In six weeks we travelled some 26,000 miles, including 13 flights by commercial airlines. but one of the most memorable non commercial flights we had was on a seaplane which took off from the largest natural harbour in the Southern hemisphere to land on a river.
We walked around the harbour of the pretty little town of Strahan (pronounced Strawn) and saw a small seaplane sitting on the dockside. My wife remembered her mother taking a trip in Tasmania many years before, to a river where the only means of access was by seaplane.
One hour later, and with some difficulty, we scrambled into the cramped cabin of the now floating aircraft, fitted on earphones and fastened our seat belts. The single engine roared into life and with floats battering the surface of the water we were soon airborne.
Not for this flight were we to reach any dizzying heights but just enough to give us a very good view of the sights below. Passing over the entrance to the huge harbour, the pilot told us that it was only 120 metres wide with up to six knots of current flowing outwards. This had been the main harbour to which the ships brought convicts from England to populate and work in the new land of Tasmania. The convicts called it ‘The Gates of Hell’ and it was easy to see why.
Our course took us over a fast flowing river and rainforest that covered the mountains as far as the eye could see. Above the River Franklyn the pilot pointed downwards and said, ‘That’s where we land.’
I was doubtful as to whether the river was wide enough to accommodate the wings, but soon we were bouncing on its fast flowing waters and drifting to a small jetty.
Disembarking, the pilot took us up a boardwalk into the forest where a tall waterfall cascaded into a stream below our feet. After the cameras had ceased clicking we again boarded the aircraft. I sat next to the pilot for the trip back and as we slowly headed downriver, I asked him what distance he needed for take off.
‘Depends on the wind,’ he said, ‘about a kilometre but this is where the fun starts!’
I looked up the river to a sharp bend and estimated that it was only half a kilometre. Nevertheless, the plane turned on the water and the engine began to roar. With water slapping against the floats we soon reached the bend and as we were not going fast enough I braced for the sudden stop – but the pilot turned the wheel slightly, one wing dipped and we continued accelerating. Another bend came upon us and we rounded that one, too. After the third bend the aircraft lifted and we rose steeply into the air with the wings almost brushing the canopy of the forest that reached down to the water’s edge.
‘Told you it was fun,’ the pilot said as we reached cruising height for our flight back to Macquarie Harbour.
by Terry Took © 2012
Terry Took was born in Yorkshire but has lived in Tynemouth for over 50 years. He spent 45 years in the Merchant Navy which included 27 years as North Sea Pilot. He then spent five years as a lecturer at the Marine Department of South Tyneside College.
He is now an Elder Brother in Trinity House and Marine Director.
If you have any comments or would like to contact Terry then please e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.