It turned out that the day did in fact end up being 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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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