Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Australian Xmas

G'day, Maties! OZ was great even for a short tour. Although the flight was 10 hours on Hawaiian Airlines direct, the time change was not a problem because they are exactly 24 hours from us. The OZ raiding party was Sucide Pete, his girlfriend Hillery, my mom Shirley (who arrived from Vancouver 2 days prior), and the Reaper.

Day 1

We landed in Sydney and did a day getting used to the driving on the wrong side and then made our way to the Tarongo Zoo (Sydney Zoo) on a high speed ferry harbor tour, we saw the Opera house, the bridge, etc and it was a great way to beat the heat (+100). Sydney reminded me of San Diego harbor, and it was way too busy at Xmas time for us. So we headed south for some flying at Stanwell Flight Park.

Day 2

We drove about an hour down from Sydney Airport along the coast and arrived at Stanwell park just 15 miles north of Woolongong city. The flight park is about 500 meters above the cliffs and they have a great big beach to bomb on if you need it. It is a drive up launch that's similiar to Torrey Pines. It is a Southeast facing site, and gets the sea breezes straight on. They even have toilets and their own hot dog stand.

Mostly it is a hang glider launch, but a few bags fly there as well. Think about dodging 20 to 30 hang gliders...

Everyone is extremely friendly and it wasn't too difficult to find a hang gliding instructor to take our freshly acquired Ozzy dollars for the 30 day temporary memberships, $30 OZ.

As luck would have it we arrived to see paragliders already in the air. And believe it or not when we started to set up on launch the local guy flying top landed and intruduced himself as 'Ash'. He also said he was thinking of coming to Hawaii and was looking at a web site called 'Gravity Hawaii' hehe.

It was epic conditions at about 10+ straight up the hill. Near perfect for bags, as the hangies pointed out. Pete flew 1st as I set up, and after that we flew all day (7+ hours) until dark, top landing, tree landing (Suicide tandem), and flying again. The wind shifted a bit east/southeast so we were able to go downrange for about 15km and back at 3,000 msl. Nice, really nice. After 7 hours of sitting in the sun and watching Pete and me fly, the girls were pretty anxious to get on the road.

Day 3

We decided to head north above Sydney as my mom and I wanted to get to some good beaches, Hillery and Pete wanted to see Hunter Valley wine country, and I knew about High Adventure paragliding and Lee Scott had some great flying sites along the coast up near Port MacQaurie (3 1/2 hours north of Sydney).

We drove north along the coast for 6 hours stopping at all the beaches and after 7 hours we still had only travelled 1/2 way. Ugh. So we set up in a great little beach town called Forester. Everything else we saw along the way was farm towns.

Pete and Hillery went to Hunter Valley and stayed at a lovely B&B in wine country. They went for a horse back ride at sunset and saw Wallabies (small Kangaroos) and their larger Kangaroo cousins. The next day in 115 degree heat they toured a few wineries and then headed off to join us at Lauriton to meet at High Adventure paragliding.

Mom and I arrived at High Adventure to find Lee and Robin Scott heading off to Xmas vacation with their 4 kids for the week. But he did give me a DVD of all the flying sites, and said "You'll figure it out". So we headed towards the beaches and found these amazing 30 mile long white sand beaches with sand dunes, etc. It was awesome. We had a hellova time finding a place to stay since it was Xmas and we decided to stay at Australia's famous caravan parks complete with hired cabins. As luck would have it I was watching the DVD and it seems we were within walking distance to a soaring site.

Day 4

Mom and I met some visiting Swiss pilots who were about to launch from a cliff launch above a really packed beach at 100' elevation. Maybe it wasn't a good idea since no local pilots were there and the gate to run through was locked. But that didn't stop team Advance from attempting a classic Quentin launch from below the grass in the bushes in a similar way as we do at Crazy man's. The guy pulled it off somehow, as he went smashing through the bushes and began to do massive wingovers to show off for the thousands of beach go-ers. He sank out and the last thing he did was more massive wing-overs before building up enough energy to slam into a poor skinny Indo guy on vacation and send the poor bastard to the hospital for a check-up. The guy wasn't hurt luckily, but all I could think about was our many visiting pilots at Makapuu and how this could have been at our site. Lee was pissed when he found out, and thanked me for assisting the injured bystander. The Swiss dudes took off before the cops came.

Day 5

Hillery and Pete joined Mom and I and we all ventured out to find more flying. Pete and Hillery flew Bonny beach hill for about an hour and half, and I headed off with Mom in tow to Middle Brother mountain (elev. 3,000' msl) to fly with a local tandem pilot. Mom said she would drive down the mountain, but onto the highway, so I would have to hike the 5 miles down the road from the LZ to meet her in 100+ sun. Ugh!

We arrived at Middle Brother mountain launch to find it was a hang glider ramp launch next to a 300' TV tower surrounded by a high barbed wire fence. The tandem launched with two 200 pound guys and went straight up like a rocket, then backwards, then forwards, and then he headed straight for the LZ. They do not fly with radios usually with the exception of CB raidios on channel 15. So there was no way for me to get hold of this guy. But what I saw was very strong lee side conditions mixed with some prevailing east winds. Not ideal, but it looked awesome for a great XC flight, or so I thought...

I launched into the strongest lift I have ever felt in the middle of the day, in the middle of the summer, on Middle Mountain. I immediately gained 1,000 feet and I was getting HUGE surges and basically I was being tossed about like a rag doll. My god it was strong. The tandem then barely made the LZ out in front of the giant Eucalyptus tree forest. Those trees were 300+ feet tall and extended about a mile or two from the mountain. I didn't know whether to SH*T or attempt to fly to the LZ. Bad, bad, bad...

I opted to attempt a top landing on the ramp next to the barbed wire fence crosswind and slightly downwind. It was my best option since a tree landing or deployment here was NOT an option. I really thought I wouldn't make it out from the mountain, or over safely. And If I did go over or something, what would happen to dear old Mom on top of the mountain?

I did a series of wing-overs and BIG ears and managed to get really close to the launch for some high speed passes, and I was trying to keep up my speed so that I didn't get blown over the back into the aforementioned 300'+ Eucy trees. I then had to dodge the bullet thermals coming up at me, and lose the height I gained every time. I decided to give it a shot and I came from the left side of launch over the trees/bushes and towards the fence, at about 20 mph and 3 feet off the ground sideways I impacted the fence dead on right in the middle as perfectly as I could throwing the right brake down and putting my very used harness to the test. D*mned if it didn't work. I hit about 3' off of the ground dead center, and the wing went cleanly over the barbed wire into some small bushes. I just sat there stuck sideways in my harness laughing, and thinking I got away with something really stupid again. Luck of the Irish I guess. It took only 15 minutes with Mom and me cramming the wing into the bag and we were off to find Hillery and Pete at the beach. The local beginner pilot on launch couldn't believe his eyes. I told him it was Hawaiian style, bra.

Christmas Eve everything was closed - food stores, restaurants, bars, etc., so we managed to make a salad, and some potatoes to go with the kangaroo sausages and kangaroo steaks tthat Pete bought at a butchery in Hunter Valley. Kangaroo steaks have to be only seared for a second or two on the barbie or they get tough and rubbery. The Roo sausages were tasty and I think mom and Hillery were hoping for more traditional yule tide feastings. Pete and I thought the kangaroo was good, but we'll eat anything dead... So here we are at Xmas dinner in OZ eating Kangaroo steaks. Funny!

Day 6

We tried to fly, but conditions were deteriorating and we all decided to head for Sydney as Hillery had to catch the plane home. Mom and I toured around Sydney and we witnessed the massive evacuation of Sydney of all the people heading off for the beginning of summer vacation. Pete decided that he wanted to extend his vacation until the 15th and head off to Melbourne and the Hobart, Tazmania for New years via car ferry.

After checking the Hawaiian airlines passenger loads for Hillery, we found out that Mom and I had better leave now as there were no seats available after today until the 15th (which is the day I leave with Sharkey to Peru). So ended our trip to OZ. I also found out you DO NOT get a refund on un-used days on your rental car in OZ. I was lucky enough to get a 1st Class ticket on return and boy was it nice after all the left hand driving and crashing into fences with my paraglider...

In summary, Australia is very expensive (about the same as Hawaii) at Xmas time, and it is very difficult to get around. the road signs are just a few feet in front of the turns, so if you're going over 50 mph forget it. Also, if you're travelling around OZ without pre-planned hotels, reservations, etc., you may get stuck with some high hotel costs. The cheap stuff goes fast.

My next trip to OZ would be a one-way trip up the East coast to Cairns (think tropics and great barrier reef) or to Melbourne in the south, and ferry ride to Hobart, Tazmania. then drop the car, and fly back to Sydney for the return. The East coast around the Sydney to Brisbane area reminded me of the California coastline into Baja, but all the mountains are covered in Eucalyptus trees.

We await Suicide Pete's version when he returns on Jan. 16th from Melbourne and Hobart.

Fair Dinkum!


1 comment:

jt said...

Thanks Reaper, I was in Sydney a couple months earlier, enjoying 2 weeks of rain! But from other, more flyable visits I can fill in a few tips for visitors.

You don't absolutely need a car to commute to Stanwell Park - trains from Sydney stop quite close to the beach LZ, and you can either hitch rides or take a somewhat awkward walk up to launch. Roundtrip tix are dirt cheap if you start after 9am rush hour.

I only visit during the more comfortable spring/fall times, but Stanwell has less dependable wind directions then. During those seasons, you should somehow get a quality weather forecast; you can waste a lot of trips if you go by casual fuzzy forecasts for the general public.

Airfares seem chronically outrageous - it is normally cheaper to go twice as far to Europe! I register with travelocity to email me for the very rare HNL-SYD sales. Consider doing an open-jaw with New Zealand; the ultra budget airlines now do OZ-NZ as well as internal.

Sydney is often a challenge to get hotel space, but I found some Singapore web sites that have blocks of nice, affordable apartment hotels. That, and the fact that Sydney has about the best food outside of Europe and endless days worth of beautiful harbor walks has kept me from exploring further OZ or NZ flying sites much. Looking forward to the Melbourne report.

P.S. to Reaper, I'm the guy that had a noisy collapse and recovery just above you at Mauna Kea 10 years ago (but maybe that doesn't narrow it down!).