hiflioz and come on's blog

3 states in 3 weeks Part 2 - Stanwell and Newcastle, NSW

Sun Feb 08, 2009 3:44 pm


After the heat and sweat of Corryong, I was looking forward to some fun coastal flying. It’s about a 6 hour drive from Corryong to Sydney, and we’d be traveling in convoy with Birgit, who was keen to fly some sites she hadn’t seen for decades. Easterly Plumbing was driving across with his family, and we’d all meet in Stanwell the following day. Best of all, I’d be picking up my new wing from Moyes that week – very exciting! We planned to stay a few days at Stanwell, then meet the Airborne boys at Newcastle; Easterly Plumbing was returning a demo Sting3. Somewhere we’d squeeze in a touristy ferry ride in Circular Quay (don’t worry, I didn’t take any pics so you won’t be subjected to those Harbour Bridge-Opera House shots!).

Like all desperate pilots, we drove straight to launch the moment we arrived in Stanwell Park. It’s always a trifle awkward standing on launch when it’s blowing clean over the back, but I guess at a place like this they’re used to visitors arriving when it isn’t on! We pretended the cars with the gliders on them weren’t ours.

No matter how many videos you’ve seen of a site, nothing beats actually standing on a new launch except, of course, launching from it and flying!

Stanwell deserves its iconic status not only for its scale and beauty, but for its history and exposure. Without places like Stanwell, Newcastle, Sandpatch, Byron and Apollo Bay that introduce hang gliding to tens of thousands of spectators every year, the sport would die, so I reckon those sites are hugely important to all of us, whether we ever get to fly them or not.

Visually, Stanwell reminded me a little of of Eaglehawk Neck in Tasmania, which has the same kind of panoramic view over the sea, with a settlement nestled below and a curving bay.

We checked out launch, dodging couples smooching on the grass in the sunshine. The toplanding looked very doable to me:

You can see the grassy strip in front of the trees - straightforward when the wind is square on, trickier if its crossing from the right (south).

Then Birgit took us to the LZ – ditto.

We stayed the night in Stanwell with Muddy, a hangie mate of Birgit’s from way back and who stars in relate2’s bbq vid. He had a suitable number of old and new wings slung under his carport, a dead giveaway of a longtime pilot. I think those gliders breed under there! We had an entertaining evening chewing the fat, before Birgit took us for a short walk and introduced us to another friend, Kieran, an ex-hangie with whom we’d be staying the following night, as Muddy’s house’d be a bit crowded with all of us plus Easterly Plumbing and family.

The next morning, we moved our swag to Kieran’s and looked out his window. A paraglider was up! I smsed Easterly Plumbing, who was still traveling from West Wyalong, to tell him it was on. We rushed to launch.

There was relate2, setting up his unmistakable wing. We met Martin and Chris, a couple of hoons who had fun throwing their gliders around the sky, plus several other folk. I love the way you can fit so quickly into any hang gliding community – we’re all a bunch of fanatics with the same obsession!

Relate2 signed us up and talked us through the site requirements. Although I felt pretty confident about toplanding there even in this direction, the site is so sensitive at the moment that, after discussing it with relate2, I decided I wouldn’t. What if I botched it? I’d never be able to show my face in the state again, I’d be so mortified! Seriously though, we all know how infuriating it is when visiting pilots breeze in and thoughtlessly endanger your home site – it drives me nuts! I remember when some interstate pilots came to SA and camped on the private property LZ, and then abused the farmer when he asked them to leave! Arrrgh! Took some fast-talking from our Prez to smooth that one over!

Astroboy was there too –fun to meet hg.org members. I promised him we’d be flying together next time I visited, but I was a little bit rude and didn’t chat much because I was so eager to set up!

The day was quite south, so we’d be flying the face overlooking the town – too much headwind to cross over in a floater, or to travel too far north of launch. So not an epic day as when the entire coastline opens up, but that doesn’t matter when it’s your first flight at a site, which is always a blast.

And yet it turned out to be a terrific day! Fingertip smooth and buoyant air with orographic forming on the ridge behind us, little well-defined wispies that were easy to avoid (later the sky closed in a little more).

I ran off launch and went straight up –scarcely a whitecap in sight, but the orographic was sucking and some amazing thermals punched up at the back of the bowl where it felt like Corryong all over again! I climbed under and then in front of them, gazing down on the township nestled in the greenery. A constant stream of cars snaked down the main road, while commuter and coal trains chugged along the line. A chorus of cicadas swelled rhythmically up to me – a unique Aussie sound that shouts, “Summertime!”

You can see the trainline.

I flew deep into the bowl, stickybeaking at the Amazing Mansions along the ridge:

The view inland is deep green subtropical rainforest, very different to South Australia’s olive-coloured dry sclerophyll stringybark or low coastal cup gum. I spotted a sparkling white building a little way inland towards Helensburgh – later I drove past and discovered it’s an ornate temple.

I saw Geoff about to launch in the Fun190 and got a few shots; Here he is on the front of launch:

It wasn’t long before Birgit and relate2 were up as well. At one point a line of orographic formed and I tried to cross under it to the southern point across the bowl, but the angle was wrong and I’d have ended up too far back and in the rotor so I aborted, content to boat about and enjoy the view. Here's Geoff over the town:

The wispies made it extra special. Tandem gliders were up now too, as well as a paraglider sharing the thermals with me. Birgit, Geoff and I took turns being top of the stack.


After an hour and a half or so, I was getting cold. I decided to make a few passes along the lower cliff face and although I could maintain, I couldn’t climb back up, victim of the gradient. No matter, I’d had enough for now and came in. With the direction this south there was no way I wanted to go deep into that chute and besides, I didn’t need to in a falcon. I came in along the low cliff, then ducked in just slightly, almost over road and trees (you can see them in the pic), pulled into the clean air and still stopped a foot from the yellow sign. The joys of single surface gliders!!

Geoff joined me not long after, and then Birgit, just as Easterly Plumbing arrived and began setting up his Fun on top. Wow, that was fast (later I discover from his family that my sms was perhaps not conducive to a leisurely trip – no stops, eat as we’re driving etc. Oops!).

Easterly Plumbing promptly did half a dozen toplandings but his skill would have been clear and indeed, Bruce offered him a test fly of his Malibu. Easterly Plumbing later said he loved the wing.

In the LZ I met a few other pilots, notably Jorg, a flying sista. I exchanged numbers with Martin in the hope it would come on tomorrow, and them we decamped back to Kieran’s. Anyone who knows the place will understand when I say it’s the most amazing house, with Kieran’s wonderful ceramic art everywhere. I cooked up a nice fish curry for us all and hoped for more flying tomorrow. My glider was still on its way back from Forbes after test flying and I knew things would be at sixes and sevens at Moyes because of Steve.

We spent the next day heading a little south to chase campsites but amazingly, they were all full up (not even any unpowered sites!). Kieran had however very kindly welcomed us to stay for longer so at the end of the day we would be able to return if we wished.

We checked out Hill 60, where we saw one glider in the air and met a couple pilots about to launch. It’s a very small hill that slopes down very steeply behind the flat top. You set up on the steep bit and carry the ten or so feet up the slope:

It was 20+ knots and building, and crossing from the left (north) so you could feel the rotor from the bushes on that side. You can see the windlines in this pic; Birgit's facing directly into the wind:

You land on the oval (you can see a pilot has landed there already):

or on the beach to the north where there’s a path to carry up, but in this direction and strength, with the lines bending even more further out, it looked like about a third of the beach would have had crappy air from the point to the south:

We helped the last pilot launch with his left wing in rotor and loads of pressure on the wire. He got away cleanly, but hmmm. Birgit, Geoff, Easterly Plumbing and I all looked at each other – none of us were inspired to launch from there with the wind in that direction, not least because there was another 5-10 kts out to sea.

We drove down to the bottom and checked out the lower launch but by now it was 25-28 kts and very gusty. There was no bottom landing, just a rocky shelf, though we certainly wouldn’t be bombing in this strength. The gusty air was uninviting: we’d be flying just to say we’d flown there, not to enjoy the flying. You know what I mean.

Kieran wasn’t surprised to see us back (it’s peak holiday season, everything’s booked out) and we cooked up a nice green chicken curry for him. No flying the next day, which we’d set aside for sight-seeing (Circular Quay, Opera House, Harbour Bridge, The Rocks walk etc).

However, we also picked up a whole buncha fresh seafood and other ingredients as Kieran had suggested an authentic paella that night in his 1m diameter pan. I want one (I love cooking)! Muddy, his nephew and Birgit joined us, as did Kieran’s nephew, mate and their girlfriends. A joint effort of chopping, slicing, dicing, peeling, lots of wine and YUM! It was a lovely night and the pan was so big that there was food left over!

Off To Newcastle

The following day, we took our leave of Kieran and his hospitality. We’d be heading north through Sydney to Newcastle, picking up my glider from the Moyes factory enroute. YAY!

It was 46 C and we were dripping but it was interesting to tour the Moyes factory behind its anonymous frontage. Steve M showed us around – the sail plotter was amazing, as well as the loft (I’d always wondered about the logistics of sewing up a sail!) and the soundproofed room where carbon fittings were being worked. I mean, I didn’t expect fabric crayons and sharp scissors, of course, but nor had I expected so much high tech machinery. It was great to meet Vicki as well after our conversations on the phone.

Then, of course, the best part – setting up the glider! She looked absolutely beautiful. Everything went smoothly except I couldn’t get the tip wands in, even with help (I know my friend Sue has trouble with them when the glider’s set up on the A-frame,but not when it’s set up flat). The wands were slippery with sweat and my shoulder was crook, but I could also see it was a knack I’d simply have to learn. No worries, it’ll come with practice, and there will be help if I need it. To my surprise, I had no problems with the pullback (sometimes I can’t get the Shark pullback undone and have to lie the glider flat, especially after a long XC flight when I’m tired and hot). And picking her up – wow, light as a feather!

We piled my new wing on top of the other four on the car, loaded up some carbon inserts that Vicki had asked us to pass to init4fun at Newcastle, and headed north. Easterly Plumbing had detoured east on his youngest daughter’s request so she could stand on the very beach where Bondi Rescue was filmed, but this didn’t hold quite the same degree of excitement for us (though I gather Easterly Plumbing enjoyed the views). Instead, we drove through the tunnel under the harbour and a few hours later, after chasing up several campgrounds (all booked out) nabbed the last two bakingly hot spots at Bellambi Pines just south of Newcastle.

But there was still plenty of daylight left and Birgit was meeting us at Airborne. We joined her there and then Easterly Plumbing arrived to drop off the demo Sting3. It was good to meet more folk, and to see Stui from Corryong again. Rob Hibbert is an ex-South Aussie and an old mate of Easterly Plumbing. He gave us a tour and once again I was amazed by the technology, especially the machines that cut out parts from a solid chunk of aluminium. If you ever get a chance to visit the factory that makes the things that give you so much joy, do so – it’s fascinating.

We considered going to a local site for a quick fly but, with a storm forecast and greenish black clouds already boiling to the southwest, we set up camp, then had a congenial meal in the local Yacht Club with Rob and his family, the rain hammering down on the decking outside and the masts canting wildly in the wind.

The next morning we arranged to meet init4fun at Merewether. We weren’t sure exactly where we’d be flying today – it’d be on, but where? Merewether’s a beautiful site, less developed than many other parts of the coast, but we ended up heading north, init4fun pointing out all the launches and LZs on the way until we got to Strzlecki.

This pic is a view north towards Strzlecki launch on the headland. You can see the Monument launch & LZ a little below that, and then, much closer, a green bank that's an alternative launch for fresh winds:

This pic was taken after we flew, but you can also see lots of people on the northern end of the beach. Remember this as you read on.

Gliders were in the air and who was that looping a C4? Yep, AP, looking as smooth in real-life air as he does in the vids! We met Tony Barton, Curt, and I caught up with PG/Hger Meg, whom I’d met at a women pilots fly-in some years ago. Garry & Wendi from Corryong were more familiar faces.

I was extremely tempted to set up the Litesport. It was a coastal site with good air. The LZ in the park looked fine but the glide of my new wing would be considerably more than I was used to and, if I misjudged, I’d overshoot into busy traffic and powerlines. You can see the park in this pic, inland of the esplanade road:

(*Edit: the park is not as large or clear as it appears in this pic. There are a few buildings in the middle and three sides slope down, quite steeply to the north, so you'd have to judge your final approach carefully to avoid obstacles and rotor; you can see a little of the slope and buildings in the first pic just above this one).

But so few people were on the beach when I was on launch... surely I could land there instead? I hesitated, and then Easterly Plumbing, seeing my indecision, reminded me of that old rule, “site, glider, harness – don’t change more than one at a time if you can help it”.

He was right of course, so I set up the Falcon as Geoff checked over a secondhand Litesport4 he was considering buying from Kris. We’d met Kris at Corryong. Still recovering from a serious accident, he wouldn’t be flying for some time, and his Litesport had been rebuilt at Moyes. Geoff had enquired about the repairs when we’d been at the factory and been told it was a very good glider. With just 15 hours, no sail damage, carbon outers, struts and wands, it was an irresistible bargain. Crikey, we’d be heading home with SIX gliders!

I drove the 1 minute down to the Monument launch/LZ to check it out. Curt had explained where to land – approach no deeper than the path bisecting it in half and on the southern side (ie the SE quarter), to avoid the rotor that appeared at the northern side from the undercut cliff when the wind was a bit cross from the north:

AP landed – great to meet him after exchanging views on hg.org all this time.

Back at Strzlecki, I set up quickly. It’s a tiny triangular grassy launch, edged by a white post-and-rail fence, a fringe of low shrubbery along the front, and scarcely big enough to hold 3 gliders. I wasn’t surprised to hear that only two pilots – AP and Tony - topland there:

The fence around the back means you have to land right at the very front, fly-on-the-wall style. The Monument LZ was within my skills, but this one wasn’t. The technique is identical to the one I’ve been practising at Ochre on the front corner (see previous blog), but I like to start high with a perfect wind direction and strength when learning a new landing spot or technique, then gradually come in lower before, over time, working my way up to more challenging wind strength and direction for the same spot. It’s very different from being able to nail a tiny tricky spotlanding first time at an unfamiliar site - that’s the sign of a maestro.

Conditions were light but Curt pointed out that the moving branch tips on the pine tree to the north meant it would be strong enough to stay up and indeed it was. Very smooth, as coastal air tends to be when it’s light. Never got much more than 150 above but wow, so many fabulous new views to enjoy. The town inland and to the south, with its colourful roofs and neat yards contrasting with the cranes spiking up amongst the brown and grey port buildings and ships in the silvered sea to the north:

A beautiful rocky coastline directly below – the colour of the sea here, a true aqua, is different from the bluer water back home:

The beach curving away around the corner to the north, the historic gun enplacement – I drank it all in.

I flew back and forth awhile, joined by init4fun, Birgit, Easterly Plumbing and someone flying a 220 without a passenger. AP zoomed around us.

Init4fun & AP up, we're parked at the monument:

AP landed at the monument, then I came in to join him. My approach was five feet too high first time (intentional, I generally err a little too high on a first approach at a new site because it’s better than being too low!), then nailed it the second time. Easterly Plumbing joined us.

Meet and greet at the Monument, then AP relaunches:

Then we all relaunched and flew some more:

before I landed again with Easterly Plumbing and Birgit. Conditions were lightening off and going more north. Hmmm, would I stay up? At your home site, you generally know exactly how much puff you need to stay up, but all bets are off at a new site with its individual quirks. Easterly Plumbing was getting into his harness but he can land anywhere and it wouldn’t be a problem if he bombed on the small beach so I decided to see how he went. He launched and scratched at ridge height for a while. By now Geoff was in the air, having launched at Strzlecki and high in the Fun190.

Easterly Plumbing wasn’t getting up. AP flew by and yelled down to Birgit and me it was now too north to either launch or land at the Monument, so we packed up. Easterly Plumbing snuck his glider onto the small, closest beach for a downwind landing with a big flare from the backwires. Geoff was still up high, flying. Easterly Plumbing came to get his packup gear just as Geoff flew by in hang, intending to land at the Monument. We all yelled and waved at him and he got the message and headed off down towards the main beach to the south.

He reached the point dividing the two beaches, then turned back towards the smaller one, and it was then I realized the value of Easterly Plumbing’s advice. Conditions had been light all along and had lightened further, but it’s hard to read and anticipate such things at a new site. In the time we’d been flying, the main beach I’d intended to land the Litesport on had filled up with people at its northern end. It was packed. Geoff wouldn’t have the glide to cross them and also turn back into the wind. Landing the Fun on the small beach closer by would be no problem for him – but I’d have found it pretty scary landing a new HP wing for the first time on such a short, narrow beach:

When we were all packed up, we popped back up to Strzlecki because I wanted to watch Tony land the 220 there. It was pretty impressive. Then we went to the local watering hole and sat out the front with some of the local pilots. The wind had picked up again slightly and gliders were in the air again.

It had been a great day, and we had a long drive home ahead. But next weekend was the Australia Day long weekend, with another flying trip to look forward to (3 states in 3 weeks, Part3!).

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Joined: 07 Jul 2007
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PostPosted: Mon Feb 09, 2009 2:42 am    Post subject:    

It was nice to have you all visit and wish you could have stayed longer. This Sth Oz contingent made a very good impression on us (Easterly Plumbing is a master and has the keys to our city). One day I would be interested to see where you all fly. It is definitely a breeding ground for skilled pilots.
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PostPosted: Mon Feb 09, 2009 7:57 am    Post subject:    

I love reading your stories and seeing the incredible pics to go with. Winter can be cruel to us in the mid-atlantic US. Thanks for helping me get through it!
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PostPosted: Tue Feb 10, 2009 10:32 pm    Post subject:    

Wow! Great travel log, Helen. I especially loved the 1 meter pan of paella part. drool
Cheers, Jonathan
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PostPosted: Sun Apr 11, 2010 5:58 pm    Post subject:    

cool pictures thumbsup
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