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A trip to North Queensland Australia. AKA The Bundy Run...

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Categories: Cross Country / XC

SPEED AND DISTANCE ARE CONCEPTS: 1824.4 nm in 37 Flight hours. The Bundy Run, August 2007.

        The 2007 Megafauna Flyers trip to Mudgee was over. Our good friend, Harold Niblock was staying an extra couple of days with us on Yarrawonga Aerodrome. After reminiscing about the perfect flying weather conditions on the last day of the trip, from Temora to Yarrawonga, the conversation turned to future speculations. Wouldn’t it be good to fly up to the Wide Bay Air Show in August? Perhaps we could fly home down the eastern seaboard? Would it be possible in a weight shift microlight and a recreational Gazelle aircraft? What extra equipment would we need?

        Out came the maps, and flight routes were discussed, planned and re-planned, to find airfields with facilities within the two and a half to three hours of flying which the Gazelle could manage before needing to refuel. We were lucky, because our Airborne XT-912 has an endurance of seven hours flight before beginning to burn our safety reserve fuel. With everything unresolved, Harold flew home to Barwon Heads, on the coast of Victoria near Geelong.

        But the idea wouldn’t go away. Then Les Tyack, who also owns an XT- 912, also expressed interest in joining us, making up a manageable group …. Four of us could share a taxi and one motel room, thus cutting costs appreciably.

        Night after night, Peter sat juggling routes and distances, refueling facilities, aircraft capabilities …. the logistics were daunting, but only served to inspire us to achieve this adventure! We decided that to make the trip as safe as possible, it would be in our interest to have an Xcom radio fitted to the trike instead of our Microair radio which has served us well. Why? The Xcom has the capability of being able to monitor one channel whilst talking on another, allowing us to chat with our friends about levels, distances to run, how cold it was etc. etc. whilst hearing which runway was active at our destination airfield,  how much traffic was out there, and where. A transponder was also considered a must, because we wanted to fly through the controlled airspace at Maroochydore, Coffs Harbour, Coolangatta and down Victor One, a route that takes us passed Port Jackson and Botany Bay at 500 feet above sea level adjacent to cliffs that, at times, are higher than our flight altitude. Microair could supply a suitable one, and we also sourced an altitude encoder. Several thousand dollars later, we felt our trike was properly equipped for our adventure. Our life jackets were also required as we flew from the mainland to the islands off the east coast on our way home. Because Harold flew a few knots faster than the trikes, he also decided to install a transponder. Les would fly close to us in the controlled airspaces, under the umbrella of our transponder.

        By mid July, Harold and Les had organized themselves to arrive a couple of days before our planned departure date, for last minute planning, and to ensure they weren’t caught south of the Great Dividing Range by bad weather.

        On Monday 30th July we took to the skies, heading for Temora for a quick lunch break and to refuel. There was a light mist, and the cold moist air gave Les a few less than comfortable experiences of icing on one carburetor. Luckily he had carried spare new spark plugs with him, which he replaced at Temora. We continued our flight to Dubbo, our first planned overnight stopover. The carburetor icing had disappeared, the outside air temperature had risen above six degrees, and all was good. We refueled, and gratefully accepted the offer to hangar all three aircraft overnight, as well as a lift into town to a motel.    

        The plan for Tuesday 31st July was to refuel at Coonabarabran, located in the Warrumbungle ranges. This time the cold damp air temperature did not cause icing on Les’s trike. The picturesque ranges were beckoning us to explore, but that would have to be a whole new adventure or we would never reach Bundaberg! Coonabarabran air strip is on the top of a flat hill. Harold landed first, on a long bitumen strip, and radioed us,  advising us to land in a straight-in approach on the grass strip. It looked like a good idea with the prevailing wind direction, but the tussocks of grass made for quite rough taxi-ing. Siding Springs observatory silhouetted against the sky above the phased array of radio telescope dishes which enhance the research findings at “the Dish” at Parkes Observatory.

        Next track took us to Narrabri, straight up the Newell Highway. We were soon flying over “tiger country” next to the road. On the “chat channel” we discussed the idea of having to put down in this area. “On the highway!” I hear you say, but having to contend with the multitude of Double-B’s made the tree tops look a safer option! Les was very happy that his icing problem was fixed and that his aircraft didn’t go into “auto-rough” over this country-side, and Peter made the comment that the areas of burnt scrub might be the best option because the trees and branches may have been weakened by the fires, and give a bit as we crashed into them. Anne was told to put both visors down to protect her face, and to make sure she kept her arms inside the trike in the unlikely event that we had a crash landing. So it was a long two hours of headwinds and rather boring scenery before we once again flew over green paddocks and into Narrabri to top up with fuel and head up to Moree for our last stop for the day before reaching Goondiwindi just over the Queensland border for a well earned night’s rest. 

       In a hotel in Goondiwindi we met up with Cliff Banks and some acquaintances and we dined together. Some discussion about flying recreational aircraft above 5000 feet, finished with apologies all round, and everyone going their own way to do just as they wished, as per usual. If only people realized that they were jeopardizing not only their own, but all recreational pilot’s relative freedom of the skies by their actions. CASA has never been known to extend priviledges, just restrict them further.

        Wednesday 1st August dawned, and a communal decision was made by our little group to head towards the coast rather than fly inland, directly to Bundaberg as the other group were doing. So we took off heading for Toowoomba across more scrub country, etched with dry sandy river beds which looked as if they hadn’t carried water for years. We just couldn’t find an altitude that gave us smooth flying, so we lurched along until, having to climb to avoid a danger area , we found that, at 3500 feet the ride smoothed considerably. We passed a ridge, then a power station with its tall brick towers and flew passed Millmerran and Pittsworth townships, skirting the Oakey military airspace on our way into Toowoomba. The carved up paddocks of dry land crops made way for the suburbs, sprawling up the slopes of the Great Dividing Range, and completely surrounding the airfield, which undulates across a relatively flat area of the hills. Forward thinking town planning as usual was overlooked, probably in the short term grab for council rates and under pressure from developers wanting their quick quid. (I’ll climb back down of that particular soapbox now as I don’t have that special piece of paper that allows me to know what I’m talking about.) The air was turbulent but we all landed safely and taxied to the grassed short term parking area. We sat on the ground waiting for John Waite’s Cessna 172 to catch up, so he could let us know how the weather was developing as the day advanced. Anne had an interesting conversation about global warming and cycles of climate activity with a student studying those subjects at university, and sewed several Quilt-as-you-go hexagons of Japanese prints while sheltering from the wind in the terminal building.

        Our next goal was Watt’s Bridge on the bank of one of the Brisbane River’s tributaries which feed Lake Wivenhoe and Lake Somerset, the major water storages for Brisbane.  We were told that nobody would be there midweek, so we by-passed it and continued to Gympie for the night. We flew by ranges and valleys, fire towers, back burns, plantations and idyllic properties nestled along creek beds, with there wide variety of fruit crops. Tantalizingly close, down the valley and across a range of mountains or two, we glimpsed peaks of the Glass House Mountains lit by the afternoon sun.

At Gympie we tied down, and gratefully accepted a lift from a friendly local to a motel, where we enjoyed an enjoyable evening meal, and settled down for a good sleep. Sleep? Did I say sleep? Since Yarrawonga we had noticed that Les and Harold serenaded us each evening with a cacophony of snores, snorts and other assorted noises throughout the night. However both denied being a snorer…. after all they didn’t hear themselves, nor did they keep themselves awake, …. just each other, and us! And were we perfect? No. Occasionally Anne talks in her sleep, or snores. At times Peter snores too. The difference was that we had each other to tell our partner to roll over, or to give or receive a poke in the ribs! The motel was on a raised hill in a hollow. Incorporated in its design are some very steep ramps. We learned that they were to stop floods from affecting any but the lower rooms and storage areas.

        Thursday 2nd August saw us fly out of the mountains to the coast at Cooloola Cove Airpark, skirting the military area at Tin Can Bay, and flying up the Great Sandy Strait to Hervey Bay. Fraser Island to our right, the largest sand island in the world, is 125 kilometres long and averages 14 kilometres wide. It has developed over 800,000 years to an intricate system of beaches, lakes, rivers, vast dunes, rainforests and mangroves. As we flew up the straight we enjoyed glimpses of the mangrove systems, and also lakes suspended high in the dunes and bush.

        But it was the sand bars and multitude of low and tidal islands that were the jewel in the crown. We saw a pod of dugongs as well as dolphins in the straight, near the mouth of a river. The colours of the water at varying depths, and on the low lying islands were spectacular, and a photographer’s dream.

        After refueling at Hervey Bay we flew a direct route to Bundaberg aerodrome. We landed and then a “Follow Me” vehicle took us across a very bumpy, holey paddock, to tie down for the weekend about as far from the action as possible. Officials waited while our aircraft were secured, then took us and our luggage back to the aeroclub where we picked up  our goodie bag and had a cool drink and a snack before catching a ferry bus to our accommodation at Apollo Gardens Caravan Park on Princess Street. The rental car was conveniently next door. We had a slight problem with the rental car for a while. Every time Peter turned the wheel to steer the horn went. It was hilarious for a while, then embarrassing. But some drivers thought we were having an attack of road rage with them, while they were innocently going about their business, and one guy was ready to deck Peter good and proper! Fortunately, that was just as Peter returned the car to the rental place, and the angry driver, who had followed Peter, overheard the conversation asking for the horn to be fixed, and he just melted away. Whew! All fixed.

        Mission accomplished! We had flown three very small aircraft half way across the continent! Bigger and faster aircraft have achieved greater distances in much shorter times, but we really experienced the parts of Australia we flew over, once again proving that speed and distance are just concepts.

        Friday 3rd August. The boys visited the Wide Bay Airshow, meeting new and old friends, while Anne explored The Barrel, where Bundaberg Ginger Beer and other non-alcoholic liquid delights are brewed, then participated in retail therapy at the local patchwork shop in Bundaberg, before walking several kilometers back to our cabin, because there were no more bus runs. We returned to the airfield for a BBQ dinner and more chin-wagging at the aeroclub.

        Saturday 4th August was also spent at the airshow, and later we joined friends for a Chinese banquet.

        Sunday 5th August. Les was coming down with the “dreaded lurgy”. We toured the Bundaberg Rum distillery, where the “real stuff”  is brewed, marveling at the amounts of raw molasses stored on site, let alone the 78% proof rum vats holding untold amounts of social enjoyment and hangovers. It’s surprising how many and varied the products are … not just Bundy rum and cola, but half-strength as well, and Harold, our Bundy lover really enjoyed the “light stuff”. Bundy Super Dry and a rum and lime concoction were also appreciated by visitors on tour. Later we drove out to Bundaberg port and a couple of lookouts overlooking the sugar cane plantations.

        We bought pizzas for tea, and returned the rental car, then used the evening to plan our return trip via the coast. We rang Maroochydore tower to request permission to transit their air space and were given instructions, then once more turned in for a good night’s sleep with audible overtones.

        Monday 6th August dawned, and we caught a taxi to the Bundaberg Aerodrome, rigged and packed our aircraft, fueled up and became airborne again. Due to the headwind that seems to manifest itself on most of our flights, we chose a direct route to Maryborough, then Noosa Heads, instead of retracing our steps through Hervey Bay and the Great Sandy Strait. However we were still flying close enough to see the coast, and its different appearance because the tide was way out on our return trip. It was a real experience to see it in such different conditions, and also to see it from land side instead of from over the water.

        The Mary River’s wide entrance was spectacular, with the town of Maryborough nestled on its banks just before it narrowed and split into many tributaries which disappeared into the foot hills of the Great Dividing Range. We landed at the airport to phoned the Maroochydore Tower to reconfirm our transit, and while on the ground, stretched our legs, topped up fuel tanks and had a last toilet break before the long coastal leg through the controlled air spaces. Speaking of toilet breaks, Anne was let out of the security gate to o to the public “Ladies”, did what she had to do, and, as she flushed the evidence, was astounded to realize that a really large green tree frog had been sharing the toilet with her, living under the lip of the loo until the water flushed it into the bowl! It didn’t drown, nor turn into a handsome prince! The boys nick named it “Turd- Burglar” as we learned that it lived there, and had frightened more than one lady visitor to its estate…

        We took off and watched Fraser Island slip behind our track to Noosa Heads reporting point. We were amazed at how many times our transponder was interrogated as we traversed down the coast at 1500 feet passing busy Maroochydore Aerodrome to land at Caloundra.

         We donned our life jackets, then set off down the coast. Unfortunately the smoke of many fires obscured much of the view of the eroded volcanic plugs of the Glass House Mountains that we had all been keen to see. Although quite amazing, this was one time I felt they may have been better viewed from ground level, instead of from the flattening affect that altitude brings to a landscape. Soon the Coral Sea side of Bribie Island was sliding beneath us. Then out over the water to Moreton Island, joining the land near Tangalooma airstrip. In the distance, amid mist and smog, we caught glimpses of Brisbane overflowing into the hills around Moreton Bay. Looking down, we spotted an artificial reef of scuttled boats and ships before we flew over another airstrip at Baroco before crossing South Passage, a short stretch of water, traversing the northern end of North Stradbroke Island to Dunwich. Next came a myriad of low lying islands and some huge pylons rising up from the sea joining the power grid from the island to the mainland just north of Heck Field, our destination, and a welcome stretch of our legs.

        The last challenge of the day was the flight through the Gold Coast and Coolangatta controlled air spaces. It can be a bit difficult to “Report at Jupiter’s”, if you don’t know what Jupiter’s looks like. Harold had mentioned that “You can’t miss it. It’s the only building with a monorail attached to it.” Wrong. We saw a monorail at Seaworld, and no prizes for guessing who wrongly reported early. I could imagine the mirth in the tower, especially after I heard a transmission like, “Have a look at this …. a couple of VERY slowly moving aircraft traveling together in our airspace!”   We flew, and flew into the persistent headwind, down the coast passed Byron Bay, the Australian mainland’s easternmost point, to Ballina for a well earned night’s rest. What an exciting day. It was a heavy work load, but well worth the effort and the expense of fitting out the trike with the right equipment to deal correctly with the complex task at hand of dealing with air traffic, restricted and danger areas, and air traffic controllers designating specific altitudes and unfamiliar reporting points while keeping in close contact with the others in our little group …. and dozens of photographic opportunities. The friendly hosts at our motel in Ballina kindly allowed us to empty the digital camera onto some CD’s to give Anne room on the camera to make more memories.

        Tuesday 7th August. We were breakfasted, packed up, transported to Ballina Airfield, lined up to refuel with all our possessions safely stowed. But, what’s this? A sign on the Avgas bowser “OUT OF ORDER”! Can’t be!!! The Gazelle needs fuel and the trikes intended to top up, too. Neither the fuel supplier nor the aerodrome manager were willing to assist, despite the fact that a couple of jerry cans and a taxi ride or two to the nearest service service station in town would have seen us fixed, because all three aircraft can also run on unleaded motor fuel. Their best assistance was,” You can be stuck in worse places than Ballina, the tech guy should be down from Brisbane maybe tomorrow afternoon”. Really???! No fuel, no NOTAM, no assistance. Not happy Jan. Fortunately for us, someone from the Lightwing factory abutting the airfield wandered down to see if he could be of assistance, and the owner, Howard Hughes, allowed us to purchase fuel from his personal pump. Much appreciated guys.

        So we flew out of Ballina after all, before lunch time, too. Skirting around Evans Head aircraft gunnery range, we joined the coast line once more, tracking towards Coffs Harbour controlled air space. It amazed me how human created urban wealth has been generated from miles and miles of land that was unsuitable for productive agriculture or pasturelands. It mainly appeared to be low scrub, swamps and mangroves lining beautiful, long, clean, sandy beaches. Then suddenly, there were intensive, expensive housing developments and tourist developments. People who drive to these destinations, or fly in commercial jets would never notice things we were privileged to experience by flying low and slowly over our continent’s edges. Individual rock outcrops rose above the sea level to break the serene creams and golds of sandy beaches mingling with white sea foam, aqua, turquoises, teals, and deep sea greens of the waters. Magnificent! Small communities clung defiantly to the entrances of small freshwater rivers and streams. On our coastal crawl we had seen dugongs, dolphins, schools of fish and even whales. It all made me feel greatly in awe of the cartographers who mapped this huge, intricate coastline from water level in their sailing ships a couple of hundred years ago. (No pressing the GO TO button on the GPS then!)

        The controllers at Coffs Harbour were very busy but friendly, and dealt with our requests efficiently, so we traversed the waters adjacent to the affluent Coffs Harbour region, on to Nambucca Heads and along the coast to land at Port Macquarie.

        The headwinds were still building, so we decided to alter our flight route. Fires burning in the area were creating lots of smoke which was blowing out over the coast, and time was marching on. We would be unlikely to reach our destination at Newcastle before last light. So we set a more direct course towards Taree, then to the lane through Williamtowm military airspace, with an upper limit of 1500 feet, dropping to 1000 feet towards Maitland. It follows a course along a railway and road, passed the town of Gloucester. We heard of quite a few pilots who slightly breached the military airspace, by their own admission, as the flew south, but, with the aid of a good GPS it was a breeze to fly safely within the narrow boundaries of the lane right down to the Hunter Valley. This flight plan alteration turned out to be a very enjoyable change. Skirting up wind from the fires and avoiding the turbulence generated by them, we flew over timber mills, rivers with picturesque bridges, towns, mines and trains, both passenger and freight, while following the roads and rail tracks through the valley as the shadows lengthened and threw each ridge and valley into greater relief against the sunlit sky beyond the multitude of blue ranges. It was a lovely part of our trip.

As we exited the lane into the valley of the Hunter River, evidence of the recent widespread floods was everywhere. In the river bed itself, shrubs which had been tormented by the rushing flood waters were still lying, lined up like soldiers, at an angle of 45 degrees or more, perhaps destined to grow that way forever. Pooling water was still lying in paddocks, and an enormous amount of river sand had reshaped the contours of the river bed. We landed at Maitland, secured our aircraft as the sun went down, and caught a taxi into a motel at the end of a long, but very satisfying day.

        Wednesday 8th August. Eager to fly down Victor One, passed Port Jackson and Botany Bay at 500 feet above sea level, which was below cliff top in some places, we donned our life jackets again as we packed our belongings on the aircraft after refueling. As we taxied out to the runway, a General Aviation aircraft coming in to land radioed the comment that it might be a bit rough for us if we intended to fly Victor One today. OK. Thank you. Comment taken on board. But we are a little more used to weather than most trike pilots, so it probably won’t phase us …. We took off, and as soon as we turned off runway heading, Anne noticed it!! But it is probably just at low levels …. NOT!!!!(and we were going to have to descend to 500 feet, remember!) We turned towards our planned track, and felt the whole brunt of the washing machine wind, funneling from the Western Plains, through the Hunter Valley and fanning out again on the coastal plain. I said to Peter, “Just take me to Mudgee, forget Victor One, PLEASE??” But that wasn’t an option either, so we bounced around the sky whilst making a decision. We opted to turn for Wall’s End, the privately owned strip we had flown from when our trike was brand new. I was very thankful to touch down smoothly and safely. So were Les and Harold. But Harold had heard the radio traffic between the two trikes, so had not followed us through the gap in the ridge. He missed out on the full washing machine experience by turning immediately for Wall’s End and flying around on the windward side of the ridge. Wise man. We spent the rest of the day visiting the Airborne factory, and had an early night, so we could rise at 5am, and be in the air, heading west for Mudgee before the wind built too much.

        Thursday 9th August. All went to plan. We were breakfasted, refueled, packed and airborne before 6.30am. But the wind had decided to get up early, too. It was a smooth, but extremely slow track straight into the wind. There were a couple of times when we were only achieving 23 nautical miles per hour ground speed. The scenery was interesting, but took ages to pass. The huge open cut coalmines at Singleton were amazing to see from a low altitude. Even when we turned at Denman, To adjust our track to Mudgee, the best speeds we attained were less than 50 nautical miles an hour ground speed. For a while we followed the Goulburn river valley, which contained green farms and a railway, climbing up into the Great Dividing Range.

It was easy to imagine that clearings up the valleys, where streams fed the larger rivers, were carved out of the bush by squatter families and settled many decades ago. The sedimentary and volcanic rock formations were really majestic as we flew beside them. But, by the time we were lined up on runway 22 for a straight-in approach at Mudgee, we were all more than happy to get out onto the ground. More than three-and-a-half hours from Newcastle to Mudgee was more than enough for one leg in a trike, especially with  Anne’s arthritic knees. We booked into a motel, went to a pub for a hot meal, and rested up to get another early start. By this time, Les had generously shared his “dreaded lurgy” with both Harold and Peter, who first coughed within seconds of each other, and continually raced each other to show the next symptons.

        Friday 10th August.  Up again before first light to get a head start on the Westerly winds, we lifted off and headed for Parkes while the shadows were still long and blue. We have flown this way before, so the familiarity allows us to mentally measure our progress passed this valley, that erosion, those houses, the small town of Molong on our right …. it was still flying into a strong headwind, but the light was enchanting, and the mist lying in the valleys and swirling as it burnt off Lake Burrandong was picturesque. Soon we distinguished the shape of “The Dish”, the huge radio telescope of motion pictures and the first moon landing fame, which we had visited with previous Megafauna Flyers groups. Then the township of Parkes itself was perched on a familiar hill above and beyond Parkes Aerodrome. We refueled, stretched and became airborne once more, this time tracking for Temora. The now crosswind came close to giving us a slight tailwind advantage, and it was a relatively smooth 80 nautical miles to our destination, so we were meeting our goal to fly home to Yarrawonga, instead of stopping for another night. Our forethought of shopping in Mudgee meant we could quickly make up a fresh bread roll with meat and cheese to scoff, with a hot coffee, in the Temora Aeroclub kitchen which was kindly opened for us. We also refueled, then , refreshed, we pressed on within an hour of landing at Temora.

        What a difference an hour can make! What had been a pleasant morning flight, had become an unpredictably turbulent flight by early afternoon. The last couple of hours of flying is best forgotten, so I took no pictures to remind me. A bit of turbulence which can be predicted is no problem to encounter, but we were unable to predict just when the turbulence would affect us, and Anne was unhappy again. When Harold, whose bit of extra cruising speed made him our “scout” on most legs of the trip, was nearing Yarrawonga, he radioed back to the trikes that it was actually getting rougher. He was right. When landing at Yarrawonga, the wind decided not to play the game, and blew crosswind to all strip directions, just to give us all one last challenge for the trip. It  had been a long day, and as we put the three aircraft to bed in our hangar, we were very happy to have achieved our goals. Even we were surprised to have traveled 1824.4nm in thirty-seven hours of flying, mostly  into strong headwinds. We had seen a great variety of landforms, agricultural pursuits, mining operations, natural and man-made tourist meccas, and, best of all, had shared this wealth of experiences with good friends. We could have traveled our route in faster aircraft in a single day, but I’m proud to have done it “our way”.


Two weeks after our trip the television news was full of bushfires burning out of control along the areas where we had seen all the small but smoky burns. The west winds have built up and caused far more trouble than any problems they gave to our flight plans. Apparently there was no water to put them out in their early stages, but early intervention with CL 415’s dropping sea water on the fires in the bush would have nipped in the bud the ones we saw on the eastern side of the Great Dividing Range!

        Also, flash floods were causing havoc with property along the Gold Coast. With all the man-made waterways, this doesn’t really surprise me. People were saying that they were 100 year floods, in one breath, and that they were the worst floods they had had in the area for fifteen years, in the next breath. Seems to me that somebody got it wrong, somewhere in the design phase of these trapped backwaters which give everyone

“water front properties”. I guess the property designers have moved on! Harold, in his capacity in Telstra has had to return to Queensland this week to help rectify the communications affected in the flooded areas.

        All in all, I guess we were just lucky not to have been travelling a fortnight later, or, in the case of the Hunter River floods, a few weeks earlier! Casual mention has been made of a future trip starting at Barwon Heads and following the southern Australian coastline from there, to join up at Port Macquarie where we left the coast on this trip. Mmm, .… food for thought.


  • GeoBlaze

    Thanks for posting this account of your adventure... I thoroughly enjoyed reading it !

  • Ken

    Wow, Epic Trip! Cant wait to see the photo journal.