Sometimes the place, the people and the weather all combine to make for a fantastic fly-away, and this was certainly the case on the LFC March long weekend trip to Merimbula. The Sapphire Coast turned on its best weather, and regardless of whether the route chosen was direct over the range or coastal via Mallacoota, East Gippsland and the NSW south coast sparkled in bright sunshine.
With 21 starters, traveling in nine aeroplanes, it was one of the best patronised fly-aways LFC has done, and plans for the trip up were many and varied. Daniel and Claire went up the day before, Eddie and Regina did the same but stayed overnight in Mallacoota, Bob and Linda went direct over the range as did Mark, Sonya and Steve; Rose and Ross left from Coldstream, Jenny and Peter from Moorabbin, and Russ and Julie, Carmel and Doug; Gabby, Neville, Jenny and Peter left from Lilydale and went via the coastal route. Somehow, everyone got into Merimbula in the arrival window of 12-12.30 pm on the Saturday.
We got around in two buses hired from Hertz for the weekend, which gave us excellent flexibility, and with 21 people, we needed almost every seat. Lunch on Day One was at the Aquarium Cafe at Merimbula wharf. Our tables we right up against the window, which provided a picture-window view over the bay. Afterward, some chose to go through the aquarium whilst others ventured for a stroll along the boardwalk. Going separate ways was one of the bonuses of having two buses. We all came together in time for Happy Hour at Russ and Julie’s room, sans a few who couldn’t resist the call of the local beach. As usual, Happy Hour was truncated only by the pressing need to get to dinner, which was at the Ritzy Wine and Tapas Bar within walking distance. Of largely Spanish cuisine, the Ritzy is well worth a visit and the crew did well to cope with having LFC on their premises. They even carried on right throughout a power failure! Sadly, there was no ice cream shops open by the time we finished.
After a very welcome night’s sleep, we gathered next morning for breakfast at the Cranky Cafe (appropriate?) just across the green lawn from the beach. Some went healthy, some not so healthy, some had too much bacon. Hey, it’s a fly-away … this happens. The plan for the day would take us north up the coast, with the only timetable being a 3.30 pm appointment for coffee and cake at Frogs Hollow Flyers south of Bega. So the first stop was the wharf at Tathra. This is the only wooden ocean wharf left on the east coast of Australia. What was originally the warehouse there is now a cafe and museum, and the huge planked wharf itself now attracts many fishers and people who just want to stare into the cyan water below. Most of the team did a short walk up to the top of the lookout for photos and just drinking in the view, whilst Dan and Claire opted for drinking tea … eventually. Speed is not on the menu at Tathra.
Our second stop was further up the coast in the Mimosa Rocks National Park, and was a winery that had run out of wine! Did they not know that Lilydale Flying Club was coming? Instead we settled for a walk along the beach at a very secluded spot that really needs local knowledge to find (we did). We then headed back to Tathra for lunch at a bakery, for those who could get a seat. Though who couldn’t opted to seat themselves on the post-rail fence over the road. One week later, bushfires raced over the hill and destroyed 70 houses on the hill behind where we had lunch. It was great to see Tathra before that happened. Stop Three was the traditional visit to the cheese factory at Bega. There was fare here that isn’t available anywhere else in Australia, so some stocked up whilst others breezed through the small museum upstairs. Heritage was considered quite worthy, as was the Smoky BBQ, both of which are made only for export.
We continued south from Bega until we came across a sign announcing that we had arrived at Frogs Hollow airstrip … almost. We still had to negotiate the ford over river. The cattle-track road (literally – on the way out we had to wait for some cows to get off it) dipped sharply down to the ford, and the large 18-seat bus managed to get through without scraping anything, but only after everyone got off. It was worth the effort! Frogs Hollow is a vibrant flying club operating from an undulating 1000-metre grass runway. They have their own club rooms and most of the planes that live there are hangared (probably due to wandering cows). The club welcomed us very warmly and put on a magnificent afternoon tea. Quite a few people flew their own planes in to greet us, so the airport was certainly buzzing. Perhaps the most curious aircraft was the only Victa Aircruiser ever built. This is a four-seat aeroplane, which never went into production because Victa got out of aeroplane manufacture just after the prototype (this very aeroplane) was certified. Hitch and Pitch got to do a quick circuit with the owner, Des. As some of the planes were going back to Merimbula, a few LFC members were able to hitch rides rather than come back on the buses. Thanks, Frogs Hollow, one day we hope we can return the favour.
And so we were divided again, but once again united for Happy Hour, this time in Bob and Linda’s room. Being a Sunday in Merimbula, our only option for dinner was the RSL, which understandably was doing a roaring trade. Another good night’s sleep led to the Cranky Cafe again to fuel ourselves for the flight back to Lilydale. The weather for the trip home was not a glorious as it had been over the weekend, so most opted to stay clear of the ranges and go home coastal. Several took the opportunity to re-visit Marlo Pub near Orbost for lunch on the way back, whereas others headed home to tie down the aircraft and have a nice relaxing end to their March long weekend.
However, the question most asked at the end of the trip has yet to be answered: when’s the next fly-away!