Tuesday, August 14, 2012

TRIP REPORT - Whitehaven Beach & Hill Inlet Joyflight - Air Whitsunday Seaplanes - De Havilland DHC-2 Beaver - VH-AWD

TRIP REPORT - Whitehaven Beach & Hill Inlet Joyflight - Air Whitsunday Seaplanes - De Havilland DHC-2 Beaver - VH-AWD

My wonderful in-laws decided to buy me the ultimate birthday present of a scenic flight with Air Whitsunday Seaplanes, flying over the beautiful Whitsundays region of Queensland.

We had an early morning departure time of 8am. We arrived at the Whitsunsay Airport at Shute Harbour and proceeded into the Air Whitsunday Seaplanes terminal bulding, which is a separate stand-alone building away from the main airport terminal.

Check-in was easy with only the five passengers for this flight being myself, my wife, both mother- and father- in law, and his brother - my wife's uncle who was visiting from interstate.

After a short wait in the comfortable terminal - complete with views over the Airport, and fantastic photos of some historic events and aircraft movements in the Whitsundays - we were met by our pilot for the day, Chad. He informed us that we would be taking our scenic flight today in De Havilland DHC-2FP beaver float plane, VH-AWD, which was parked on the Air Whitsunday apron, along with a pair of their Cessna 208 Caravan float planes.

After receiving our strap-on life jackets, we boarded via the port side just behind the cockpit. We were boarded and seated according to body size, as the five available seats for passenger (including beside the pilot in the cockpit) are of differing sizes and comfort levels.

In the end, it was announced that it was my birthday flight, so had the privilege of riding up front in the cockpit with Chad. The other passengers were squeezed into the small cabin - as shown below.

That said, the cabin seating arrangement and available space was quite ample with no complaints coming from the family!

It was a little squashy for my large frame in the cockpit - however I didn't mind - I was more interesting in studying all the knobs and dials - especially when the Beaver became airborne!

Chad fired up the Pratt & Whitney radial engine, and soon after a couple of engine revs, we taxied away from the terminal area, and backtracked all the way down to the end of the Whitsunday Airport's Runway 14.

Soon after, Chad powered up the Beaver's radial engine and after a very smooth and short take-off roll, we were airborne and heading straight-ahead for Shute Harbour, which we passed pretty much straight over the top of.

A couple of left-hand turns later and we were established on a track that would take us overhead Hill Inlet - which is near the world-famous Whitehaven Beach.

The views all around were very spectacular, with perfect visibility on a lovely winter's morning. Only a couple of clouds to fly through, but overall, some fantastic views.  We maintained a cruising altitude of around 2500 feet with the occasional climb high and decent lower, to take in better views, and to clear some terrain.

Soon, off to the right-hand side, we could see Hamilton Island, with the resort and the airport on the island clearly visible.

Our overall track on today's scenic flight would see us virtually fly a loop out and back towards the Whitsunday Airport, and even though the views I had out to left hand side were quite limited, I would be able to see the sights on the way back.

As we flew toward Hill Inlet, Chad provided some limited commentary, with historical information, as well as general tourist information. I thought it was very informative and a nice touch.

After enjoying some more spectacular views over the Whitsunday Islands, Hill Inlet, and the spectacular white sands of Whitehaven Beach came into view.

To allow all of us to have a good view of these spectacular sights, Chad performed an orbit over Hill Inlet allowing for some spectacular views to be had.

Eventually, we turned onto a heading that would see us flying parallel to Whitehaven Beach, with the expanse of beach clearly visible out to the right hand side of the plane.

Suddenly I noticed two things: 1. we were descending, and 2. there were two aircraft shadows out to the right-hand side of us!

Firstly, Chad informed us that our flight today was to include a water landing and then take off on the water right in front of Whitehaven Beach - after-all we are travelling in sea plane!  Also - as it turns out - we were flying in loose formation with the Whitsunday Tiger Moth Adventures DH-82A Tiger Moth VH-BOJ. The bright yellow aircraft was unmistakable out to the left side of us.

Slowly, we approached the water, and soon after, Chad had us down and ploughing through the small swell. It was a little bumpy, but for my first ever water landing, it felt pretty much like was I was on a boat!  The Pratt & Whitney Radial engine was again powered up, and the Beaver gradually rose into the sky.  We were soon joined again in formation by the Tiger Moth VH-BOJ which this time, flew on our right-hand side.

The water-landing marked the turn-around point in our joyflight, and so with Whitehaven Beach and the Tiger Moth behind us, we turned back towards the Whitsunday Airport via Daydream Island - amongst others!

Again, some really spectacular views were had as we basically back-tracked over our outbound path - Hamilton Island could be seen off in the distance off to the left.

We passed over the top of Daydream Island and then headed towards Airlie Beach.

I believe other joyflights perform an orbit over Airlie Beach, however today, we turned towards the Whitsunday Airport, allowing us to enjoy some lovely views of Airlie Beach - and further to Abel Point Marina - out to the right-hand side of the aircraft.

Shortly after, we turned onto final approach to for landing onto Runway 14 back at the Whitsunday Airport .

Chad touched the Beaver down just passed the very faded piano keys, and we then taxied down the runway, and parked near the terminal building, adjacent to one of the refuelling bowsers.

A few quick happy snaps of us finished off a magic morning in the air over the beautiful Whitsundays.

My thanks to Air Whitsunday Seaplanes for a magical morning.  It was certainly an experience I won't forget in a hurry! Thanks also to my parents-in-law for the wonderful birthday present as well!

Sunday, April 1, 2012

HOTEL REVIEW - The Siesta Villa Motor Inn - Gladstone

With the distance to cover from home, Gladstone hasn't been high on the list of places to go, however on this occasion I chose the Siesta Villa Motor Inn as it was one of the few places in the busy industrial city that actually had rooms available and for a reasonable price.

The Siesta Villa was fairly straight forward to find - following the Dawson Highway (Dawson Road) past Gladstone Airport - it is located on Glenlyon Road and is close to major shopping centres and food outlets.  Glenlyon Road is quite busy during the day, however it does quieten down at night.

The room I stayed in was quite spacious with it containing a double bed along with a bunk bed - so the room is capable of sleeping 4-5.  There are only 11 rooms all up, and they can sleep 1-3 people, with two family rooms.  There are also portable cots available at reception.

The reception staff were very friendly and accommodating during my brief stay.

The room - like others - feature reverse-cycle air conditioning, alarm clock, hairdryer, iron & ironing board, opening windows, radio, bar-size refrigerator, free cable TV, tea/coffee making as well as wireless Internet access.

Ample ground-level parking and the rooms on the second level have a balcony.  

There is also laundry facilities and a pool on-site.

The bathroom was spacious with shower at one end, basin the middle and toilet up the other end.

I feel that hotel - like most in Gladstone during the current resource boom in Central Queensland - is geared toward the itinerant worker.  The hotel is quite busy during weekdays, and as mentioned above, was actually one of the last remaining places in town to get a room even on a weekend!

In all I thought the Siesta Villa Motor Inn was a great place to stay.  It was clean and comfortable - there were some ants getting around in the room - but given the fact that I did struggle to find another hotel in a convenient location and at a reasonable price - it was a great choice.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

TRIP REPORT - Gladstone to Brisbane to Gladstone - Virgin Australia Airlines (Skywest Airlines) - ATR 72-500

TRIP REPORT – Gladstone to Brisbane – Tuesday 28 February – Virgin Australia Airlines (Skywest Airlines) – DJ1712 – ATR 72-500 – VH-FVM.

Shane T in Gladstone recently went for a ‘joyride’ on the Virgin Australia (Skywest Airlines-operated) ATR 72-500 service from Gladstone to Brisbane and back. He kindly shares some of his thoughts, as well as some lovely pictures from the flights and while spotting at Brisbane Airport!

First point to note is that Gladstone Airport has plenty of parking, so it was easy to find a park! Inside the relatively busy terminal, I was able to checkin and received my boarding pass. I was assigned seat 8A – on the left (port) side of the ATR.

Through the security check-point at Gladstone Airport – installed to coincide with the ATR services starting – and I proceeded towards Gate Three which is on the ‘lower’ of the two parking aprons at Gladstone Airport.

Soon after, ATR 72-500, VH-FVM, which is the newest ATR flown by Skywest Airlines for Virgin Australia – arrived from Brisbane. I noted that it was nearly full with 65 passengers disembarking at Gladstone.

The flight to Brisbane boarded and departed from Gladstone Airport on time at 8.05am. The ATR was about half-full, and I was seated (in 8A) directly under the wing, and adjacent to rear section of the engine on the left side of the plane.

Despite inclement weather departing Gladstone, the flight was relatively smooth. After departure, we climbed quickly, and soon we were established on our cruise above all the clouds.

Light snacks were served, of which I didn’t take one, having had breakfast from a local drive thru!

Descent was smooth and uneventful, and minutes before landing in Brisbane, I noticed that the trailing-edge of the wings were extended to the full 30 degrees - as shown below!

The flight arrived at Brisbane about 10 minutes early at 9.15am – we had made good time!

Time now to negotiate the very narrow stairs - a lot harder to get off then get on! Walk across the tarmac and into the Brisbane Domestic Terminal - albeit downstairs!

After about a 45 minute turn-around in Brisbane, VH-FVM departed southbound from Brisbane to Port Macquarie (as VOZ1766) with about 30 passengers on-board. It did not return to Brisbane for the rest of the day.

While spending the better part of the day planespotting in Brisbane - I noticed Virgin maintains a busy schedule for the ATR's servicing the Gladstone, Rockhampton, Emerald and Port Macquarie routes out of Brisbane. The aircraft spend little time on the ground before getting airborne again. Good to see the aircraft are busy and taking a productive roll within the fleet of Virgin Australia.

Also at Brisbane, I noticed the two all-white Fokker F-100 aircraft that Virgin Australia is utilising on the Brisbane to Cairns, Rockhampton, Proserpine / Whitsunday Coast, and Newcastle (Williamtown) sectors. I managed a shot of VH-XWN parked at the Virgin terminal, and noted the other, VH-XWM, also flying during the day.

If the rumours are correct, I am looking forward to seeing a Fokker F-100 in Virgin colours. I think that they will look good. It’s also good to see plenty of Fokkers flying all over the Australian skies these days. I like the F-100 because i like rear-engined jets like the old DC9's and MD80's (aka Boeing 717). Favourite plane of all time definitely remains the 727.

TRIP REPORT – Gladstone to Brisbane – Tuesday 28 February – Virgin Australia Airlines (Skywest Airlines) – DJ1715 – ATR 72-500 – VH-FVH.

After enjoying a good day of planespotting at one of Australia's busiest airports, it was time for my return flight to Gladstone on VOZ1715. I went downstairs to the Virgin check-in area, and was able to pretty much get my boarding pass straight away.

After studying the configuration of the plane during the flight from Gladstone, I requested seat 6A which would put me closer to the propellers - a favourite view of mine. Fortunately, the seat was available and so was ready to board for the journey home!

I went back upstairs through security at Brisbane Airport, and approached the gate area (Gate 50) and noted that the oldest ATR flying in the fleet – in the form of VH-FVH – was to take me home.

Boarding commenced, and this return flight to Gladstone was at full capacity, with only a single empty seat. It’s great to see Virgin is achieving good load factors on the Gladstone route and one hopes it means the airline will maintain services to the Central Queensland port for the long term. Competition on Central Queensland sectors can only be a good thing for the travelling public.

Like the morning flight to Brisbane, we departed to Gladstone on time at 3.50pm. In fact I noted most of the Virgin ATR flights to and from Brisbane throughout the day were running on time or close to schedule – it was a good day!

After a fairly uneventful flight North – including another snack service - we landed back at Gladstone Airport on time at 5.10pm.

Overall, my impressions of the ATR are most positive. I found the aircraft to be quiet inside, and relatively comfortable with ample legroom on the inside - comparable to the Q400. I did note however, that the steep stairs that passengers get on and get off at the rear of the plane, do require caution, particularly when exiting the plane. I would most certainly fly in the ATR again!