SFC Air Safari to Hamilton Island and the Whitsundays – ANZAC day long weekend 2021
It was a brisk cloudless morning last Friday, as the last of the 12 aircraft, and 22 pilots and passengers, from the SFC Air Safaris fleet took to the sky.
The fleet of aircraft included numerous Cherokees, two Piper Saratoga’s and a few Cirrus.
The trip to Hamilton Island had been planned for over 4 months and the planning sessions were beginning to pay off.
The week leading up to departure, SFC had provided the fleet with detailed weather analysis, fuel and route planning. For some it was just interesting to see what others were up to and for others the first time they had ever flight planned this type of adventure.
The majority of the fleet had used these sessions to plan to fly the inland route, and go early, to avoid increased convective activity building along the Queensland coast.
Consequently, the SFC fleet was essentially departed in two fleets with a group leaving before SFC Wings night and a group after.
The fleet crossed over the blue mountains and headed north with farmland rolling beneath us before the massive wild natural bush of the great dividing range spread out as far as the eye could see.
Popular first stops were Moree or Narrabri, then onto places like Roma or Emerald or Rockhampton, where a core group found suitable lodgings at the Criterion Hotel, an historic hotel in Rocky.
Whilst the pilots and passengers enjoyed a well earned beverage and a pub dinner, all the pilots were glued to a multitude of weather apps, BOM and NAIPS (GAF’s and TAF’s), scouring the latest forecasts for the Whitsundays region.
The weather for Saturday to get to Shute Harbour for the AirBP Dinner and onto Hamilton Island looked compromised for those in the later departure group.
Many of the fleet had arrived early ahead of the weather so were well established in Shute Harbour or Hamilton Island yet for the later group we had to divide passengers and non IFR pilots amongst the SFC instructors. With a lot of teamwork we were able to get all the participants, pilots and passengers to Proserpine then Hamilton Island.
Everyone was able to share their success and stories on the Sunday night where we had a group SFC dinner with all 22 participants.
Whether the pilots arrived to Hamilton Island earlier by VFR or IFR shooting the RNAV14Z, all the hard work paid off with a stunning vista on approach of the blue waters off the Whitsunday islands.
Each member of the SFC air safaris had their own opportunities for relaxing. Some played “two up” at the marina on ANZAC day, others went to the beach or sailing and some just relaxed by the pool. Whilst some even undertook their own scenic flights around the Whitsunday islands, visiting postcard locations like the heart reef.
Monday afternoon saw the first group of pilots take to the air again, leaving Hamilton Island on a much better VFR flight environment back to Rockhampton and down to Bundaberg or Hervey Bay for the night.
A few decided that given the weather had improved to take the VFR coastal route from Fraser Island or Noosa down the coast at 1500ft passing the Sunshine coast, then Stradbroke Island, the Gold Coast (with the high rise towers just off the wing) and onto Byron Bay. Byron /Ballina provided an opportunity for a short break, then a lovely cruise back to Bankstown to find the city enveloped in smoke haze.
Some decided to enjoy the inland route back down again whilst others took their time on Hamilton Island and enjoyed a longer stay only arriving back in Sydney on Thursday.
The SFC Air Safaris to Hamilton Island involved over 4 months of planning. The group members had negotiated COVID border concerns, budgetary constraints, aircraft, accommodation shortages (due ANZAC long weekend), and significant weather concerns but had all succeeded in their mission. The group had members from 16 to over 60, from a wide variety of walks of life, but new genuine friendships were formed. Students that used the opportunity to undertake the challenge as training flights gained significant new skills and all the pilots agreed that the ~15-18 hrs of flying had given everyone tremendous new experience.
SFC tried to accommodate everyone’s skill levels, budget constraints and time availability. Some flew as passengers, others in their own planes. We had 4 instructors help with the trip with some students going all the way up and back under training whilst others were just one way or even just a sector for an hour.
The aim of the SFC Air Safaris is to provide a safe and fun environment to show pilots the power of general aviation. There are so many unique, amazing places and sights that can only be seen in a light aircraft so we hope that you will have the opportunity to join us on the next SFC adventure.
Club Captain Tim