Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Day 16

Had a peek out of the window when I woke up this morning, a beautiful sunny day! Of course it was! The wind is still fairly strong, but the clouds that have haunted us for the last two weeks have finally gone. Tracey spoke to Heathlands and they reported better, but still not great, weather up there.
It was very pleasent not having to pack up a wet camp again today. Steve & Tanya decided they wanted to see Weipa, so we thought we'd tag along, giving Ted a day off from everyone as well. A plan was hatched to meet up again at Musgrave Station.
The road into Weipa is brilliant and it takes about 1 1/2 hours from Merluna into town. A set of traffic lights and railway crossing gates greets the visitor as they enter the town itself. The traffic lights are to allow the mining trucks through on their road. The port had two ships loading dirt. The town is actually nice and green, plenty of parks and facilities, with a shopping centre and pretty much most things you would need. We stocked up on crap snacks and junk food for the outward journey, as well as checked e-mails and made a few phone calls (pretty sad, really) We took a drive out towards Mapoon, over the bridges, eventually sighting a mining truck to take a photo of. Happy with the days hunting, we headed back to town to fuel up and have a quick lunch.
The afternoons entertainment was provided by Tanya's Ipod. This has many obscure (and many more woeful) 80's hits and misses. It almost became a wish-wish Ipod (that's the noise it makes as it sails through the air, wish-wish-wish) Tracey's Ipod also has some pretty embarrassing stuff on it as well, so we played all of them too.
Coen was the last stop of the day, we went out to meet Charlie, the Mad Maltese Miner. He's actually not mad at all, he is a very friendly and personable bloke with an out of control hair-do and mighty strong arms from years of digging holes. He hasn't thrown anything out, ever. Instead he uses his bush skills and inventivness to come up with machines to work for him, and to make sculptures to display in the garden. He has a windmill made of two 44gallon drums welded together, driving a car alternator to generate electricity. He also has a device that uses three car gearboxes to drive an old fashioned gold stamper, he demonstrates this to those who visit his house. Some of the walls of his house are made from bottles. All different coloured bottles. He has articles displayed on the wall of the many times he has featured in newspapers, magazines, also movies and TV documentaries made about the Cape. Would have been nice to spend more time there, but Musgrave beckoned, so off we went in a cloud of dust.

Ted had managed to snaffle the last cabin at Musgrave, so we set up camp down near the creek at Musgrave. A meal and TV watching (it's mesmerising!) rounded out the days adventures. The sun has shone all day and it is nice to be dry. We have the fly on the tent tonight, as there will be a dew and it would be a shame to wet everything again, so close to home.


Weipa traffic

moving house...near Archer River.

Charlie's artworks, using recycled materials.

Bob & Tracey

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Day 15

Well, today was D day. The weather only needed to clear for two hours, giving us enough time to get to Merluna and clear of the coast with it's low cloud and harsh winds.
It was not to be....
The wind and rain kept up all night. The clouds actually seemed to be lower than they were yesterday, which I did not think was possible. The decision was really made for us. We have no choice but to leave the trike here and head for home in the vehicles.

I took a few deep breaths, but it didn't stop the sense of disillusionment at the weather. All we needed was a few hours of relatively good weather, not even great weather, just reasonable weather and we could have been in with a chance of flying back.

I am gutted that we have not flown any of the areas we wished to fly, seen any of the things we wanted to see from the air, nor taken any of the others flying at all. This has been a terrible let-down for me, as I had planned and would have dearly loved to take the others on scenic flights, and give them a chance to see the amazing view from the air. I know we have flown very close, and it has been an incredible effort, but I still feel a lingering sense of what might have been, given a fair fight with the weather.
No amount of jumping up and down, shaking your fists and yelling bad words at the clouds changes anything, in fact it just hurts your throat...so I am told.....so instead I sullenly packed up the wet, soggy camp and we again turned away from Heathlands, this time heading south. The rain stayed with us all the way to Bramwell Junction, and eased as we went further south. By the time we got to Merluna Station, it was only fully overcast, with only 20 knot gusts along the airstrip that we should have been landing at.
Merluna is actually a great spot. Cameron and Michelle are lovely people and made us feel very welcome. Cameron gave us a rundown on the property (over 140 species of birds) and the local area, as well as fishing spots and local sights. They mentioned that they have not seen it this windy at this time of year in the 6 years they have lived there..... Typical.
We settled into our converted workers cottage and dried out wet camping gear, charged batteries (both human and lithium) and explored the house area. Steve spotted a windmill that just cried out to be photographed, so that's where he spent the rest of the afternoon. Dinner was cooked by Michelle and devoured by all. We hung around the dinner table, just enjoying the atmosphere and chatting away. No star trails tonight, still cloudy. At least the rain has stopped and we are nice and dry.

Steve and the windmill....


Bob & Tracey

Day 14

A time of sad farewells to Punsand Bay and it's unforgettable (for all the wrong reasons) weather. We packed up double-time, as showers rolled through camp soaking all the things that were just about to be loaded into the cars. Sun would come out, so more stuff would be stacked ready to load....shower wets every thing in the new stack! Thus, we managed to get everything soaked before it was loaded.
We bounced down the driveway just after 8 oclock. At Bamaga, we turned left and went via the short cut to the PDR. This was pretty corrugated, but much shorter. Still not sure if it was worth it. The Jardine River Ferry is the next chance to stretch the legs, and a quick photo before scuttling across the river. Stopped for fuel ($2.40cpl for diesel). The road south is a chance to stretch the legs of the cars. The weather hasn't improved, and chased us south towards Eliot Falls and Heathlands.
Jardine River Ferry


We decided to head out to Captain Billy Landing, as it looked like we'd get to Heathlands too early. We had been warned about the road out there, so we cautiously drove down the track, expecting at any time to have to turn around. As it was, the road is fabulous and driveable in a normal sedan. Cpt Billy landing is a beautiful point on the coast. It is very exposed, and cops the full brunt of the weather. The vegetation has been sculpted into amazing shapes by the wind. Not only that, the rocks of the actual point are layered, so they lend themselves very well to being photographed. There are caves that run into the cliffs, and hidden in them are bat colonies. We caught a glimpse of the bats as we peered in, but didn't want to disturb them, so left them be.

Captain Billy Landing
We got into Heathlands about 4pm. The trike was as we had left it, much to our relief. Nothing has moved or been blown apart in the wind, and everything looks un-marked. We left it as it was, with the weather the way it was, we decided to leave the covers on until morning. Cloud base was even lower here, less than 200ft, and showers constantly moving quickly over the landscape. Here we can see the showers moving in from the coast, and have gotten pretty good at judging if they our coming for us or will miss us. Camp was a discreet distance from the trike. We set up a tarp in a vain attempt to keep dry. All this did was re-direct the water gathered in the tarp and strategically dump it on the person who bumped the tarp as they walked under it. This, as you can imagine, did much to improve everyone's sense of humour.....
We will see what the new day brings....

Bob & Tracey

Monday, June 28, 2010

Day 13


Time for something different. Instead of going to the tip of the country at sunset, this time we went at Sunrise!
Into the teeth of the howling gale, we walked over the rocks to the tip once again. Once again, the wind tried to blow us into the water. As the waves crashed into the rocks, the salt spray washed our cameras and lenses in grimy, misty fog.  Steve got big bertha out, his ultrawide angle panorama camera and lugged it to the tip, in the hope of a decent sunrise. I don’t know if the camera is called big bertha or not, I just made that up. It is a huge contraption that demands to be delicately carried along with about ½ a ton of accessories and tripods and who-knows-what-else. This is Tanya’s role. Then there is the taking of the photo itself. Luckily, the cape is only moving northwards at about 3cm per year, otherwise the photo would be blurry, it takes so long to get the shot. As for our sunrise, we got a sort of half-hearted sunrise, the sun shyly hiding behind big banks of showers and cloud scudding off the coast until almost too late. Once again, we had the place to ourselves. Hard to believe that it is still possible to be in such an iconic place and not have anyone else around. Not just once, but three times!
Sunrise (kind of) at the tip.
 We witnessed a remarkable phenomenon on the walk back. The tide was low when we reached the tip, and had started to come in as we headed back. The tidal water rushing through the small gap between the mainland, Eborac and York Islands created a massive upwelling of water just the other side of the channel, right near the beach. The area under the surface must be a real obstacle course, judging by the force with which the water was surging to the surface. The surging created a huge flat area of bubbling, heaving water, while at the sides was a series of whirlpools, waves and wash-back currents that looked incredible and probably just hinted at the forces that were actually at play under the water! Not a place to be in a dinghy or tinnie. Really glad to be watching that from dry land!
 A visit to Somerset on the way back wasn’t quite as inspiring. The light was ‘all wrong’ so we didn’t linger.
Teddy caught the fishing bug this afternoon, and roped Tanya in. I had a go as well. Ted, our esteemed and newly appointed fishing guide, decreed that manky meat left overs was the bait of discerning fish everywhere, but it soon became apparent that even Punsand Bay fish don’t like past-it’s-used-by-date meat, so some squid was purchased from the shop. The results however, remained pretty much the same. Not so much as a nibble. Our fishing efforts caused some amusement to the kids on the beach, but spectacularly failed to motivate the local fish population into chomping ferociously onto our delicately baited hooks. So rather than a mountain of fresh local fish for tea, caught by our own hands, we had pasta
Tried to book a helicopter scenic flight for tomorrow morning, but the pilot doesn’t do mornings apparently. He refused a booking for three people for a half hour flight (over $900 worth) because it was ‘too early’. So we won’t get our aerial shot of the tip after all we have been through. Not to worry, a good excuse to come back some time. We did watch the helicopter take-off and land on the beach a few times this afternoon, taking 10 minute ‘scenic’s’ but we all thought conditions were pretty marginal for flying and we wouldn’t get good photos if we went this afternoon. So we stayed on the ground. Couldn’t see the point of paying to take photos from inside the cloud! Showers scudding through camp again this evening.
 Logged on to the weather, rather pointlessly, again tonight. I was going to say the forecast was the same, but it wasn’t. Tonight it had 20-30 knots, as has been usual the last two weeks, but with the added bonus of ‘showers extending inland’!
The plan at this stage is to head back to Heathlands and stay the night, to see if we can get a window of a couple of hours to fly to Merluna station. Plan ‘B’ is to drive back and then come back with the trailer at some stage. Hopefully, it won’t come to that.
Thus ends our last full day at Punsand Bay.


nothing to see here....our fishing guide hard at work.

Helicopter flying anyone? The view from Punsand Bay beach.

Nice flying conditions.....


Bob & Tracey

Day 12


Steve and Tanya booked a ferry ride to TI today, so they left nice and early to get to Sesia by 8oclock. The ferry to TI wasn’t big enough for Tracey, especially as the weather forecast was 25knts, so we stayed on dry land. The weather hasn’t changed, still windy and showery and cloud base of only 300ft. We did get a text from them later saying the weather on TI was fine and sunny, but we didn’t believe them. Our day was spent bouncing over the corrugations back into Bamaga with Teddy, then out to Somerset for a look around. Hard to believe that anyone thought Somerset was ever going to be the Singapore of the North, as the Albany channel is really narrow and the current swirls and rushes through when the tide turns.
It’s an atmospheric place; the ghosts of broken dreams and lost opportunities can be seen and heard all around. To think of the work and sweat and blood and sheer bloody effort that the Jardine brothers went to just to even get to Somerset, walking hundreds of cattle across the rivers and gullies and swamps from Rockhampton all this way, only to have their dreams crumble in a few years is a salient reminder for those of us lucky enough to live in this day and age, to never start anything too hard or try anything that might fail! It certainly brings into perspective our efforts to get to the Cape. Here we were complaining about how hard it has been, yet we haven’t spent weeks on a horse, or swam any rivers, or been attacked by anyone (apart from the weather).
We did try to walk around the point to see some cave paintings that are there, but the tide was edging closer to our path, and might have cut us off coming back. So we chickened out.  Any swimming done around here, by necessity has to be world record speed or better. Even then, it won’t be quick enough.  Instead, we wandered about the bay, taking photos, looking at the various graves that dot the area behind the beach, and generally just pottered about.
Teddy got us bogged on the tracks to the lakes. Luckily, a bloke was behind us with all the gear and we were out pretty quickly. We turned back to Somerset and then back to Punsand Bay.
Steve and Tanya had a great time on TI, they really enjoyed the day.   Despite their glowing reports, Tracey was still glad she didn’t get on that boat!
Dinner tonight was at the resort. Tracey put on a surprise birthday cake for me, and everyone in the restaurant joined in, despite not knowing me from a bar of soap. There was an embarrassing pause from everyone who wasn’t at our table when it came to ‘happy birthday dear……’ but other than that it was all good. The birthday cake was cooked by the chef at the resort, and caused Tracey much angst during the day, especially when we were bogged and she thought we’d be there all day! The BBQ was nicely done, plenty of good food and good company, all you could want on a birthday really! Late to bed tonight, well after 9pm!
Bob & Tracey      

At the intersection between Punsand Bay and the Tip 
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        

Friday, June 25, 2010

Day 11


Once again, the wind and showers kept up all night. We have a couple of Papuan Frogmouths in the trees here that make a racket all night long.  They are probably complaining about the weather as well. All the locals we speak to can’t believe it either. Someone said they are surprised that Thursday Island harbour is still open, due to the wind. All the boats have been sheltering wherever they can. It seems incredible that we have had 10 continuous days over 30knts, with more to come it seems. I have never seen so many strong wind warnings as I have seen in the last two weeks. Our usual perfect timing!
We decided to head into Bamaga and get something to eat and check out Sesia as well. We rattled and bounced our way into town. The mobile reception is very selective, it works in the main st of Bamaga, but drive 1km towards Sesia and it drops out completely. There isn’t a huge amount to see at Sesia, but it’s always nice to just poke about, going exploring.
This evening we got organised and went back to the tip for another sunset, taking Ted with us. We walked along the beach rather than up and over, as the tide was well out. Trace and Tania organised everything so we could have dinner before we went back to camp. Dinner was at the Château de Nissan X-trail a la carpark, and lemon chicken was the only main and melted Bavarian was the only dessert. A memorable meal in a memorable place. We watched the tide come in along the beach as the light went from the sky and generally soaked up the atmosphere of being about as far north as it’s possible to be in Australia without going for a swim.
 We have re-jigged the schedule to stay an extra night here, to give the wind another day to die off. We will head back to Heathlands on Saturday and try and fly from there Sunday morning. The weather forecast hasn’t changed really, 25-30knts SE, isolated showers….

Bob & Tracey
On the wharf at Sesia


Thursday, June 24, 2010

Day 10 (we get there!)

Day 10
The wind and rain show continued all night. The wind is something that has to be seen and heard to be believed. Even at first light, the wind is at ground level, gusting ferociously through the trees. It cycles in bursts every few minutes, each gust seemingly getting stronger. We haven’t seen any trees blown over, but the way they thrash around it is surprising any are still standing.
We packed the cars and re-arranged things yet again so that everyone can fit. Ted wasn’t up to driving today, so I did the honours. Tracey is wedged in with Steve and Tania, and has a tiny viewing porthole with which to see a small part of the passing scenery, she just needs to stretch her neck to the left, whilst tucking her right shoulder under her left ear, and the view is tremendous!
Steve proposed a different way out of camp, back to the bypass road. He wanted to avoid the deep creek crossing on the way in. We turned right and followed the old telegraph road for about 100m until the first obstacle. This was a deeply potholed creek crossing with a sharp steep exit. Really nasty. So we executed a 27 point turn and headed back out the way we came. The creek crossing we were trying to avoid was a non-event and before we knew it, we were back on the bypass road.
From the Eliot Falls turnoff north, the road is like a highway. It is easy and safe to maintain 100kph with no problems. Jardine River ferry was our first stop. A quick fuel stop, soft drinks all round, over the ferry (the ride takes about 45 seconds) and back on the road. Injinoo doesn’t have much to stop for, but Bamaga was a pleasant surprise. We stopped for sandwiches at the bakery before heading to Punsand Bay. We got settled on our site only a few metres from the beach. Punsand Bay is one bay to the west of the tip. It’s a long sweeping beach with Casuarina trees backing onto the white sand. The water is pretty murky, not surprising given the wind the last week or so. Everyone here cannot believe the wind, they are all talking about it and cannot believe it has continued for so long (neither can we!)
Ted was out of action, so the rest of us decided to head up to the tip for sunset photos. We left Steve to navigate, and he discovered a ‘short cut’ over the Lockerbie road. It is basically two wheel tracks through the forest, sandy and deep. It was actually lucky we went that way, because about ½ way along, we came across a couple stuck in a creek. Their HRV (?) had bellied on the sandy bottom of an ankle deep creek. The bloke had done all the right things, walked across first, and then drove straight into the two deep ruts that he had walked between! They’d been there 2 ½ hours, and the only one having any fun was the dog! We used our snatch-strap to pull them out. The Nissans clutch wasn’t happy, but did the job nicely, albeit a bit overheated. Seemed to work OK on the way back out, so all good.
We had to cross deep creek crossings, move trees off the road, navigate using only a map,  scare the local pigs out of the way, turn around a couple of times,  but in the spirit of adventure, we pushed on and made it. We eventually got out to the car park near the old Pajinka resort. The resort has been abandoned and looks terrible. The buildings are all derelict and it’s a real shame it has been left to be wrecked. We walked out in the howling gale over the rocks towards the tip of Australia. It took a lot longer than most other people, as we kept stopping to take photos. Surprisingly, when we got there, we had the place to ourselves! Every other person in the country was to our south! There was a terrible amount of pixels burned while we were there; we got some great shots of the sunset over the ocean.  It just peeked out behind the cloud banks scudding across the water, right on time.
Dinner was bread rolls back at camp. Ted is feeling better as well.
Bob and Tracey 
Jardine River Ferry Crossing

We made it!

Day 9

Day 9
Someone wise once said that you should know when you are beaten. The weather has beaten us, and we are wise enough to know when we cannot win. We rang our designated responsible adult this morning (thanks Dee) and via the satellite phone, she gave us the forecast for the next few days. Strong wind warning, Strong wind warning, Gale warning. 25-33knts.
So we have decided that with less than 65nm to go, we cannot fly to the tip of Australia.  The weather was always going to be the major player in our trip and so it has come to pass. All our plans and planning included the phrase ‘depends on the weather’. It is simply not safe to fly our little aircraft when the wind is half as fast as we are!
We have flown 90% of the way, over some astonishing country and through tough conditions. We learned a lot about ourselves and our abilities as well as our limits. All of this has combined to make the decision to stop flying for the next few days an easy one. We will repack the cars so that we are a little more comfortable than yesterday. Some gear has been left at a secret location that looks a lot like Heathlands airstrip, but probably isn’t. This will give us enough room to fit two more bodies in the vehicles.
Teddy generously allowed us to use his car to drive the 70ks back to Heathlands from Eliot Falls so we could secure the trike. With the winds as they are, I was not confident that even 8 different tie down points would be enough. When we got to the trike, it was sitting serenely in the howling wind, not moving at all. It was nice to see we predicted the wind direction correctly, but didn’t change our decision that we needed to fold the wings up so that it cannot go anywhere if the wind changes direction. This took a bit of trial and error, as we have never done this before and is probably something we should have thought of before the trip. Anyway, it all went well and soon enough the wing was de-tensioned and the battens pulled out. We folded the leading edges in behind the spats and wrapped them in tarps and secured them with duct-tape. With the trike tied down safely once again, we reluctantly turned back for Eliot Falls. We stopped at Heathlands ranger station and let them know what was happening.
Back at camp, we headed for a swim to cheer us up. The water is just beautiful and it’s so nice to just sit back and soak a little while. The cameras came out blazing again as the sun set over the falls. The sight of the flying foxes heading out was again spectacular, they are just amazing animals. Luckily, Steve forgot to bring his guitar, so he couldn’t sing a song around the camp fire to cheer us up. This probably would not have improved things, I’m guessing. Instead we sat around inside the vestibule of Steve and Tania’s tent chatting, eating chocolate and listening to the rain showers scud across the country. The wind can be heard gusting through the trees from hundreds of metres away. It will be quiet and serene, then the wind starts to rise in pitch as it can be heard coming closer and closer through the trees, the hiss of the leaves rubbing together as the air swirls around the them, branches bending to take the strain then the gust hits camp, blows any loose items over or away, messes up everyone’s hair leaving us looking like we’ve been dragged backwards through a bush, and then everything is serene again for another few minutes. Every 15 minutes or thereabouts, a burst of rain will be added to the cacophony of the wind, wetting everything under the tarps that has been blown loose by the wind and just as everyone has settled down and got their hair organised, away we go again….
Bob & Tracey
On the way to Heathlands

Wrapped up safe (we hope)

Heathlands, as far as we will fly this trip.



Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Day 8

Day 8
I think GPS technology is amazing. The ability to be able to see where you have been and which direction you need to go via a tiny little box of electronic trickery is almost magical. The scenery we tracked across on today’s flight from Moreton Station to Heathlands is pretty much featureless. It has no mountains to track towards. There is only one road that is followed for a short distance. There is only one cattle station on route. So we were relying on the little black box of tricks more than we normally would and it almost led us astray…
Take off from Moreton was around 10 to 7am. Steve and Tania came up to video the take off. The strip is so long it took us ten minutes to taxi to the other end! As soon as we lifted off, the wind was trying to push us back again. The route to Heathlands was crosswind so our speed was around 60knts across the ground. It was clear all around when we left Moreton, but soon enough the clouds came in, forcing us lower than we would normally be comfortable with. We still had plenty of options, so we continued on over the trees and termite hills. Moreton is around 150ft elevation and Heathlands is around 450ft, and it is very noticeable when you reach the plateau that Heathlands sits on, as the trees get smaller and large areas of grass and termite hills start to dominate the landscape.
The GPS ticked off the miles and around 45minutes after leaving Moreton, we spotted the Heathlands Ranger Station. Problem was, the GPS told us we had another 8 miles to go before the strip. We thought that maybe it wasn’t Heathlands after all, but the area ahead was shadowed by clouds, so we couldn’t tell if there was an airstrip there or not. We knew which direction the strip should be facing, and it was right across our path. We flew on another few minutes, keeping an eye out for anything that looked like an airstrip. Tracey spotted it just off to our left, about 2k’s away. The GPS was still stubbornly sticking to 3NM (6km) in front of us. So a good example of everything we have read about cross country flying, which basically says look out the window and don’t rely totally on the magic box!
The landing at Heathlands was interesting. The wind sock told the story of strong wind on the ground, but coming straight down the strip. We sort of hovered over the end of the strip a little while, and then gently set down at the Western end.
We tied down near the windsock, carefully choosing the angle so the wind flows across the wing; this stops the wing from being lifted by the wind from either the front or rear. I have been very impressed with how stable and secure the wing is when the base bar is on the ground.
Grevillea trees and termite hills surrounded us as we used just about every rope on the tie-down kits and every peg. The trike is tied down in eight different places. We put the Billy on and waited for our support team. When they arrived, we had to re-pack the cars. The plan was to camp for two nights at Eliot Falls, so Tracey and I needed to fit in the cars. We eventually got in, although it was pretty uncomfortable (not as uncomfortable as walking, so not complaining too loudly) the bypass road has the worst corrugations of the whole trip. This section of the bypass road isn’t particularly scenic, so it’s not as though the scenery distracts you from the bumps. They are doing a lot of work near the Captain Billy’s Landing turnoff; but the rest of it was rubbish. The campsite at Eliot falls is anything but rubbish. The falls have been a real highlight so far and just the tonic we needed. Everyone has gone a bit berserk with the cameras, so the results should be amazing. The water in the creek glows it is so clear, and cascades over the rocks into beautiful sandy beaches just perfect for swimming and lounging about. There are even Venus Fly Trap vines growing in the trees beside the creek. Delicate ferns and sundews grow in the gaps in the rocks. It’s amazing how quickly the vegetation changes once you are near water. This river is spring fed and the whole area sits on a sandstone rock base that soaks up water and then releases it slowly, so the rivers flow all year round. Away from the creek; the environment is very dry and quickly changes to Eucalyptus woodlands.
The fruit bat colony that lives on the banks of the river put on a spectacular show as they left for the night. Tania took some video of the bats swooping down to the river to drink. There are thousands of them; we think they are little red flying foxes. There are plenty of people here, but the camp is well set out and very quiet. 
So we have two days for the wind to die down while we camp here. Hopefully we will be able to get to Bamaga and leave the trike there and see what the weather does next.
Bob & Tracey
Leaving Moreton St

Heathlands

Eliot Falls.

Day 7

Day 7
Well the wind did not die down to a dull roar, in fact it roared all night. Tracey got very little sleep. We were up at 6am and checked the weather, a strong wind warning for Sunday. So today would be our only chance to get out of Chilli beach for at least a couple of days. We roused the camp into action and packed up our gear. Low tide was 10am, and then the runway would be clear. After a quick brekky and briefing, Ted, Steve and Tania helped us to bring the trike back onto the beach, then haul the wing out from the camp ground onto the beach and join the two together again. It took a bit of mucking around, mostly because the wind meant we had to be very wary of it getting under the wing and it getting away on us. Once assembled, Ted & I got ready to go. Tracey sat out this leg, not comfortable with conditions. We started up about 8.15am.  The runway had cleared of water and all looked as good as it was going to get. We taxied back as far as we could and gave it the herbs…. Roaring down the beach, the wing didn’t sit level until around 30knts. I waited until I had 60knts airspeed before rotating, to take into account the strong crosswind we had. Just as I pushed the bar out to rotate, we hit the edge of a shallow creek, bounced and then she leapt into the air and away we went!  
We followed the coastline around past Portland Roads and over towards Mosquito Point. The hills are all rainforest and run right into the sea. Lots of swamps with lilies and tea-trees and beautiful colours sheltering behind the beaches. The wind has sculpted the vegetation so that the trees look like they are flowing up, over and around the faces of the ridges. Conditions eased as soon as we were away from Chilli beach. The observations this morning when we checked had Lockhart River was nil wind! Where we sat, less than 20k’s away, it was blowing 15knts or more!
We hit our turnpoint to Moreton Station and tracked across towards the ranges. We could just make out the sliver sands of Shellbourne Bay through the haze to our north. The visibility wasn’t the best, probably around 30NM. The vegetation changed constantly under us, going from tropical rainforest to savannah dry lands in no time at all. The range we were approaching and had to go over to get to Moreton looks a lot like Mt Mulligan, west of Cairns. A sloping base leading up to a cliff top ridge, and trees, trees, everywhere trees! Not many places to put down around here. I climbed to 4,500ft to give us a few more of the not many options we had. We could see Moreton Station airstrip from about 15 miles away. It is huge! We could have been a 737 and it would be no problem! Our guide book had all sorts of obstacles to look out for, but we could have landed cross ways! A little thermic coming in, just enough to make sure you are concentrating and down safe at around 9.30am. Taxi to the arrivals hall and secured the trike. Still can’t get over how beautifully maintained the airstrip is, if only they were all like this one!
A short walk through the bush brings you out at the main camping area at Moreton. It is lovely with big shady trees and plenty of space to throw a tent. We met Rod, the caretaker and not long after the phone rang. It was our ground crew checking we had made it and to say they were leaving Lockhart and on their way.
Ted and I settled in to wait. I thought I was a champion sleeper, but I have met my match in Ted. He lay on the bench and slept for a ½ hour. Then he lay down on the ground and slept for nearly 3 hours! The truck loading the backhoe didn’t wake him; the campers driving in and out didn’t wake him, me shuffling through gear didn’t wake him. In the end I was starving so I bought lunch and woke him up at 1oclock. Then after the support crew got here, he set up camp and went for another snooze! Champion effort that! The others arrived about 2.45pm, after a good run from Lockhart. The road is cut to pieces after yesterday’s rain from the turn-off back to the PDR. Moreton is a worthwhile stopover. Very friendly people and pleasant camping. The Wenlock River flows beside the station (and looking at the photos, through the station in the wet) There are scrub pythons here, as well as Cus Cus (didn’t see any). As well as beautiful red shouldered parrots grazing the lawns as the sun set. A shower has improved everyone’s outlook on life and washed away a little of the sand from Chilli beach. (Amazing adhesive properties, it is still sticking to the trike after flying for an hour at 120kmh!)
Plan tomorrow was to go to Shellbourne Bay, but the weather means we will go straight up to Heathlands from here. It’s a shame as Shellbourne would have been a real highlight, but it is just too dodgy to go with the wind forecast as it is. Steve tried to get a star trail photo tonight, but was thwarted by high level cloud. Team effort for tea. A sort of mashed potato rissole onion pizza. Tasted a lot better than it sounds!
Bob & Tracey
North of Portland Roads.

Ranges on way to Moreton.

local housing

Moreton St arrivals hall.


Day 6




Day 6
The earliest start we have had on the trip so far. The trike engine started at 6.10am. First light was 6.24am. We were worried about the noise, but the road crew starting their truck at 6oclock meant no-one could hear us. We taxied to the far end of the strip and warmed up. Take-off was 6.25am just to make sure we were legal. We tracked slightly further east than planned, as the cloud base was a little low further north. We hit the coast near Lillyvale Station and turned left. The GPS recorded our speed around 60knts. Not as fast as we expected, but good progress. The coastline from the air is spectacular. It is difficult to tell where the land stops and the ocean starts, it just seems to blend together. We seen a couple of wheel tracks north of Port Stewart and that was the only sign of civilization we spotted all the way to old Lockhart River. We had beaches under us a lot of the time, so plenty of landing options, but the 912 kept purring away happily.
Cloud base got progressively lower the further north we went. At one stage we dropped to just 800ft to get under a bank of cloud blocking our path. We could see that beyond the cloud, it was clear with excellent visibility all the way up the coast; otherwise we would have turned around. The wind was also getting stronger as we approached our waypoint turn for Lockhart River. The original flight plan had us going behind the hills to pick up a track that leads to Lockhart River. We couldn’t see the tops of the hills, so plan ‘B’ came into effect! Plan ‘B’ involved staying out on the coast, avoiding the showers inland and then cutting the corner of Lloyd Bay and over the Jetty at Lockhart, then on to Chilli Beach. We rounded the last hill of the Heming Range and got a straight downwind run over the beautiful sweeping river arms and majestic mangrove forests of the Lockhart River delta. Got a bit bashed up by the rotor coming off the range and it would have been nice to have more height,  but when flying you take what you are given and do the best you can. Over Cape Griffith we could see a shower of rain envelope Chilli beach, and another bank of showers developing out to sea, on a direct line to Chilli Beach. We discussed the plan and decided that we would track as close as we could to the camping area, but if the rain got too close; we would land further down the beach and taxi back. Chilli beach is an excellent place to land a microlight. Its kilometres long. We timed our entry perfectly. A low pass along the beach to check for obstacles, a quick turn into the wind and down on the beach, splashing through a couple of shallow creeks. The wind was around 15knts, due to the gust front pushing out ahead of the rain.
We taxied back to where we thought the camp ground was and Teddy and Tania were there to greet us. They were just as glad to see us as we were to be there. The wind was very strong this morning and they all thought that we wouldn’t get through.
Lucky our ground crew was there as we had only a few minutes before the rainstorm hit us. We stayed sitting in the trike and the others helped us to keep it stable until the worst of the gusts had passed and we could secure the trike. We pushed it up under the trees and tied it down. Once we’d looked at the tide chart, we went back and took the wing off and bought it closer to the campsite, as tomorrow morning’s high tide would have been very close to the wing. Tracey and the others decided to head into Lockhart to scrounge a shower and wash some clothes. I stayed at camp and watched the trike and set up the tent and bits and pieces.
The washing clothes thing didn’t work out, but they did some exploring and found a café at Portland Roads, only 5ks away. Salt and Pepper Calamari beats stale honey sandwiches hands-down! The balcony even featured a live Crocodile show, just off shore and right near where the other lunch guests were about to get back in their dinghy! We had the cameras ready, but the croc was a no-show…Our host explained how the area does not have many crocodiles, as it is relatively poor habitat for them. Of course, relatively few does not mean none at all. The Portland Roads café is a real find and you should call in if you are up this way. Lockhart River apparently isn’t a real find and might be best avoided, if possible. The rain came and went most of the day. Just long enough to get everything organized, hatches battened down in camp and then it would stop. Our shiny new tent is not as waterproof as advertised (is anyone surprised by that?) and so we have some drying out to do. The wing and trike are safe and the camp is just behind the beautiful beach, if only the wind would back off to a dull roar, everything would be perfect. Not sure what is happening tomorrow, we need to consult the weather and make a group decision in the morning.
Bob & Tracey.
Chilli Beach

Lockhart River Jetty

Portland Roads