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Darwin - Ayers Rock 9 January

In the end, Flemming was tested 3 times for malaria and they all showed negative.  Although he wasn't completely recovered from his flu, after 5 nights in Darwin, it was high time we moved on or we would get way behind schedule.  Unfortunately, Ray had caught Flemming's germs and was not at all well but he didn't want to delay our departure either. Due the three-day delay, we had to skip Kakadu and Katherine in the north and head straight south to Ayers Rock. 

When we arrived at General Aviation for take-off, we found fellow Mooney flyer Klaus Graesslin there.  We had been told about him on our arrival in Darwin and had tried to contact him without success, so this was a bit of luck!   Klaus has flown to Germany and back so he has Earthrounder experience.

Flemming had checked the satellite and radar images before leaving the apartment. The internet resource for weather briefing in Australia are excellent. There was a long band of very active thunderstorms  between Katherine and Tennants Creek which we had to fly around to the west.  This also gave us a more direct routing to Ayers Rock, but caused us to be out of VHF range for several hours, as we were too far west to be within range of both Tennant Creek and Alice Springs VHF outlets. We were in addition flying in 'designated remote area' where HF is compulsory.  It was soon apparent that it would fly in cloud for most of the way unless we went higher than our initial cruising altitude of 9,000 feet.  Due to the Australian 10'000 feet transition altitude, the next accepted flight level is FL130 when the area QNH is below 1013, so we requested that altitude.  We were still in cloud some of the time but high enough to comfortably zig-zag between  the bad CB's for most of the way.

 Our old-fashioned Australian CODAN HF transceiver only has 28 fixed channels, so we did not have the national HF frequencies we were requested to use for our position reports when outside VHF range. We were however kindly allowed to use the international South Pacific frequencies which we had installed before leaving Geneva. Although we could hear both Brisbane, Nadi, and lots of South Pacific airline position reports on the primary frequency, Brisbane did not receive us. We kept trying and trying every 3 minutes. Finally 20 minutes after passing our first reporting point, we came through to Brisbane. The second HF position report was made with no trouble. An hour before we arrived in Ayers Rock, the clouds started to disperse as we flew above desert scrub.   We had a 15 knot headwind all the way which increased our flight time by an hour to 6 hours.

As we descended near Ayers Rock, Flemming suggested that we do a scenic flight around the Rock and the nearby Olga mountains.  I wasn't keen as we were going through bumpy thermals  and my first thought was to land as quickly as possible!  But when we reached 4,000 feet, the air became smoother again so we did the scenic flight after all.  Actually, it was fabulous!  At about 5.30 p.m. we were close enough to sunset for them to look their most photogenic.  In fact, that was just the time the helicopters take tourists on scenic flights - just as well, because we were able to cadge a lift in their bus to Yulara, the village where all the hotels are located.

Ray booked into a backpackers room (which he was fortunate enough to have to himself), while Flemming and I took advantage of a special rate at the 5 star Sails in the Desert Hotel which was half the normal price, making it cheaper than the mid-range hotels.  Ray had already been to Ayers Rock, and was therefore content to get a good rest instead of doing the  tourist bit.  Flemming still wasn't feeling very well but didn't want to miss anything.  So we got up at 4.45 to catch the 5 a.m. bus to see the sunrise at Ayers Rock.  We decided not to climb it - it's sacred to the Aborigines who own the land and they ask people not to.  In any case, I   preferred walking round the base.  I thought it was much more interesting, as well as less tiring.  After a short walk on our own at a pleasant early morning temperature, we carried on round  with a very knowledgable park ranger who explained about the geology of the rock, the Aborigines'  way of life and the flora and fauna.   Luckily for us there has been an unusual amount of rain recently so the plants are looking fresh and green and some desert flowers are in bloom.

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Darwin Mooney aviator Klaus Graesslin, Flemming and Ray

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Scenic flight over the Olgas

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The famous Ayers Rock
from the air

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It is 6:10 am in the morning. Sunrise over Ayers Rock

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