Monday, February 19, 2007


As I made my way north towards Queensland I was reminded of what Jill had told me about The Gold Coast. She described it as a “Concrete Jungle”. Even so I wasn’t prepared when I rounded a headland and looked across the shallow bay to see a city of towering skyscrapers. I struggled to place it for a moment. Surely this wasn’t Brisbane already? It took a moment before I realized that these were beachfront condominiums. Soon I was out of the remote stretches of lonely beach and deep in “The Jungle”. Even so, it was uniquely Australian and surprisingly accessible. I found a caravan park right on the beach at Burleigh Head and decided to stop for the afternoon, then changed my mind and made it two nights. It was time to take a little break at the ocean. A couple of days at the beach swimming, walking on the sand, and generally soaking up the sun had me feeling like a new person.

I was only about 45 minutes from Canungra, and although the weather didn’t look too good I decided to go and have a look. As it turned out I found eight or ten pilots at the meeting spot debating going up the hill. We eventually made our way up to Beechmont, but it didn’t look promising. It was blowing in nicely, but cloudbase was below the hill, and we could see rain squalls scattered around the valley. As the squalls came over launch visibility dropped to 100ft and rain poured down. All but two of the guys gave up and left. As luck would have it the fellow I rode up with wanted to stay – I certainly couldn’t see why – and none of the others were going back through Canungra. Oh well, I was stuck here until my ride decided to leave. We huddled in the small picnic shelter and shared flying stories while waiting for something to change. It just seemed to get worse, and then slowly a faint blue line appeared on the horizon. Soon we could see a definite band of blue studded with fair weather cumulus. Before long that blue was over launch and it was a different day. I had already decided not to fly so as not to put my still wobbly knee at more risk, but the other two started stuffing battens. In no time they were soaring at over 4000ft in 400-500ft/minute thermals. It was just amazing. The mountains and the valleys were magical looking; all crisp and green and glistening in the bright sun. Without my even flying the site captured me at that instant.

I was kicking myself for forgetting my camera in the van at the bottom of the hill – I really wanted to record this moment. After about an hour and a half the guys top landed and after chatting and breaking down we made our way back down the hill. By now it was late enough that I decided to stay in town for the night and make my way back to Manilla in the morning.

I woke early, and was ready to hit the road by 6am. I decided to make one more trip up the hill to try and get a picture of the launch. It wouldn’t be like yesterday, but at least it would be something. In fact it was even better. It was unreal to be standing there in the bright sun at 6:30 in the morning with the wind blowing straight in and puffy clouds above and behind launch while a thin layer of fog still lay in the folds of the valley. It was easy to see how Jonny was able to start a 500km flight here at 8:30 in the morning. The place was just mesmerizing. The site has incredible potential for sure. Jonny has made two 500km flights from here and many of the locals have made flights of over 300km. Beyond that, however, it was just a beautiful place, and surely a beautiful place to fly. I hope to be back.

On my way back down the hill I stopped to take some pictures of a colony of fruit bats to add to my animal collection, and then I headed on my way. I was going back to Manilla via the inland route through Beaudesert and Boonah, and then down the New England Highway. It was certainly some of the most picturesque scenery I have seen in Australia. Much different than the dry flatlands of Forbes, the smoke choked valleys around Bright, or the low scrubby hills of Manilla. I would definitely like to get back here and fly.

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