Flight 1 – Bankstown to Broken Hill – 30-July-2010

Via Menindee Lakes

There was a lot of early fog in Sydney so we were not able to leave as early as we had hoped. We ended up leaving around 11am. The flight to Broken Hill was flown IFR, without a view of the ground much of the way. At times we could see the ground to the side, but not through the front windscreen. We later estimated that we flew through at least an inch of rain during the four hour trip.

There was a reasonable head wind which slowed us down somewhat, causing us to use more fuel than we had hoped. Thankfully we did not need to stop for fuel part way as the landing would have been bumpy and the conditions on the ground somewhat wet.

Menindee Lakes – Near Broken Hill

The Plains East of Broken Hill – Normally this would be very very dry.

Broken Hill

It was good to get to Broken Hill, if not for anything more than to get out of the plane and walk around. I rang my great uncle Don Mudie and unpacked the plane whilst Richard refueled and parked the plane. By the time Richard was finished parking, Don had arrived and got a tour of the plane. To say he was impressed was an understatement. Don commented that they had received some rain that day, but not much.

Following the tour of the plane, Don took us to the Broken Hill Cemetery where Mum’s ashes have been interned. I had not had a chance to get up to Broken Hill since they had been interned, and the Council had not had a chance to send a photo either, so I was unsure really what to expect. In the end, I think mum would have been happy with her ashes going to Broken Hill.

After visiting the Cemetery, Don took us back to his place to show us around his unofficial museum. The house looked even more cluttered than it did last time I visited. I was pleased to see that the Austin Healey was close to being roadworthy once more, although the Porsche looks similar to how it did a couple of years back. Don did say that he has so many things on that he often does not get a chance to work on the cars.

By this stage, Richard and I were starting to get hungry, so we checked into the Hotel before looking for some food. We stayed at the Royal Exchange Hotel, which looked like a mix between Art Deco and 1940’s brick architecture. Regardless of the style it was absolutely stunning inside, with little expense spared.

We tried the Musicians Club first for dinner, although only being 5pm they had no food on offer. Neither of us were quite up to waiting over an hour for dinner so we went walking down the main street looking for food. After turning down sushi and seafood, we settled on the Argyle Cafe where I had eaten before. Being hungry we chose a platter entre followed by a couple of pizzas to share. Service was variable, but the food was good. After dinner it was time for an early night.

The next morning we woke up and grabbed breakfast at the hotel before putting in a flight plan, checking the weather and buying a few minor provisions for the trip. We walked to the taxi rank and were shocked to discover that there was not a Taxi in sight. We were wondering what was going on before two taxis turned up. Apparently it had been a busy morning, and we were dropped at the Airport.

Broken Hill Airport

Broken Hill Airport

Flight 2 – Broken Hill to Andamooka – 31-July-2010

Via Silverton, Lake Frome, Lake Torrens and the Flinders Ranges

The second flight was fantastic, taking off from Broken Hill to beautiful blue skies. We then flew roughly towards Silverton, and came to understand why principle photography on the next Mad Max movie has been put on hold for six months. The whole area looks green. Maybe not what people in Sydney would call green, but it was certainly not an arid desert environment.

We flew north-west up to Lake Frome before crossing it and turning slightly north of west as we flew over the start of the Flinders Ranges. We then passed over Leigh Creek, a small township with a sealed airstrip and about 700 people. I thought it looked small – little did I know what was coming up later. Passing over Leigh Creek we headed over to Lake Torrens and then to Andamooka.

Lake Frome or Lake Torrens

Lake Frome or Lake Torrens

The Flinders Ranges

The Flinders Ranges

Andamooka from the air


Andamooka was a bit of a moonscape from the air. Actually, almost a martian landscape. We were both struck by the number of people digging for opals on the western side of town. We circled the airstrip a few times and I noticed that there was actually a tractor on the strip rolling it. Armed with this knowledge, Richard did a low flight to warn the driver that we were there before coming in to land. There were actually two tractors, and both got out of the way so we could land. After closing up the plane and one of the locals turns up in his 4×4 and says to Richard ‘You must be Fred’.

Wild Sturt Desert Pea at Andamooka Airport

We introduced ourselves and worked out that he had come to pick up the two people we had met at Broken Hill Airport. He offered to take us into two, and drop us back afterward too. This was good as it turned out to be about 3km into town through the opal fields on dirt tracks, and there was no Taxi either. Actually there was only Telstra mobile coverage, and neither of us had a Telstra phone. Well, apart from Richard’s Satellite phone. The guy who picked us up runs the landing strip, as well as one of the motels and the post office, as well as one of the many Opal stores in town.

Richard in the Andamooka Main Street

Andamooka Main Street

We had lunch – deciding on Hamburgers. Being a small mining community, the hamburgers were huge. Following lunch we had a quick look around the main street. This included walking to the ‘historic’ dug out huts and walking up to the other ‘motel’ in town. Actually there is some debate as to if it was a motel or workers accommodation. Neither of us were sure, but it looked basic and the buildings were demountables. As if to highlight how the world has changed in the last few years, during our walk we saw two nine year old girls walking down the centre of the main street texting on a mobile phone. Just a few years back they would have been lucky to have a phone in town!

We then went back to the post office to get a lift back to the aircraft. Unfortunately they had just left and so we needed to wait for him to get back before he could take us back. A few minutes earlier and it would have been a single trip.

Me at Andamooka Airport

Flight 3 – Andamooka to Coober Pedy – 31-July-2010

Via Lake Eyre South, south Lake Eyre North including Bluebird Point and Campbell Point

Leaving Andamooka we flew due north to Lake Eyre. Actually, since Lake Eyre is two separate lakes, we were heading to Lake Eyre South initially concentrating on it so we could explore North the following day. The whole scenery was amazing, and the amount of water in the lake was unbelievable. You could tell that the water had been higher, but the level was impressive by itself. The Lakes are fairly large, and have a surface area of close to 10,000 km2 according to Wikipedia.

Lake Eyre

Lake Eyre

Lake Eyre

We passed over Lake Eyre South first before heading up to Lake Eyre North, around Elliot Price Conservation Park. This is the peninsula at the south of the north lake on the right side. We flew up on the left side of the peninsula and back down the right side, finding where Campbell raced his Bluebird vehicle back in the 1960’s whilst we were at it. We then flew back down to the northern shore of Lake Eyre South and followed it west towards Coober Pedy. The Woomera flight area was open so we were able to fly direct to Coober Pedy.

Lake Eyre

Lake Eyre

Lake Eyre

Coober Pedy Airport from the air

Coober Pedy

Coober Pedy Airport

Coober Pedy Airport

When we got to Coober Pedy, it was good to get out and walk around. We refueled and organized with the owner of the hotel to pick us up. He was there a few minutes later. Coming into town I was struck by the fact that most of the shops had significant bars on the windows. Not just vertical bars, but horizontal bars too. We found out that there is a reasonably sophisticated criminal element in town. It is to the point where there is actually a local team of detectives to support the local general duties police. This is unusual for a town this size. We stayed in the Underground Motel on Catacomb St in town. After checking in we decided to explore the town.

Coober Pedy Underground Hotel

Coober Pedy Underground Hotel

Coober Pedy Underground Hotel

Coober Pedy Underground Hotel

Coober Pedy Underground Hotel

We first walked to the Old Timers Mine just south of our hotel. This was a $10 self guided tour inside an old opal mine and underground house. The conditions in the mine appeared somewhat similar to the Honeymoon Mine I toured back in 2008 just outside Broken Hill. This mine did appear to be in harder rock and less dusty. It was interesting to see the Opal in the rock just inside the mine, with an estimated value of $40,000. Some of the mine was a bit cramped, but most of the passageways were fairly good.

Old Timers Mine

Opal at the Old Timers Mine

Old Timers Mine

Opal at the Old Timers Mine

Old Timers Mine

Old Timers Mine

Following the visit to the cave it was starting to get a bit dull outside so we headed towards the restaurants in the main street. We were also planning to visit another underground mine, but to be frank, one was enough, and we found it more interesting to climb to the top of the hill to see the area. We got some great shots.

On a hill in the centre of town – Richard

On a hill in the centre

On a hill in the centre

Me on a hill in the centre

Richard on a hill in the centre

This was also next door to the local backpacker’s accommodation, which is also the home of the town’s only space ship. Yes, you heard me, space ship. Despite being so close to Woomera and the space industry there, this one was not real. It was a prop from a movie, probably Red Planet staring Carie Ann Moss and Val Kilmer.

The Spaceship from Red Planet

Me by the Space Ship

Richard by the Space Ship

After seeing the space ship, I was feeling more and more that this was some outpost on Mars. It just had that feel to it. Dinner was at the local Pizza joint. They served more than that, and it was recommended to us. It was however one of the places that does not offer tap water even if you ask for it. You cannot have everything I guess. By the time we left, the place was packed.

We then walked back to the hotel. This was about 1km, and the walk was fairly well lit. It was nice walking in the fresh air and being able to see the stars in the sky. Walking back we passed one great piece of 20th century engineering – A Drive In Theater. Apparently they have a movie every second Saturday. Sadly this was the other Saturday so no movies.

[It is interesting to note that every small town has DVD rentals these days. Even White Cliffs with under 200 people has rentals available from the local store. Coober Pedy was no exception.]

Walking back we also passed a coin operated water dispenser. This as much as anything else made me think that I might have landed in some weird science fiction movie.

Water For Sale

I slept well that night in the climate controlled environment of the cave. The next morning I was awake nice and early. Being so far west, Coober Pedy did not have sunrise until 7:15am. By the time the sun had risen, we were ready to go. Not wanting to disturb the owner on a Sunday morning we tried calling a Taxi. After several minutes searching for a number we came to a horrible conclusion – Coober Pedy does not have a taxi service. I guess the place is small enough so that you are either close enough to walk, or you know someone who can drive you. Thankfully soon after we made this discovery, the owner surfaced and drove us to the airport.

Coober Pedy Airport

Coober Pedy Airport

Me in the plane at Coober Pedy Airport

Flight 4 – Coober Pedy to White Cliffs – 1-August-2010

Via Lake Eyre North, Copper Creek, Birdsville, Strezleki and Oodnadatta Tracks, south of Moomba and Cameron’s Corner

Coober Pedy from the air

Coober Pedy from the Air

The fourth flight was rather fun. We took off from Coober Pedy soon after dawn and flew straight for Lake Eyre North. After about an hours flying we hit the Lake and headed for the outlet of Cooper Creek. The thing with this creek is that it is normally not much more than a sandy shoreline. We followed the creek for a while heading generally east and then north before the creek broke its banks near the Strezleki and Innaminka Recreation Reserves.

Lake Eyre

Lake Eyre

We ended up crossing the Oodnatatta, Birdsville and Strezleki Tracks, and they each looked close to unpassable thanks to the flooding. In fact as were were trying to follow the general line of the creek we saw a Road Closed sign with stranged 4×4’s on both sides of the river.

Cooper Creek

Cooper Creek

Cooper Creek – in flood

We then decided to head a bit further north towards the Moomba Gas Fields before heading towards Cameron’s Corner. The Gas Fields is a bit of a misnomer. It makes you think that there is a huge amount of civilization up there. In reality each gas well involves generally a building with a fence and a road. After seeing what the field was like we plotted a course straight for the Corner.

Cameron’s Corner

Most people try to tell you that there is no magic line painted on the earth saying where the borders are. Australia it would appear has done things differently. They have put an animal control fence on the border, as well as a road. This provides a great demarcation of the border. We had already confirmed that the landing strip was probably unusable, and this was confirmed when we got that. It was a pity really as it had been graded only a week before.

But the rains in the last couple of days had caused galleys to be cut into the strip and puddles of water were sitting on the strip. If we ever decided to land regardless, that was an indication that the strip was a no go zone. In fact, the road did not look much better in the distance with sections also disappearing under water.

It was interesting to see the Corner. The border road in NSW was chamfered at the corner to allow people to get access to the point where NSW, QLD and SA join. We did a few loops of the site, and took a heap of photos. I was a bit disappointed to be honest that we could not land. It would have been good to visit. We then headed towards White Cliffs for fuel and lunch

White Cliffs

White Cliffs Airport

White Cliffs was an interesting place. Landing was a bit dicey due to the increasing winds. Nothing we could not handle, but they were starting to get up. When we did land we found that the amenities were basic. Despite what Air Services tried to tell us, the runway was asphalt. We found the public phone, of sorts. It was inside a Telstra public phone box, but instead consisted of a Telstra Touchphone mounted on the wall. With that we were able to call for fuel. The ‘lounge’ involved a bench seat under cover between two sheds, and the toilet involved literally a hold in the ground.

White Cliffs Main Street

The fuel dispenser was interesting by itself – it was an old unit displaying Gallons but dispensing in Litres. Fuel actually got delivered by 44 Gallon drums and we paid for the fuel by Credit Card, using an old style credit card machine. The fuel person offered to take us the 1.5km into two, which we accepted. He dropped us by a shop, and we asked where he would recommend. Turned out this was the only place in town! We bought some food there. After a hot lunch we walked back to the plane. The wind was starting to pick up and it was starting to get a bit cool.

Richard testing the fuel at White Cliffs Airport

Flight 5 – White Cliffs to Bankstown – 1-August-2010

Via Katoomba

The final flight from White Cliffs was interesting. Just as we were about to leave, a Country Energy surveillance plane was landing having decided that the conditions were not really conducive to working. We had a flight plan lodged taking us almost on a straight line from White Cliffs to Sydney. Pretty soon we were hitting storms and needed to go to 7,000 feet in order to pass through most of them. The ones that we could not go through were more of a problem because the air was very cold and caused ice to form on the front windscreen as well as the leading edge of the wings.

Ice on the Windscreen

To stop the icing, Richard needed to fly at 10,000 feet, where the temperature was a balmy -14C. The little heater in the cockpit just could not cope with those sorts of temperatures. Thankfully the humidity was fairly low because I had decided not to wear a jacket and so I started getting a bit cold. I could have removed my harness to get the jacked from behind my seat but I was not confident enough of the weather not to cause turbulence just at that time.

Flying over Cloud

Cloud – which we had been in

Air traffic control was great and routed us around most of the storms and gave weather updates when they could. The flight from White Cliffs ended up taking a bit over three hours, which was long enough for me. It was nice to get back into Sydney – I know I was a bit surprised when we arrived back into the Sydney Basin and there was no rain and the conditions were fairly sedate.

Katoomba and the Three Sisters