to a close.

Australia's coolest "ute"
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Smoky highway
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NSW fires
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Flight hours so far: 203
Distance so far: 23,373 nm
kanga, Dave W, Rob L and 4 others liked this
#1754008
For all the negatives around fires etc, have you ever thought of getting Nations' tourist boards to defray the costs of all this?

They darn' well should!
#1754173
The commercial flight to Sydney was 17 hours long, but I was lucky enough to get a complete row to myself and arrived having slept comfortably most of the way. All the staff in the airport were wearing face masks, concerned about the coronovirus, and I was asked to confirm that I’d not been in China in the last 2 weeks. It didn’t take long before I was on the train north to Newcastle, and my aunt’s apartment. I collected my rental car and settled in for a quiet afternoon at hers.

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Jet lag had me awake early, and I made the 45 minute drive to Maitland airport to arrive a little after 7am. Some time later, Gerard arrived and we went to get the aircraft out of its hangar. N9953H was looking all ready to go!

Planey peeks out the back of the hangar, ready to fly again at last!
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The first few days of flying would just be to break the engine in. I found a few small issues on my preflight check, but nothing critical, and I was soon climbing out from runway 05 at full power. A new engine needs to be run at high power for the first hours of its life, so for the first 2.5 hour flight I just flew around the local area making sure everything was ok.

Day 1 test flying
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Great to be in the air again
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I came back in to land at Maitland, and spent the next couple of hours with the mechanics from Hunter Aerospace correcting the small issues I’d found, and fine tuning the engine controls. This done, and a quick McDonald’s eaten (I had attempted to order UberEats for delivery to the airport while I was flying, but without success) I took off for another afternoon break-in flight. This time I headed south in an attempt to fly the Sydney Harbour Scenic route; unfortunately, the Harbour Scenic One was not available from ATC so I settled for the slightly more distant Harbour Scenic Two. Still a great view of the city!

Buzzing around NSW
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Testing successfully completed for the day, I stowed the airplane back in the hangar and made my way back to Newcastle for a quiet evening.

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I arrived at the airport at about 11am, after running some morning errands. The first flight was just over an hour, around the local area again, before landing at the nearby airport of Cessnock. As I landed, another pilot asked if this was the round- the-world Cessna he’d been reading about!

Cessnock
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My aunt was a director based at the hotel next to the airport, so we met there for lunch and had a look around before heading back to the airport. That afternoon I was a little bored of local flights, so headed a few hundred kilometers west to the airport of Narromine, mainly chosen because it had a self serve fuel pump. I filled up and headed back east, to Maitland.

Outbound to Narromine
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Day 2 test flying
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Mist and haze on the way back to Maitland
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The previous night, my aunt and I had been looking for things to do at the weekend in Newcastle, and had discovered that the well known comedian Jack Whitehall would be playing Newcastle this evening. We’d watched, and loved, his travel show while I’d been at hers a couple of months earlier, so we managed to grab last minute tickets – a great show!

Theatre time!
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My aunt had taken the day off to fly with me. We were away by 5:30am, aiming to get to Maitland airport and depart just after dawn. The weather was poor, and we had a 300 nautical mile flight to the town of Albury where we were meeting a friend to have a long range, HF radio installed in the aircraft. This is mandatory for some of the upcoming Pacific legs.

Flying with Aunty
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For the first hundred and fifty miles, across the coastal mountains of the Great Dividing Range, we were surrounded by thick cloud and rain showers. We did have a strong tailwind, but knew that would turn into a slow ride on the way back! After about an hour, the clouds started to disappear, only to be replaced with smoke and haze that kept visibility at just a few miles. Albury’s visibility was reported at 6km, so it wasn’t until final approach that we saw the runway, set down, and taxied to the Hazair hangar.

Still very smoky
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The flight to Albury and back.
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We were given the use of the little runaround cart to go and find the owner, Stephen Death. He was on duty at the water bomber, just across the field, and had just finished the morning briefing. He accompanied us back across to his hangar to get out the equipment, and advise on the installation – he does a lot of work ferrying similar aircraft across the Pacific, so knows exactly how it’s all done!

Ready to install the HF
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The install took a few hours, chasing an elusive tuning problem. We took a break in the middle for brunch at the airport cafe. Prominently displayed there was the story of a KLM Uiver aircraft that had become lost at night with radio failure near Albury while taking part in a London to Melbourne air race in the 1930s. The townsfolk heard it fly over, and the telegraph operator and town engineer cooperated to flash all the towns lights on and off simultaneously, spelling out the morse code for Albury. They then gathered all the car owners and used the headlights to illuminate a makeshift runway at the sports ground. The Uiver landed safely.

You can go anywhere you like, as long as it's Sydney
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Fitting the antenna
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Work in progress
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We completed the installation in the early afternoon, and after a successful test we headed back to Maitland – this time at a much slower ground speed, and conditions were roughly the same as they’d been on the outbound leg. We flew the GPS approach into Maitland, touched down smoothly, and taxied to the hangar where Gerard was waiting. It was good to finally see him again and thank him for looking after the aircraft, even if the engine had been found to be sick on his watch!


That evening we dropped into a local hotel to attend a “Pilots at the Pub” social session that we’d spotted on Facebook. It was great to meet a number of local flyers, and gratifying that most of them already knew about the flight through the online updates!
nallen, Dave W, Rob L and 5 others liked this
#1754963
I woke late, after the previous day’s long hours, looking forward to a relaxing Saturday. It was not to be, however. Checks of the latest weather updates revealed that from Sunday through Thursday, conditions were going to seriously deteriorate to the point that the planned Sunday departure was clearly not going to be possible. The choices were either depart that day, and fly as far as Lord Howe Island, or be stuck for nearly a week. I made my decision; it was time to go.

Saying goodbye to Aunty
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A rapid succession of flight planning, packing, and logistics followed. We found a room available on Lord Howe Island, and with that in hand, set off to the airport stopping only to grab a quick cheeseburger from the McDonald’s drive-through. I dropped in first to the Newcastle Flying Club and took advice from their instructors on the best routing to my coastal fuel stop, Taree. The consensus was that an IFR flight was the only way to go, confirmed by a phone call to Newcastle ATC whose zone I’d be heading through. I filed the plan and headed off to load up the aircraft. After final goodbyes to my aunt, I fired up the fresh engine and took off from runway 05, headed northeast.

Ready to go
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Goodbye Maitland
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I climbed overhead the field, contacting Brisbane center and picking up my clearance. They quickly handed me over to “Willy Approach” (short for Williamstown) who cleared me through their airspace, direct to destination. The first flight was not a long one, just 75 miles up the coast to Taree who had fuel available with credit card payment, and were not far off the shortest over-water crossing to Lord Howe.

Passing over Newcastle
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Conditions were not great, but OK for IFR. It was windy, with low cloud all around, and rain showers. Taree was in something of a bubble of awful weather; 800ft ceilings with strong crosswinds and rain. As I got closer, I heard a Bonanza heading out IFR, destination to the north. He got away before I got too close, and I descended in on the GPS approach. Minimums for the approach were 600ft, so I had a small buffer, but not much; luckily the runway became visible through the mist and rain and I was able to make a safe, but not stylish, landing in the strong crosswind.

On the ground at Taree, in the pouring rain
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I taxied to the fuel pumps and shut down. It was raining hard, and I didn’t want to try and refuel in that, so I made a run in to the flying club building. I was greeted by a flying club member who was the “Duty Pilot” for the day. He told me it had been a slow day indeed! We waited and chatted for a while, before the rain eased and we decided to go and refuel while we had the chance; he held the umbrella, while I pumped the fuel! I filled her to the brim; can’t have too much fuel when heading out across the Tasman.

New friends at Taree
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I went back inside to put on my dry-suit and make a final weather check. Another club member turned up, with a visitor from England, and we chatted for a bit about the flight before it was time to go. I wanted to be at Lord Howe well before sunset. The wind was still blowing hard across the runway as I took off – coming straight from the direction I needed to fly. Great.

Departing Taree
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Takeoff into some more IMC weather
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I leveled off at 4,000 feet, and initially headed up the coast on an IFR flight plan towards Port Macquarie. The first few miles were spent in thick cloud but as I neared my first waypoint, this dissipated and I was back into clear air. Port Macquarie is one of the closest mainland points to Lord Howe, giving the shortest sea crossing, and it was here that I turned right and headed out over the open ocean once again.

Better conditions over Port Macquarie
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Coasting out
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The headwind was about 20 knots, not as bad as I had feared, giving me a ground speed of about 115 knots. I settled in on autopilot for the crossing. A little way out, ATC requested that I climb to 8,000ft for continued radio contact. I cruised on over the ocean, in and out of clouds and the occasional rain shower, checking in with ATC every now and then for a position report. They were quite proactive at passing updated weather reports from Lord Howe for me, too.

In the dry suit again
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Moist weather over the sea
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My route
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A very Australian waypoint
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Over the Tasman
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The InReach came in very handy for checking the destination weather during those times that ATC didn’t pass an update. The forecast, updated during my flight, was for decent visibility and broken cloud ceilings at about 1,400ft, with periods of worse conditions. The minimums for the instrument approach were 990ft; a reasonable enough buffer. As I drew close to the island, cloud was being reported at 800ft overcast, with ~3km visibility. Not great!

Approaching Lord Howe
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Lord Howe Island
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The wind was strong from the east, about 25 – 30 knots. It was at least coming from a direction that the airport documentation stated should not cause problematic levels of turbulence. I flew the GPS approach to runway 10, and as I descended to the minimum altitude I was able to make out the sea below and, finally, the land ahead. Conditions were just good enough for me to make out the runway and come in for a challenging, but pretty good, landing. I taxied carefully to the main apron and shut down.

Windy conditions on the ground
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Things now became a little difficult. It turned out there was no mobile phone service on the island. The InReach came into its own and allowed me to exchange messages with my aunt back in Australia; she in turn could make phone calls for me. The vacant room we’d identified earlier had somehow been taken; not sure how, as the island doesn’t exactly lend itself to walk-in traffic! Indeed, tourists are not meant to travel to the island on the commercial flights without a confirmed reservation. My aunt called every hotel and guest house on the island, with no luck.

Lord Howe airport
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While she was working on this, I wandered around to figure out where to tie down. Before taxiing onto the grass I wanted to be sure it wasn’t soft and muddy from the rain! Luckily, it was sandy and still perfectly firm. The rain was coming down more sideways than vertically; I kept my drysuit on as otherwise I’d have been drenched through in moments. At least it was fairly warm. I got the aircraft tied down and even managed to wrestle the cover into place.

Tied down for the night
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My aunt had worked a miracle, and a small inn by the airport had offered me their spare bedroom! They were even on their way to pick me up. Sharon and Peter, of Waimarie, arrived a couple of minutes later and soon had me back at their house and settled into a very comfortable downstairs room. They even invited me up to share dinner and drinks with them! What could have been a windy and uncomfortable night trying to sleep in the airplane turned into a great evening swapping stories and enjoying delicious food and drink.
Lockhaven, Dave W, RichJordan and 7 others liked this
#1755037
LHI is a magical place, the Southernmost coral atoll in the world, with unique fauna and flora. It seems genuinely not to have been discovered by any homo sapiens until a ship of the First Fleet turned up in the 18thc. Its population heyday was when it was a victualling outpost for Southern Ocean whalers in the 19thc. Permanent population is of a wonderful mixture of descendants of every seafaring nation whose forebears chose to settle. For aviation buffs: the last place in the world to have scheduled commercial flying boat service, Sandringhams from Rose Bay in Sydney, alighting in the lagoon at high tide, so a different time every day like Barra today. First aerial visitor was Francis Chichester in a Fox Moth on floats during his pioneering first aerial crossing of the Tasman Sea.

As a World Heritage Site, total human numbers are limited by regulation. This means that there is a limted number of visitor beds, and one should not plan travel until the bed has been secured. They are mostly in small home B&Bs.

Many thanks for bringing back some fine memories. And there were correct guesses when I posted in this thread:

viewtopic.php?f=1&t=102087&start=925
mick w, Stu B, Katamarino and 1 others liked this
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