Rawnsley Report: Cup Weekend November 2018

LFC’s fly-away to Rawnsley Park in the Flinders Ranges was a majestic trip punctuated by a few challenges along the way. Six aeroplanes left Lilydale and Moorabbin to converge halfway at Wentworth for lunch on the Saturday for a refuel of both aircraft and crew. The Sunraysia Aero Club were happy for us to use their club lounge and facilities, which were very welcome after battling headwinds all the way there. Those winds continued for the run to Rawnsley Park, with several skippers changing levels to hunt for better winds. In the end, we all made the flight across the vast, red plains to the edge of the Flinders Ranges, where the terrain below turned to a series of sharp, wave-like ridges. On arrival, some aircraft did tours of Wilpena Pound, whilst others made straight for the runway to tie down. All arrived in good time, but with a couple of glitches: Jenny and Edwina in NAY got a low-voltage warning just before landing, and Sonya, Phil, Phil and Steve in Cherokee Six UST had fuel consumption issues. Not to worry … it was almost happy hour!

The following day threatened to be warm, so everyone got a head start on the daily activities. Some elected to take the challenging walk to the top of the imposing Rawnsley Bluff, whilst others took more sedate walks or 4WD tours depending on the desire. Rawnsley Park is a sheep station embedded in the red soil of the South Australian outback, dotted with rocks, gum trees and grazing sheep. The best views are from the high ground, so if you want to take in the full Rawnsley experience, there is only one way to do it: go up! For those that tackled the ridge, the reward was superb views of the interior of Wilpena Pound and the rolling Chace and Druid ranges to the east. Mind you, there’s no public transport, so Shanks’ Pony was the most common method of getting around … unless you could cry on the shoulders of the park management! She’s right; there was always ice creams and the swimming pool at the caravan park to soothe the savage soles.

Dinner each night was at the Woolshed Restaurant. This place is a real find! Out in the midst of absolutely nowhere is a restaurant that offers fine dining, wining and the odd beer or two. As the only dinner option at Rawnsley, we haunted the place after happy hour three nights in a row.

On the final night came the light show. This was not something put on by management to appease tourists, but nature at her most decorative. A thunderstorm swarmed over the southern Flinders Ranges, giving the park a good 14 mm of rain, but the highlight was the accompanying lighting show that at times illuminated the park as if it were in daylight. It signaled a significant change in the weather; not good when you’re aiming to get home the next day.

There were only five planes ready to leave Rawnsley on the Tuesday morning. Jenny and Edwina were already back in Moorabbin. They hadn’t trusted that low-voltage light and headed to Port Augusta to have it attended to on the Monday, then kept going home. For those that remained, things were not looking good. The radar was showing storms and rain that Wagner would be proud of all over Melbourne, and the weather at Rawnsley prompted a lot of second guessing. Bob and Linda in Cardinal DZP, and Russ and Julie in Pioneer 4944 opted to leave early. The others elected to wait; wait for better weather that was a long time coming. It was a very sociable few hours spent in the shelter at the airport waiting for something that might not come, with eyes constantly scanning south and east for a break in the dark grey. In the meantime, Bob phoned in and said that they had made it as far as Renmark, but had called it quits and tied-down for the night. It was not looking good.

But the break did come, and all crews scrambled for the planes. With the Cherokee Six bound for Port Augusta to refuel, Sonya bailed out into Bonanza YDD with Nev and Gabby for the IFR trip home. Doug and Carmel in Pipistrel 8657 set out for Renmark, where they also tied-down for the evening given that last-light at Lilydale was now coming into consideration. UST found themselves on the ground in Quorn (has anyone ever landed here before!) making a Plan B, their trip to Port Augusta thwarted by cloud on the 3000-foot range protecting YPAG from east. They weaseled their way through a pass, topped up with fuel, and rode a tailwind all the way to Renmark, which had turned CAVOK. So had much of Victoria. With the tanks now full again, the crew of UST decided to chance their arm. The maths said Lilydale was still possible. With the weather clearing, Bendigo as Plan B and the winds still on their side, they sailed all the way home and rolled onto the runway at LIL just after 8.00 pm. Sweet!

And what of Russ and Julie? They had tracked to Murray Bridge, then managed to work their way home through the clearing weather west of Melbourne. They arrived well before last light.

The crews that stayed in Renmark had a very sociable time of it, then cruised home on the Wednesday in much more accommodating skies.

Thanks to Sonya for these pics.

Steve relaxes in the pool after climbing the ridge.

Base for Rawnsley Park

This walking bizzo is hard work! Sonya and Steve at Pines Cave.

The cloud closes in over Chace Range.

Sheep grazing in the gloom.

Phil, Phil, Russ and Julie about to set out from Pines Cave.

Happy hour! An LFC fly-away tradition.

Five intrepid hikers about to tackle Rawnsley Bluff.

Hitch rests halfway up the ridge and takes in the panorama.

Happy to be here! Julie exits 4944 under the brow of Rawnsley Bluff

Gum trees dot the plains between the resort and the bluff.

Doin’ it easy! Nev and Doug on their way to the top.

The walking paths are most often rock-strewn red earth.

How do they run 2000 sheep on this place?

The view from the top of the ridge looking back to the resort.

A local … not silly enough to be walking in the heat.

The light intensifies on the bliff as the sun goes down.

Cherokee Six UST on the deck at Rawnsley Park.

Where do I put this thing? Hitch looks for a good spot to start at Wentworth.

The fleet at Wentworth.

Cardinal DZP gets ready to taxi whilst Edwina tops off C172RG NAY.

The view from Wilpena lookout.

The magnificent Wilpena Pound in the southern Flinders Ranges.