With Covid 19 reeking havoc with our outback flying plans, we've had to get a bit creative in 2020, especially when 14 people and six aircraft signed up for our latest WardAir Spring training safari.
The trip actually started life back in March as our popular “Desert Dash” itinerary, flying across the Red Centre’s most iconic landscapes. South Australia, NT, Qld – here we come!
Then the borders closed. All of them. Catherine Fitzsimons and I looked at each other, wrung our hands a few times, had a small sip of wine, and I could possibly have been heard swearing quietly under my breath.
Anyway, we’re nothing if not determined, and so we came up with a route that would keep us totally within NSW for seven days, essentially offering crews the best of the bush. AWPA (Australian Women Pilots' Assoc) was well represented on this one, with four members on the manifest, including NSW Pres Judy Shaw in her Arrow MDL, and Kate Porges at the helm of her Mooney VMQ. Catherine and I and a third instructor took student pilots in WardAir aircraft and there were a few other PPLs as tag-alongs in a C206 and C172.
And here's what our route ended up looking like:
We visited the more well known outback towns too, as you’ll see on the map. With Covid, we needed to choose our overnight stops carefully to ensure beds and restaurant bookings with our large group of 14. Broken Hill, Tibooburra and Lightning Ridge worked out well. Mungo Lodge for our first night’s stop was a real highlight as we watched the sun go down over the Walls of China. Well worth a look if you haven’t flown into Mungo.
This all took seven nights, and we managed to hang up the headsets for a rest day in the middle, when we got to Lightning Ridge. A two-night stay somewhere in the middle of all our safaris is always well received. There's much excitement in flitting from place to new place every day, but there's also something really restful about having a full day out of the cockpit.
Day 1: Bathurst - Griffith (refuel/snack) - Mungo Lodge
Day 2: Mungo Lodge - Pooncarie (lunch) - Broken Hill
Day 3: Broken Hill - Packsaddle (lunch) - Tibooburra (via the famous vermin proof fence)
Day 4: Tibooburra - Bourke (refuel) - Comeroo Camel Station
Day 5: Comeroo - Moree (Grove Plantation, lunch) - Lightning Ridge (2 nights)
Day 7: Lightning Ridge - Bourke (refuel) - Darling River - Emmdale Roadhouse (lunch) - Cobar
Day 8: Cobar - Bathurst (home)
One benefit of the compact route, was that each of our flying legs was generally shorter than we would normally plan. We thus had the time to add in some off-the-grid roadhouses and cafes for lunch most days.
There were three that I had never landed at: Pooncarie, between Mildura and Broken Hill, where we had lunch at the Old Wharf Café, which sits serenely on the banks of the Darling River and is a totally delightful stopover if ever you’re in the area. You can grab a bed at the Pooncarie pub if you're overnighting.
Packsaddle Roadhouse, on the Silver City Hwy between Broken Hill and Tibooburra is another great stopover with a superb dirt strip.
Emmdale Roadhouse, 80m west of Cobar on the Barrier Highway, has a pretty rough and ready strip, but it’s about 20 paces from the roadhouse and the best chocolate milkshake you have ever had. Good to know.
Interestingly enough, several of the troops remarked how much they'd enjoyed this particular safari, even though we'd all been initially disappointed we couldn't cross any borders. NSW is actually home to a truckload of fantastic short or long stay destinations. I'm gradually adding my favourites onto the list as I get to them, so check them all out here.
And if you're wondering what the hell WardAir training adventures are all about ... check us out here.