Oysters, Ultralight Paradise and flying to New Zealand.

Saturday 28th April dawned a near perfect South East Queensland day as my son and I fuelled X-Air 231 for the trip north to Barcoo Airstrip which adjoins Kootingal township on the southern end of Moreton Island.

Departing from Coolangatta and tracking north - coastal over water at 500 feet is definitely the best trip any Ultralighter can do in Australia. Passing what seems like feet from the high-rises which make up the Surfers Paradise beach strip, some of the verandas are packed with people frantically waving as we pass by at their level, below the beaches are already busy and like most Saturdays there are heaps of 'nippers' (little life savers in training) enjoying the early morning rescue activities.

Passing over the Gold Coast Seaway and further north to Jumpinpin at 500 feet rewards both Ryan and myself with numerous sightings of dolphins, sharks, the odd ray and schools of fish chopping through the water. Some dark and ominous clouds are hanging right on the coast just a little bit further north and hopefully wont ruin an otherwise perfect day, strange as it seems 80% of the sky is clear and blue with just a few big clouds already towering up beyond 15,000 feet.

With South Stradbroke Island behind us my navigator had me right on track as we passed over the small passage which separates North and South Stradbroke Island. At only 8 his coastal navigation skills always amaze me, he can follow a map and we never get lost as long as I follow his instructions of "Daddy, you look at the bush and I will look at the water". With miles and miles of pristine beaches behind us we rounded the top of North Stradbroke Island and Moreton Island was now clearly visible in the distance. The day was so clear and still that the high-rises of Surfers were visible behind us and the centre of Brisbane sat clear on the far side of Moreton Bay.

Flying overhead Barcoo airstrip to check out the wind direction (or lack of) I made the necessary calls to Brisbane Radar and all stations in the South Moreton area and started our decent from 1500 feet to finally join downwind for my first landing at this ideal little paradise. Past reports had me scared of ever touching the wheels down here as I had heard reports the previous owners were far from hospitable towards any visiting aircraft, and one report told of a plane landing and setting up camp only to be refused the right to fly out and was finally de-rigged and taken home on a barge.

Well how far can the past be from the hospitality of the new owners David and Jane Clout who personally greeted me on touchdown. Already there were about 5 aircraft on the ground with about another 9 to arrive before lunch. The strip itself is grass with a soft sand base it falls slightly from the South to the North and is approximately 600 metres long. Our greeting was made complete with copious amounts of tea and coffee and home made snacks for morning tea.

As with most informal fly-ins we sat around under the shade of a tree and swapped flying stories, I took the opportunity of getting some local directions from Jane and set off with Ryan for the deserted beach at the southern end of Moreton Island. After a short 15 minutes walk from the Southern end of the airstrip we were amazed at the tropical vista that opened in front of us.. the water was clear, blue and very inviting after the short walk and this has to be a fisherman's paradise as schools of quite large fish were easily visible just off the deserted shore, my guess is they were big bream or trevally. Note this down for the next visit I thought to myself !!. My last fishing trip was far from successful when my frozen prawns got lost under the passenger seat of the X-Air, I discovered this mistake about 2 weeks later when I took a friend for a fly, thankfully the doors on the X-Air can be removed in about 1 minute because we really needed some air in the cabin until the smell went away.

Hunger saw us walk around the Southern end of the island to the little township of Kootingal, I was told earlier there was a general store there but between Ryan and myself we couldn't find it. Kootingal is a really nice place, my guess would be about 50 houses all running parallel along 3 'streets', that is if you call sandy tracks – streets. Ryan made the observation that every VW in Australia must come here to die, because every vehicle was some sort of modified VW, from big tyred beach buggies to examples well past their prime, every model ever sold or modified was catered for. Making our way back to the strip for lunch we stopped and listened to the bird life which you just don't seem to hear in the suburbs.

David told me of his plans for his airstrip and I think we aviators should give him our support. As Dave and Jane don't fly themselves Option 1 was to allow the strip to be taken over by the ever encroaching scrub, Option 2 is to charge a small fee to visiting pilots and that will pay for the slashing and general upkeep of the airstrip keeping it open for all to enjoy. A show of hands at lunch certainly reinforced my vote for option No 2. We had a number of suggestions which gained support from all attending, visiting pilots could just make a donation when they use the strip, or clubs could come and use the strip for club events or fly-away's for say three or four times per year for only a $200 to $300 annual fee, exceptional value we all agreed. David and Jane are also happy to assist in organising accommodation on the island for visiting groups of aviators we cant let this one slip by, here we have a family who openly invite Ultralight and GA aircraft, they can help organise a bed for the night.... ahh I have found paradise. A couple of important things to note fuel is not available locally and the strip can be quite soft in places, not enough to cause any real concerns but in nil wind a Jabiru had to eject a passenger to make a safe departure back to Caboolture, finally you need to keep an eye out for pigs and kangaroos on the strip and birds like to hang out there at high tide when they are not off feeding in the shallows.

Dave put the icing on the cake In Ultralight Paradise when he told me of the upcoming Oyster season which runs from September to January, as an oyster farmer he is happy to put on special club days where you can fly in and feast on export quality oysters (at wholesale prices) and make your way home in the afternoon. As a lover of oysters I think I will make a booking for the club and turn up on the day having forgot to tell the other members might cost me a few dollars but it's more for me !!

You always run into interesting people at fly-ins and this one was no different, what a strange machine I thought to myself as I wandered over to have a closer look at a heavily modified Airborne Edge trike. Introducing myself to John Elcock I absorbed his full story and I must say it's hard not to get swept up in his infectious enthusiasm and sense for adventure. Readers may remember John from a few years ago when he flew a trike down to Tasmania from Melbourne where he waited for favourable conditions to then fly over to New Zealand, crazy ??

John's latest plan is to again tackle the Tasmania to New Zealand crossing, I measured the distance roughly on my sons globe and if the scale is remotely accurate it works out to be about 2500 kms (approx 1600 miles) of pure Southern Ocean with absolutely nowhere to land. The 582 Rotax powered aircraft has been modified to carry over 200 litres of fuel which should be enough for the 14 hour crossing, the Streak wing and other aerodynamic modifications allow for a comfortable 70 knot cruise but it's interesting to know that unless he has a tailwind for the crossing he simply wont make it, he will either run out of sunlight or fuel, brave guy. John plans his latest attempt between November the 15th and January 15th when conditions are at their best for strongest tailwinds, he plans to depart from Cambridge in Tasmania and land in Milford Sound in New Zealand. John is looking for a hanger near Cambridge in Tasmania where he can leave his trike from November 15th till he departs when the weather is at it's best for the crossing. Further details and any assistance would be greatly appreciated and John can be contacted on +61 07 5491 5571.

Well that's it, another enjoyable and unforgettable weekend in Southern Queensland, but if I make it sound to good you will all want to move here. Now when is that oyster festival starting.......