I woke up today at 4.30 am & as the sun rose it started looking like a really nice day. It’s funny how moments like these, give you hope that we might have an easy flying day ahead with good weather. But as we had breakfast, some of the morning fog started to roll in & our departure time of 7 am was looking shaky.
We checked the forecast & it looked pretty good, just some cloud off the coast with thunderstorms. A light north-westerly was forecast so we were hoping this would keep the bad weather south of us.
As I was about to get into my aircraft, I realised my wheel spat was missing a bolt. Luckily Dave Wohling flew in – in his RV 6 – just at that moment, & fortunately, he had a spare assortment of bolts & found one to fit. Thanks Dave!
Today we had 5 hours of flying & we wanted to leave early because, not only was it a long day, but we also lost 1.5 hours when we entered South Australia.
When the sun broke through, the fog lifted & we managed to get off the ground about 8 am. As my aircraft rose into the air, I saw a beautiful sight with big fluffy cumulous clouds off in the ocean & I was under blue skies, & bathed in sunshine. God I love these moments in flying!
As we approached Cape Pasley, low cloud started to appear on the coast but you could see that it only extended 10 miles inland. I dropped down from 3,500 feet to 2,000 feet & just continued along the coastline. Dropping down to 1,500 to get under some of the lower clouds.
It was fairly scattered & the sun broke through at times just to let you know it was still there. We saw various terrain from low lying sand dunes to the sheer cliffs that met the water that were very spectacular.
As I flew along the coast, I occasionaly saw a shack. My mind wandered as to what person would live in such a remote part of the world. It would be a nice place to escape society for awhile with the beautiful coastline.
Before we left Esperance, I called up Caiguna Roadhouse to check on the condition of the airstrip. This was the only place where we could get fuel today on our way to the Nullarbor Hotel. After speaking to the lady there, she said that someone landed there a few days ago & the pilot said it was soft with a big puddle in the middle. However, they haven’t had any rain for a number of days so it should be better than when he flew in.
Without any other options, we went to check it out to make sure that it looked okay. As the Piper Lance Support plane arrived first, Michael took some time to have a closer inspection with some low passes. The Lance is the largest & heaviest of our 3 planes so a wet & soggy airstrip isn’t particularly inviting. The Lance was at the greatest risk of getting bogged or having an accident.
As my aircraft is the slowest, I always arrive last. Gordon & Paul in the Piper Archer Support plane arrived, checked it out & decided that it would be okay for them to land. They got down with no problems & just avoided the big puddle in the middle.
My aircraft, being the lightest, had no issues as I can land on a postage stamp compared to the other 2 aircraft. We both relayed to the Lance that the surface was fairly good – just needed to go left of the puddle.
Once on the ground, Gordon, Paul, Josh & I were met by a guy on an old postie motorbike while the Lance with Michael, Bob & Linda were circling above. This guy was also a pilot so he took his bike down to the strip just to verify the surface near the puddle. When he came back we relayed to the Lance that the puddle was soft & needed to be avoided but the outer edges were fine.
After all the opinions, Michael decided it would be fine to land & the next thing I saw, was the Lance taxiing toward us. Linda said “It was one of Michael’s best landings!” Nothing like a little bit of pressure to bring out the best!
As we were running a bit later than expected, we had a quick lunch & headed off to our final stop for tonight: The Nullarbor Hotel.
I took off & headed again toward the coast & after about 10 min of flying, all the cloud disappeared & opened up to a beautiful blue sky ahead. It was one of the nicest days flying we’ve had. There was little wind & smooth conditions.
Also, today I got up to 6,500 feet in these nice conditions, with a 15 knot tailwind. This is the highest I have flown on the entire journey around Australia. Most of my flying has been below 3,500 feet, due to cloud but also I enjoy flying low so I can see more.
The thing that strikes you most about the Nullarbor is how flat it is. I imagined it to be desert but it has lots of low bushes.
We landed at the Nullarbor Hotel on the dirt strip. I like dirt strips because I find they are more forgiving than bitumen. I’ve done a lot of flying around Australia on grass & dirt airstrips & when they are dry, they are really good. You just need to watch out for the big stones getting thrown up & damaging your prop.
Here I am at the Nullarbor Hotel. It’s just a pub, with motel rooms beside the Eyre Highway with its own airstrip. It was great for us all to just park our planes & wander directly to the rooms.
The only thing I can say is … Beware, the flies are terrible! As soon as I opened my door, they were up my nose, in my mouth & in my ears.
Off now for a drink & some dinner with the team. Tomorrow we fly to Port Lincoln.
Over & out,