Flying South for the Winter

How do you guarantee good soaring weather in December? Well, you go flying in Australia of course!

Like many birds, last year I found myself fighting a magnetic pull to travel south for the winter. As winter drew closer I was no longer able to fight that pull and booked myself onto a flight that would take me pretty much as south as I could go – Australia.

After seeing a Facebook post of a friend saying they were also thinking of going to Oz, I was sold. I teamed up with H, an experienced hang glider pilot and adventurer who has often found herself travelling to Australia to fly. H had a rough plan of where she wanted to go and who she wanted to see from her previous trips and I was happy to tag along with whatever she suggested seeing as I had never been there before. Her plan sounded loose and mainly to ‘go with the flow’ -exactly what I was looking for.

We planned to borrow some gliders while we were there (shout out to the Australian hang gliding community!) and take our harnesses with us. I packed a minimal amount and managed to shove all my clothes for the trip in with my harness so that I only had one bag to check into the hold of the plane. On December the 7th, I was on my way to Sydney from Glasgow, and H was on her way from Amsterdam.

The morning after arrival, H and I planned to meet at the car hire place. Her phone wasn’t working and I luckily found her wondering along the road from the airport (albeit in the wrong direction) and using my working phone we found our way to the car hire place. From there it was straight to the world famous Moyes hang glider factory to say hi to Vicki and the Moyes team!

From the Moyes factory it was a trip down to Kiama to visit Jorj, who kindly let us rent a Litesport and borrow a Fun to fly, as well as letting us stay a few nights and cooking us dinner! The aim was to have a few flights down at Stanwell Park, and luckily the weather kindly obliged. It’s a beautiful coastal site where many tourists go for tandem hang glider flights. You take off from a small grassy patch at the top of the hill and can fly for miles along the cliffs in each direction. When you’ve decided you have had enough the landing strip is the white sandy beach below. The flying was great, smooth, buoyant coastal air and not a single worry about staying up.

The great hospitality continued with fellow pilot Rob and his wife Judy letting us stay with them, where we could hand feed parrots from the balcony. H was keen to get up to Newcastle (affectionately known as Newy) to see friends and fly there, so we carried on up that way although mindful of the wildfires that were taking hold of the state. Our next hosts in Newcastle were Conrad and Selmsy, they have a prime spot on the beachfront, spitting distance from the Dixon Park take-off. Here there were also small dunes on the beach that you could fly from which was a totally new experience for me.

Dune flying was so much fun, a totally different style of flying than I am used to. It has the added benefits of not having to carry anything up a big hill and not having to put your shoes on. It’s definitely something I would love to do now back in the UK. I am sure there are some fantastic beaches in Scotland that we could take advantage of and its certainly windy enough most of the time!

As well as the Dixon park take off, the stretch coast around Newcastle is what seems like a continuous length of soarable beaches and dunes. Lake Macquarie airport is also conveniently close, where you can go skydiving and go for microlight and gyrocopter flights (it would have been rude to go all that way and not take full advantage on all on offer!).

In amongst our stay at Newcastle we decided to venture inland to Manilla. We had wanted to go flying at Mount Borah but were put off by the reports of fires. After much deliberation we decided to go for it but pay close attention to road closures and the fire reports. We took a couple of tents and headed west to the campsite at Manilla. I have to say it’s certainly not the most comfortable night I have ever had! The smoke from the wildfires lingered in the air and the heatwave made it difficult to sleep (especially after coming from the UK winter). The views from Mount Borah were not as spectacular as I had hoped, masked by the thick smoke from the surrounding wildfires. H flew, but the 45 degree heat was too much for me to handle- I’ll just have to come back another time!

My trip was fantastic, every day was full of fun things to do whether it was hang gliding, swimming, skydiving or cycling. All made possible by reaching out to the community via facebook. I am always in awe of the how fantastic the flying community is, always willing to provide a helping hand on the hill, invite you for dinner or offer you a place to sleep- truly a wonderful bunch of people!

Charlie was inspired to take up hang-gliding at 16 by her dad. After just a week of training she began flying with a club and five years on is now taking part in the British open series competition and expanding her cross-country experience. She aims to encourage young people to try the sport, and prove that it’s possible to juggle work, study and flying!

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