Journaling the Journey

Captain Biff Windsock, journaling the journey

New Zealand to Australia
First Leg of the Journey

With the very able company of an old pal that is also a vintage aircraft aviator, the first leg of what could be construed to be a historic journey was begun. The New Zealand Customs official was very accommodating, traveling from the port of Opua some distance away from Kerikeri.  Fueling was completed after a brief rain shower, no further excuses could be mustered, and the final takeoff from New Zealand soil was made.  Quite heavy with fuel and equipment, the old girl did not even breathe hard on takeoff.  She seemed eager to be going on a new journey of discovery and adventure.

Further rain showers were circumnavigated in VFR (Visual Flight Rules) conditions and on to Norfolk Island 482 nautical miles away.  3 hours and 45 minutes after takeoff Norfolk Island, home of the Norfolk pine tree, was well in sight.  A circle of the Island revealed a beautiful and interesting coastline.  After wandering around the island, we landed and were directed to a very green lush parking area for tie down.

Two balmy moonlit nights at Norfolk Island and it was off to Lord Howe Island, again about 480 nautical miles distant.  A beautiful day and an encouraging report on wind and weather by a very competent weatherman at Lord Howe convinced me that this was the time.  Again, approx 3 hours 45 minutes after takeoff, Lord Howe was well in sight.  A purposeful deviation to the south to circle and photograph Balls Pyramid, a most inspiring spire (sorry), got the attention of some of those who were following the flight via the Spot Satellite tracking system.  It appeared to them that I was going to miss Lord Howe.  I had viewed  Lord Howe and Balls Pyramid from high altitude many times during Sydney to Los Angeles flights. This World Heritage Site fascinated me a great deal and I had dreamed about returning here one day.  Little did I realize until later that it could . . . and would . . . be accomplished in my dear old Staggerwing.  What a thrill to finally be here!

A full circle of the Island for photos and it was time to land.  The Customs and Immigration man wanted to go home.  It was Easter Saturday and everyone on this tiny island was already home or on the way.  While still in the air, he asked via radio if we had booked accommodation.  The folks at Norfolk Island had said not to bother, it was the off season.  As Bogie would have said, we were misinformed.  Easter Weekend at Lord Howe . . . with little accommodation space to begin with . . . was a big deal.  The very kind Customs man (an ex-F111 fighter pilot) booked us the last remaining room on the island.  I wanted to give that chap a Staggerwing ride right then but it was time to get the bird on the ground.

Captain Biff in his Red Rockette in New Zealand
Every single aviator who had heard that I was going to Lord Howe warned of the violent winds that often exist due to the terrain.  Often the windsocks at each end of the runway are pointing in opposite directions!  And the runway is less than 3000 ft. long.  Hmmm.  Doug, the Lord Howe weatherman, was spot on.  This was the right day to fly this leg.  The windsocks at BOTH ends of the runway were pointing in the SAME direction.  In addition, it was only a slight crosswind.  What a fantastic experience!  Again, beautiful lush green grass in which to tie the old girl down.  Arrival formalities overwith, a heartfelt thank you to the Customs chap, and off to the historic nearby Pinetrees hotel.  Another amazingly balmy moonlit night in the South Pacific.

Due to the good advice of Doug, the Lord Howe weatherman, Easter Sunday was the time to leave. Waiting even one day would make it unlikely to be able to make Australia in visual conditions.  A deep trough was forming in northeast Australia and would provide rain for several days.  After a much too short stay, it was back to the aerodrome, getting wind and weather information and filing a flight plan. The original plan was to make Australian landfall in the Coffs Harbour area, then fly northbound at low level along the coast to enjoy the scenery.  With a somewhat tardy departure from Lord Howe, the corner was cut in order to head northwest towards the Brisbane area.  With darkness and weather approaching, a decision was made to land at the Gold Coast aerodrome in Coolangatta.  Excellent aid from the tower and ground control to a parking/tie down area and the Tasman crossing was over.  The old girl did a terrific job of finding her way to the islands, and then to the Australian mainland.  She's indeed, a dependable bird.  It rained for the next two days . . . just as Doug said it would.  Who said you couldn't trust a weatherman?

After a short stay in the U.S., Captain Biff will continue his journey from Australia to Indonesia. The journey will continue . . .