Coolangatta to Lord Howe Island


17/06/2008


After checking the charts last night, decided that I should be able to shorten the journey to Lord Howe Island, by going straight to a point at sea (an airway intersection called CHEWY) rather than following a standard airway route down the coast to Coffs Harbour and then out to sea. The sea crossing would be longer but the overall distance would be some 90 nautical mile shorter. So long as this could be accepted by Air Traffic Control, this would be my choice.

Got to the airport, and Lis (not Liz, as I discovered from her card) from Gold Coast Flight Facilities had already prepared the necessary paperwork for customs, etc. Technically, I would be leaving Australia at Gold Coast even though Lord Howe Island is part of Australian territory – my landing and overnight stop there would be regarded as a “technical stop”. Checked Romeo Tango and waited for the Customs officials to arrive. They soon appeared and presented me with a Clearance to Leave Australia from the Gold Coast to Wellington, New Zealand. (My plan had been to fly from Lord Howe Island to Palmerston North in NZ but when I had called PN a few days ago I had discovered that Customs facilities had been withdrawn a few months earlier. I had telephoned the manager at PN, Garry Goodman, and he hoped to be able to arrange Customs for me as there was a requirement for another aircraft on the Wednesday. As a result I had indicated that I would plan for Wellington but with PN as an alternate destination).

It only remained to settle the bill with Gold Coast Flight Facilities, but when I asked Lis what the charges were she brushed them aside, saying she understood what it was like to be a private pilot on a trip like this, struggling with the paperwork. What could I say –she is a real star and I can thoroughly recommend her company (she is the manager) in terms of efficiency and friendliness. As a result, my clearance out from Gold Coast was smooth and trouble free.

I was soon airborne and cleared to 9000 feet, the level I had requested. ATC at Gold Coast soon requested me to switch to Brisbane Centre for control and, soon after that another request came to change from VHF to HF radio for the sea crossing. As Gold Coast airport is literally on the coast, this flight was overwater all the way. Radio calls were few and, apart from some position reports, there was little need for communication. The flight was smooth, although there was a headwind against me all the way, and the time soon came to start the descent to Lord Howe Island. I contacted the airport there for information on wind and weather and the island appeared in the distance. The approach was quite spectacular, with the tops of the 3000 feet mountains covered in cloud. The runway lies on a narrow area of land with sea at both ends. The crosswinds, for which the island is renowned, were slight and the landing was normal. There was a daily QUANTAS flight coming in behind me and the crew requested my position. I informed them that I was just parking the aircraft and they offered to relay my landing information to Brisbane Centre.

There are only 350 inhabitants on the island but there was a public phone at the very small airport building and I was able to arrange an overnight stay at one of the hotels that cater for the tourist trade. There are few cars, and bicycles are the main means of transport on the island.

Enjoyed a good meal in the hotel that evening, sharing a table and good conversation with several other single travellers/tourists, one of whom had been kind enough to show me a few sights of the island before the sun went down. There was no working public phone in the hotel but there was a single internet connection and I managed a few minutes to read some emails. A landing at Palmerston North with customs in attendance looked a real possibility for the next day and the refueller had already agreed to collect me from the hotel just before 7 o’clock in the morning so that I could get an early start with a view to arriving in New Zealand in the daylight hours. The hotel made up a breakfast tray for me and included some sandwiches and fruit for my flight the next day.

Flight Data: 357 nautical miles in 2 hours and 40 minutes.