I slept poorly, apprehensive about the upcoming flights and the uncertainties around fuel. As well as the issues with the unreliable handlers in American Samoa, the fuelers on Kiritimati had stopped responding to any phone calls or emails, so it wasn’t entirely clear how or if fuel would be available on arrival there despite having pre-paid for the barrels long in advance. Today, however, should be more straightforward; a five hour flight to Fiji. Despite being offensively overpriced in terms of handling and airport fees, the handling agents there were at least helpful and responsive so I was confident that all would go as planned.
Leaving the hotel at 0530, before sunrise, we met Marc at Magenta airport. He and Paola would be flying the Spirit of Noumea over to the main airport with us, to see us off. Marc handled the radios for us as a flight of two and we set off to La Tontouta International, parking up again in spot P65 to be met by the airport representative.
The formalities outbound took a little longer than they had on the way in, but were still quick and efficient. Fees were extremely reasonable, which would be the last time I could say that until we arrived in Hawaii. Back out at the aircraft we said our final goodbyes, started up, and called for clearance.
ATC let us know that it would be a 15 minute wait for departure due to an incoming IFR airliner. I asked if we could instead depart VFR, and change to IFR en route; this was approved and we were given clearance for an immediate takeoff. In coordination with ATC we flew a wide circle out to the west of the airport to gain altitude, reaching 6,000ft over the LTO VOR before turning east across the mountains that make up the central spine of New Caledonia and continuing the climb up to 9,000ft.
An A330 from the local airline, Air Calin, touched down beneath us as we passed back over the airport. This had been the IFR traffic which was on its way in as we departed. We settled in at 9,000ft, achieving a true airspeed of 140 knots as we cruised on out past the Loyalty Islands and were handed over to Nadi Radio on the HF. The forecast tailwind never turned up, and winds remained neutral for the entire firve hour crossing.
100 miles out we started to pick up Nadi on the VHF, and said goodbye to the HF controller. We started a descent over a variety of tiny out-islands and reefs, being cleared for a visual approach to runway 02 over the Denarau Marine. Even from this altitude some of the yachts moored up here were astonishing in their luxury; they’d be even more impressive later that day when we saw them from ground level.
The ground controller directed us to stand 13 at the main terminal and we parked up to be met by the friendly and efficient Davila and her handling team from Sunflower Aviation. The two young men assisting her were both pilots in training and were interested and excited to see a little Cessna 182 arriving internationally.
We refueled on arrival, the last time that we’d fuel from a truck (well, a trailer in this case) instead of barrels until Hawaii. We uploaded 470 liters; I had managed to identify a potential source of avgas in Independent Samoa with the help of the fantastic Stephen Death, and planned to load one barrel there. Carrying a little extra fuel out of Fiji would enable me to avoid buying a second of the very expensive Samoan barrels.
Passage through the airport with the assistance of the Sunflower team was quick and easy, and they even gave us a ride to the Denarau Marina. Juvy had arranged our accommodation on a little resort off the coast, set on its own small island. The catch was that the only access was by boat. It was a few hours until the evening boat was set to depart so we spent it at the shopping mall by the marina, starting off with a fantastic Indian meal for a late lunch.
The boat eventually left an hour late, and took us on the 30 minute ride across to Serenity Island. Resort staff had gathered to sing a welcome song as we were shuttled to the shore on a smaller vessel. After check-in I stayed in the lobby for a while longer to work on some planning for the next legs, and was treated to a display of traditional Fijian dance by some of the staff. After calling family at home in the UK to give them an update I headed off to bed, looking forward to a couple of days relaxing on Serenity Island.
After an excellent night’s sleep I awoke just in time to catch the final few minutes of the breakfast buffet. As I was finishing up I noticed that the small shuttle boat was loading a few people up, and encouraging others to join them for a fish feeding excursion. I grabbed my breakfast Pina Colada and boarded. We cruised out a little way from shore and spent a while floating around, throwing scraps of leftover bread to the little fish hanging around the shallows.
The rest of the morning was spent in a fairly lazy fashion, reading as well as working on plans for the next legs. In the afternoon we took a walk around the perimeter of the island, which didn’t take too long. We came across a few of the staff building a bonfire; they let us know that it would be lit that evening soon after sunset and invited us to come back and watch. After dinner that’s exactly what we did, drinks in hand.
We sat and chatted with other guests including a young Australian couple who had found a coconut. “How do you feel about science?” the guy asked me, and I of course answered positively. “Great”, he said, “we want to put this coconut on the fire and see what happens”.
It was anticlimactic.
The next day was another quiet one, with a little process on the planning front. The landing permit for Kiritimati had been received from their Civil Aviation Authority (despite their AIP clearly stating that no permit was required; in many of these more lackadaisically run countries even the officially published information cannot be trusted), and they also sent through a “COVID Standard Operating Procedure” document detailing requirements for arrival.
The document very clearly seemed to be out of date. It asked for a collection of documents to be emailed to a government email address, which turned out to no longer exist. Another email address also listed in the document no longer existed either. Querying this with the contact at the CAA, he proclaimed that nobody had told him anything about the document being out of date, so as far as he was concerned it still needed to be complied with. Clearly the government agencies in Kiritimati were not run in a very competent fashion.
Click here to read the next part of the story.