After a restful night’s sleep I woke up to a breakfast of leftover cheese and donuts. I couldn’t sleep in too long because Ken and Ruth had arranged for Wendy, a reporter from the local Pittsworth Sentinel, to come and interview me about the flight. As well as providing some exposure for the flight and the African Promise charity, this would bring some attention to the Fig Tree venue. Wendy and her dogs arrived right on time and we spent a while talking about the trip so far and the plans for the Pacific crossing.
The interview was complete by about noon. I said my goodbyes to Ken (Ruth had headed off to work) and departed from Fig Tree on the downhill runway, the opposite direction to that in which I had landed. It was convenient that the wind had cooperated to allow the easiest landing and take-off directions on each day!
After quick stops at Pittsworth and Wellcamp airports, I parked Planey up for longer at Toowoomba to refuel and stretch my legs. A fancy new Cirrus pulled in behind me to fill up next and I got talking to the pilot. He was part-owner of the aircraft, and had flown over as part of an Angel Flight – this is a charity that uses volunteer pilots and planes to transport people who need to travel long distance for medical care. After a bit of time chatting to one of the flight school students I started Planey up again and made the final short flight over to Gatton Airpark.
This would be our second visit to Gatton, having been there the previous November right at the start of the tour around Australia. Ray and Steve had hosted us for a night, and had invited a return visit. After the fantastic hospitality they had shown last time, including throwing a party that evening with several other pilots from around the airpark, this was an offer that I couldn’t refuse.
I parked Planey up outside Steve and Ray’s hangar. Ray greeted us and we enjoyed cold drinks before getting going on a little final maintenance before the departure from Australia; an oil and filter change, and setup of the long-range HF radio which would be required for the Pacific legs. I also took the opportunity for a thorough clean-up and organisation of the aircraft’s interior, identifying a bag of items which could be thrown away, and a second bag which could be mailed home as they wouldn’t be essential for the rest of the trip. This all saved valuable weight from needing to be carried across the ocean.
That evening there was another airfield social event to attend; this time, a big gathering in another hangar for people to enjoy some food and drink while watching the State of Origin rugby match. This annual best-of-three series is held between the New South Wales Blues, and the Queensland Maroons; apparently Australians like to keep things simple and name their teams after the uniform colour! Much to the delight of most of those present, with us being located in Queensland, the Maroons emerged victorious.
The next day was the last full day before departure, and I had planned it to be a quiet one. The only flight would be a short hop over to Archerfield, the general aviation airfield that serves Brisbane. In the morning Steve and I finished the setup of the HF radio, before departure to Archerfield in the early afternoon.
On arrival at Archerfield the first order of business was to refuel, including 60 gallons of fuel into the ferry tank. Although one could comfortably reach the first island destination on the main tanks alone, there was no harm in taking plenty of extra fuel, especially as I would still be within the aircraft’s weight and balance limits.
I parked Planey up near the GA terminal building and took the bag of “things to ship home” with me, hailing an Uber to the hotel in downtown Brisbane. That afternoon I ran a few final errands; replenishing the ditching dry bag with some drinks and high energy snacks, and mailing the parcel home from Pack N Ship.
The final evening was spent taking a walk through Brisbane to enjoy the sights of downtown and the river, stopping for a fantastic Italian meal overlooking the waterfront. An early night was the order of the day, as I’d be up well before dawn to head out to Archerfield and finally begin the Pacific crossing.
The alarm went off distressingly early, with dawn still far away. I stumbled out of bed and gathered my bags, heading downstairs to my waiting Uber. Stopping at my friend Juvy’s hotel to pick her up, we made our way out to Archerfield and pre-flighted Planey as dawn slowly began to hint at its arrival in the sky to the east. After one final visit to the terminal facilities we boarded Planey, started up, and taxied for departure. The control tower was not open at this time so we self-announced and departed, turning on course for Brisbane International.
I had arranged to stop and clear customs at Brisbane International. Flying into this busy airport has some challenges that don’t apply to most airports in Australia, such as the need to secure arrival/departure slot timings and a parking slot well in advance. I had done this, and had also filed a flight plan for the short hop from Archerfield to the international field. Unfortunately I had missed the final requirement, buried in the Australian airport information sheets, which stated that specifically for flights from Archerfield it was necessary to phone the controller before take-off to get clearance. This led to a five minute delay but was soon resolved and we were cleared in on a left base to land.
We parked up on the general aviation apron and shut down. Due to the high cost of using a handling agent at the airport I had contacted Australian Border Force in advance to see whether it was possible to coordinate directly with them, and they had given me instructions on how to apply for an “Off Terminal Clearance”. They would meet us on the GA apron on arrival and indeed, two young officers showed up not too long after we had parked. They immediately had what can only be described as “an attitude”, with the female officer announcing repeatedly about how unusual this was, and that they never accept requests to come out to the GA apron. I resisted the temptation to point out that this was clearly untrue, as they’d accepted mine and here they were.
This officer in particular seemed very put out at having had to leave the terminal, and they insisted that every single item was removed from the aircraft. They then proceeded on a thorough search of almost every bag. The concept of a man and a woman traveling together without sleeping together seemed alien to them and they repeatedly insisted that Juvy and I must be being intimate. It was entirely unclear what relevance this had to customs and immigration. They delved deeply into the reason for the trip, the ownership of the aircraft, and how everything was funded; these seemed rather more normal lines of inquiry. Eventually, having dug up only some expired over-the-counter meds in Juvy’s bag which had a restricted ingredient in Australia, they gave us our clearance and we could be on our way. Quite the “goodbye” from Australia!
With everything re-packed we started up and called for clearance and taxi, which was quickly granted. The taxi route to runway 19 was extremely short and we were soon lined up and ready for departure. I pushed the throttle in and we lumbered down the runway and into the air, turning onto our assigned heading of 110 degrees and climbing up to 4,000 feet. This was the “Brisbane 4” standard departure which can be summarised as “follow the instructions that air traffic control give you”.
The weather was fantastic, with a high pressure system dominating the region bringing gentle winds and mostly clear skies. Shortly after coasting out we were directed to climb up to our final cruising altitude of 9,000ft, and once there we settled into a comfortable cruise at 140kts, burning about 13 gallons per hour. We booted up the HF radio for the first time and somewhat surprisingly it worked fantastically; much better that the last time I’d had it set up for the crossings to and from New Zealand. I’m not sure what had caused the improvement but I was certainly not complaining. Brisbane asked us to keep a listening watch over the HF, so we complied and settled in for the first big water crossing of this part of the trip.
As we cruised, the occasional interesting conversation came over the HF. “Velocity 161”, a Virgin Australia flight from Sydney to Queenstown came up first, reporting unspecified equipment failure and a need to return to origin. Not long later came a Skyvan relaying messages for ZK-DXA, a New Zealand registered Cessna 180 on its way west from Norfolk Island to Australia. Apparently they had decided to forgo the HF radio (not unreasonable given how temperamental they can be, and the fact that nobody seems to mind) and had been using a satellite phone instead, but it had died.
A couple of hours from arrival the Avidyne 540 GPS flashed up a message – “GPS position lost”. This GPS is the primary means of navigation in the aircraft, and the only GPS officially approved for navigational purposes (technically the panel-mounted Aera 660 and the iPad are for “situational awareness” only). It was not clear what was causing the issue; the Aera 660 was still locked on to 6+ satellites but the Avidyne was only picking up 1. Ten minutes later, the GPS signal magically came back and the issue never returned.
90 minutes out from Noumea we switched the HF over to Nadi Radio, who are responsible for HF communications with traffic in and out of New Caledonia. They provided a frequency for approach control on VHF, and told us to call them up as we passed NISAS waypoint. Multiple HF operators share a few frequencies across the Pacific, and in addition to Nadi Radio we could hear messages from Auckland Radio every now and then. Approach control assigned us the NISAS2 arrival, transitioning to an ILS W approach to Runway 11 at La Tontouta International airport; however, the weather was clear so I both expected and received a visual approach once a bit closer in. We touched down and taxied to parking stand P65.
Nobody seemed to be around. After shedding lifejackets and pocketing our passports, we set out to walk over to the terminal. Half way there we were intercepted by a friendly, rather flustered-looking lady. Despite my emailing our arrival details a couple of days earlier, she reported that her colleagues had only just passed them on to her as we arrived, and told her to go and deal with us!
Chatting away in a mixture of English and French (her English was much better than my French) we headed into the terminal and swiftly passed through customs and immigration. The whole process was quick and efficient and within a half hour we were back at the aircraft for the short domestic flight to the downtown general aviation airport of Magenta. Tower cleared us for departure to the south via point “M”, and off we went.
The flight to Magenta was just a few minutes, with us joining right base for runway 13 to land. Tower directed us to parking next to an Airvan and we tied Planey down while chatting with the French family who were loading up next to us.
With Planey secured we exited the airport through the vehicle gate and persuaded a very nice lady in the adjacent aviation business to phone a taxi for us; neither of our phones were working here. After about fifteen minutes a car turned up and soon after we were dropped off at the Hotel Gondwana in the center of Noumea. After a short rest we headed out for a surprisingly excellent Indian meal before turning in for a good long rest.
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