The Bucket List

We’re not suggesting you’re going to kick the bucket any time soon, but there’s definitely a case for having a wish list when it comes to flying – 10 things you’d love to do before you hang up the headset.

I feel it my solemn duty to hereby dangle a few carrots.

1 Get your float plane endorsement

This is hands-down, deadset, the best fun you’re going to have in an aeroplane. There’s a statement, even by my standards. I know I tend to rave about people I’ve met and places I’ve been; that’s because they’re good. But flying float planes is better than good. Get ready to be transported.

You don’t have to traipse all the way to the Whitsundays, but it wouldn’t be bad, would it? Truth is, if you live anywhere within cooee of a decent (and legal) stretch of water, you’re in business. I did my endorsement in 2002 up at Air Waves on the Gold Coast. It took me three days in a Cessna 185, but they were three solid days, crammed with more out-there skills training than I could imagine. You are flung so totally out of your comfort zone, the sense of achievement at the end is worth bottling. See the end of this story for a list of operators.


2 Fly in to an outback race meeting

Start at Birdsville and they only get better. The Birdsville Races have been a staple on the outback calendar since the year dot. There’s only ever one complaint from the hordes who gather out here on the first weekend of September each year, and that is that it takes so bloody long to drive out here. That’s why flying makes so much sense and everybody should do the trip at least once.

Pack a swag and sleep under the wing, back the outside chance in Saturday’s Birdsville Cup and do your dough, eat some dust and wash it down with a few hundred coldies. You’ll fit right in with the crowd.

Another meet that’s worth a visit is Louth. The tiny town of Louth on the Darling River puts on a great weekend in early August each year for their annual races though you have to get in early if you want to book a real roof over your head.

Just about every country town has a big race day at least once a year and the locals will be more than happy to knock those city manners out of you and give you an outback welcome you won’t forget in a long time.

Trackside antics don’t stop with horses, either. If humps are your thing, you can catch some honking, spitting, wild action at camel races all over the outback during winter at places like Alice Springs, Winton, Capella, Richmond and Boulia. Not to be outdone, the opal mining town of Lightning Ridge in central NSW hosts the annual Great Goat Race over Easter; Broome’s the place for tropical Crab Racing and SW Qld’s Eulo hosts a damn fine Lizard Race outside the pub if that’s more your style. Cane toad racing is North Queensland’s specialty – knock yourself out.

In fact, Google anything you think of – embarrassingly, it’s sure to be on somewhere in this crazy country of ours and you can bet there’s an airstrip there to welcome you in.


3 Swap automatic for manual. Learn to fly a taildragger.

Smarten up your flying skills with a Tailwheel endorsement

Smarten up your flying skills with a Tailwheel endorsement

Legend has it, that until you’ve learnt how to fly a tailwheel aircraft, you haven’t really learnt to fly. Well I don’t know about that; I’ve only had a couple of hours in a Citabria and an ancient C180. Couldn’t see a cracker out the front and almost took out the airport bowsers trying to find the runway. But it’s on my list of ten because so many people are so passionate about these high-personality aeroplanes, that I’m thinking perhaps there’s something in it.

While you’re at it – you may as well go the whole hog. Taildraggers and aerobatics go together like peaches and cream (which you’ll probably bring up at some point) so spend some time inverted, then learn to do it yourself. Enquire at your local flying school.


4 Fly our beaches low level

Bondi Beach, Sydney's most famous stretch of sand

Bondi Beach, Sydney's most famous stretch of sand

Arguably Australia’s most celebrated export, experience the beauty of our beaches the best possible way, from above, and at low level. With the amount of accessible coastline we have, no matter which state you are in, there is a very special treat on offer for you and your passengers, compliments entirely of our geography.


5 Now fly the cliffs!

Magic cliffs of the Great Australian Bight

Magic cliffs of the Great Australian Bight

From beauty to drama – there are loads to choose from:

  • Try flying Sydney’s Victor One VFR route past Sydney Heads and down the coast for a million dollar view.
  • Follow Victoria’s famous Great Ocean Road and waggle your wings at the 12 Apostles.
  • Do some whale watching from abeam the wild exposed cliffs of the Great Australian Bight.

6 Fly the Kimberley

The view from Zebedee Springs, El Questro, WA

The view from Zebedee Springs, El Questro, WA


Chamberlain Gorge cruise, El Questro, WA

Chamberlain Gorge cruise, El Questro, WA

Could we possibly leave this one off anyone’s wish list? If you haven’t flown up around North West Australia’s Kimberley region yet, then this is an order, rather than a suggestion. Do it.

You are guaranteed the most remarkable destinations …. choose from El Questro, Home Valley Station, Buccaneer Archipelago, Prince Regent Gorge, Collier Bay, Mitchell Falls, Bungle Bungles … it’s an endless list.


7 Step back in time

What an experience!

What an experience!


Gotta try everything at least once

Gotta try everything at least once

Track down that white silk scarf and take a Tiger Moth aloft. They’re noisy and slow and fabulous. There are plenty of schools around the country who will offer you training in one of these venerable old-timers. In stark contrast to modern instrument panels, the small cluster of analogue gauges in front of the novice pilot will delight rather than terrify. Or of course, you can keep it simple and just go for a joy flight.


8 Support the publicans - do an outback pub crawl

The Corner Country of NSW & SA is a great place to head for if the culture of our Public Houses is your thing – purely for historical research purposes, of course. Knowing that your band of best mates has earned a break from searing urban pressures, I dare say you would have no trouble filling seats in your favourite bug-smasher once this particular itinerary is announced.

Our parched country is renowned for its abundance of hotels, particularly in the bush, so there are endless regions to which one could fly and be confident of the availability of a quenching schooner, pint or pony with the locals at the other end.

I’ve plucked Corner Country out because it’s in the middle, and chockers with pubs. You could visit all these in a week, easy. Stay overnight if you can – the breakfasts are legendary. Here are some of the most character-laden pubs you’ll find around here; all with airstrips and all prime examples of down to earth bush hospitality.


9 Join a big air safari

You know you want to. It’s not going to happen if you just stare at the map. It’ll be next Christmas before you know it and your logbook will be telling you a monotonous story. This route is one of my personal ones we did with friends, but there are plenty of other suggestions ... so go check out my Air Safaris page and get the diary out.


10 Take a kid flying

Who's hopping in first??

Never forget just how special it is to be able to fly. Try and share that experience. Next time you’re popping out to the airport, offer a seat to a person less privileged or the kid next door.

Circuits would do; they won't ever forget you.

Read the full story here, The Bucket List, as published in Australian Flying Magazine.