Victoria to Ayers Rock - tips & traps

8th October, 2009:

As the info could be useful to lots of you, here’s an abbreviated version of a recent request I received this week, with my reply:
Hi Shelley
I’m an Aussie who has been living in the UK for a few years - I found your web site on Google - some fantastic shots!!  They look great.

We are in the midst of planning a flying trip at Christmas from Wangaratta in Victoria to Uluru and back.  There are five of us in two aircraft, a C172SP and a C182.  I wondered, given that you appear to have done plenty of flying in the outback if I might be able to get a few tips or ideas from you for the trip?

We are trying to cover most things and the primary concern of course is safety.  Thought you may have tips on what to plan, things to watch out for, what to take, any special conditions or problems we might encounter etc.  Four of us are pilots and the fifth is a keen amateur photographer and again I thought, given the quality of your photos you might have some ideas on how to improve our shots - one of the guys is already trying to convince us to remove the doors for the flight around the Rock!

Flying the scenic at Ayers Rock

Flying the scenic pattern around Ayers Rock

Hi John,

Shelley here.  OK, well your timing is great as I’ve just returned from a big air safari around the country, (another fantastic trip with Curtis Aviation of Camden, Sydney) and as many times as I’ve been, I still picked up plenty of tips and traps that all pilots need to consider when flying the outback.

 I guess you know what my first major concern about your trip is - the TIMING.  December/January in the outback will be as hot as hell.  But given that you’ve no doubt considered that, here we go.  I’ll talk about safety first, then my suggestions on waypoints.

You’ll have to give loads of thought to your aircraft’s performance figures, particularly if you’re visiting airfields with any elevation and are fully loaded.  Just make sure the strip you’re using is long enough for the increased length of your take-off roll.  We took off from Cooinda (dirt strip up in the Kakadu) last week in 41 degree heat and we used up a lot of runway waiting for the ASI to reach 60 knots in the C182.  It’s a really good idea to try and limit your flying to the early morning in Summer for this very reason; it’s just far more comfortable all round for you and your pax.  Take plenty of spare oil & a funnel.  As a really general guide, we’ve found we need to add another litre of oil at least every ten hours of flying.  Take extra, in case.

Coober Pedy, SA - one of the more sophisticated outback fuel stops

Coober Pedy, SA - one of the more sophisticated outback fuel stops

Fuel - imperative to personally phone the refueller at every one of your planned fuel stops (and some inbetween as well, in case of diversions) to make sure that a) the airfield is still open!, b) that they sell Avgas and that they have enough for both aircraft, and c) the form of payment they require.  Some only take cash or cheque, others take credit card, and the most convenient of them of course take a carnet card at the unattended bowser.  Arm yourself with a good selection of carnet cards: WorldFuel, Air BP and Aero Refuellers is the set that I take away.

Along your vague track, reliable sources of fuel are Mildura, Broken Hill, Port Augusta, William Creek (with a phone-call), Coober Pedy, Ayers Rock (ASIC card required at some of these). Call Ayers Rock airport ahead of time and ask them about their $50 landing fee per aircraft. I think that it is waived if you're just calling in for fuel and taking off again.

If you want to save some dollars and spend some time with some residents of our red centre instead of with squads of tourists, then grab a night at Curtin Springs cattle station instead of an overpriced jail cell at Ayers Rock itself. (See my archived story on Curtin Springs on this site.)  It’s about a ten minute fly from the Rock (just south-east, a little down the Lassiter Highway) and definitely my preference. Make sure you do the scenic pattern of Uluru and the Olgas at either sunrise or sunset when the old girl is at her stunning best - colours like you wouldn’t believe.  Get the Darwin/Alice Springs VTC for the procedure.

Drum fuel only at this tiny outpost.

Drum fuel only at this tiny outpost.

Still on fuel - very carefully plan your fuel stops around conservative endurance figures.  We copped a massive head-wind on our first day out on this latest trip and of course were grateful we weren’t needing to be counting the litres remaining before reaching our fuel stop.

Twenty litres hard won in the outback - this fuel hand pumped from the underground tank.

Twenty litres hard won in the outback - this fuel hand pumped from the underground tank.

Take plenty of WATER!!!  Dehydration out here is no joke.

Take plenty of WATER!!! Dehydration out here is no joke.

Mobile phone:  Telstra has the best coverage, by far, in the outback. Great for getting weather online if a laptop not handy. Nominate a SAR time every time you fly.  Ensure you listen out on each CTAF as you overfly.  I obviously don’t have to tell you how important it is to have the current ERSA, WAC and ERC charts. Take tie-down kits.


Along that track you’ve nominated, from Wangaratta to Uluru, my tips are:

Echuca and up the Murray, Wilpena Pound (sensational scenery), Parachilna (use Leigh Creek Airstrip), Rawnsley Park, Lake Eyre, William Creek, Coober Pedy, and on your way back on the last night: Mildura (bugger the bank balance, have a night at the Grand and eat at Stefano’s). 

Give me an idea how many days and vaguely what route you want to take and I’ll have a better idea of what you’re after.  Leave it as a comment after this post so readers can track our suggestions.

John, I’ve only scratched the surface here - let’s know more specifics and we’ll go from there.



  1. On January 18th, 2010 at 2:54 pm Stuart Waldon Says:

    Hi Shelley

    I was one of the 3 pilots in the 2 planes that flew to Ayres Rock and back between Christmas and New Year. Your tips were pretty well spot on, although we did decide to put up with the Outback Hotel at Uluru as we were only there overnight anyway.

    From a weather perspective we couldn’t have gone picked the week any better. It was the week after the big rains from Cyclone Laurence and therefore a bit cooler when we went away - the only downside was that the flies were friendly! We ended up taking an Archer out of Essendon and a C172SP out of Wangaratta and met up at Swan Hill on the first day. The Archer got delayed out of Essendon due to low cloud but that was the worst of the weather for the whole 4 days. From Swan Hill we flew to Broken Hill to refuel (new 24 hr BP Avgas bowser) and then onto William Creek. Well what a joy. I flew into there for Easter in 2000 and whilst not a lot has changed, you don’t have to taxi down the highway anymore to get fuel which is a real disappointment. We still took the 172 out to the front of the pub for a photo. I can’t talk highly enough of the new publicans and Trevor Wright of Wrightair. He was very helpful and glad to see someone!

    The next day we headed for Cadney Park Homestead which is a roadhouse on the Stuart Highway with Avgas and accommodation and is a nice spot to land and have a bite to eat. We then headed off straight over the Rawnsley Ranges and into Uluru. We hired a car to get around and see the sunset.

    The next day we took off at sunrise and witnessed a lovely scene as the sun rose on the Rock and the Olgas and a bump free flight at 9500′ to Coober Pedy. The day ended up much longer than we thought with the 172 suffering an alternator fault so we popped down to Port Augusta to see the RDFS mechanic who was pretty well the only LAME we could track down at that time of the year. The Archer flew onto Mildura to spend a night at the Grand (thanks for your tip - but no Stefanos) as we had a longer trip back to Sydney the next day.

    On the last day the 172 came across from Port Augusta still suffering a fault so they relied on handheld radios and GPS brought along on the trip for safety reasons. At Mildura we then headed home - the Archer to Bankstown and the 172 to Wangaratta.

    Overall we had a fantastic time. All our planning came through, with the only grief being the alternator issue. Despite that we were able to cope and still enjoy the experience.

  2. On January 18th, 2010 at 5:12 pm Shelley Says:

    Hi Stuart,
    Great news. Sounds like a typically excellent outback trip! Glad I could help with a few tips. Bloody alternators and flies hey? Sounds familiar.