The idea of visiting the Birdsville Races has always appealed to me, something about a gathering of like minded adventurous people that come from all over for horse racing in outback Queensland, a place so remote and difficult to access, an amateur boxing tent, a legendary outback pub and festival atmosphere was something that sounded like a lot of fun!
So when my brother Chris, a Boeing 737 pilot for Qantas and director of private air expedition company Extraordinair, invited me along for a private plane air adventure to Birdsville races and Uluru in September 2017, I jumped at the opportunity.
With our Akubra hats, boots, eskies and camping gear packed in the storage lockers of our six seater Beechcraft Baron, we left Melbourne for warmer weather and bush adventures. We flew over Victoria’s Grampians, and then made a short stop into Port Augusta to refuel the plane (not much to report of interest there!). From Port Augusta we headed directly for Uluru, eyes glued to the windscreen to try and be the first to spy the iconic rock – there are a few Uluru imposters out there that look similar from the air!
Once the real Uluru was in sight, our pilot Chris took us on a scenic flight over the rock and Kata Tjuta/the Olgas to get an appreciation for all angles of these ancient rock formations from the air. We spied sparkling creeks, canyon like cracks and oases between the rock formations.
A smooth landing at AYQ, Ayers Rock Airport in Yulara, and we grabbed a rental car and headed straight to the rock to explore. Walking the 10.6km base walk loop around the base of Uluru definitely gives you an appreciation of the size of this rock (and a good workout and appreciation for the occasional shady trees in the outback heat!).
That evening was a memorable one; we enjoyed canapés and champagne at sunset overlooking Uluru, and visited Bruce Munro’s famous art installation, the Field of Light. Over 50,000 colourful glittering globes bring the desert to life after dark, truly a sight that you need to see in person if you can! The event keeps being extended due to the popularity, and at this stage will be in place until 31 December 2021 so I highly recommend visiting to see this amazing experience while it is still on.
Getting up in the dark and an early alarm the next morning was made easier knowing that we were headed off on a Uluru sunrise tour by camel. This was a great way to see the warm morning colours of the rock as the sun first comes up, and also learn about bush tucker and native wildflowers along the way. The camels and bush breakfast afterwards were lovely too!
After a short but action packed 24 hours in Uluru/Yulara, it was time to jump back in the plane and head to Birdsville for the iconic September horse race event that we came for. We flew over the Simpson Dessert, where the landscape was flat for as far as we could see, such a harsh climate that is best seen from the air for perspective.
Arriving in Birdsville before the races was like landing at a much larger airport, plenty of radio coordination to get a spot to land given all the small planes that were arriving by the minute! We flew over the caravan camp grounds and saw plenty of campers already set up and ready for the weekend. The town of Birdsville is home to only about 140 residents, and the two day event brings in around 7,000 people, but the town caters very well for the influx of people, with plenty of open space for everyone.
Tents and swags were set up under the wing of the plane (with showers and toilets available on site), and drinks were cracked and clinked as the outback sun went down and we met new friends both at the airport camp site and by night at the iconic Birdsville hotel. We looked on with amusement as members of the public took on professional boxers in the famous Brophy Boxing tent – something not to be missed, very entertaining!
The race event was hot and dusty, but plenty of entertainment was on offer throughout the day and enough food and drink to keep everyone watered and happy. One of our group was roped into dressing up in a novelty beer costume and participated in a running race on the race course, one of the many quirky events that happened during the day. Bets were placed, some won and some lost, and many laughs were shared during the day.
A mini wind/dust storm blew through the campsite on our second night, teaching some of our group the importance of correctly pegging in your tent and closing all zips!
A short fuel stop in Broken Hill the next day, and we flew back to Melbourne after a fun filled outback adventure.
While international borders remain closed, private air adventures are the latest travel trend to literally take off and create some exciting new travel experiences, with smaller groups and wide open spaces. Extraordinair have some exciting itineraries on offer for 2021, including Birdsville Races, Lord Howe Island, King Island, Tasmania to name a few.
They also offer custom or private group trips to anywhere in Australia. Travel & Cruise can assist with booking these trips and tailor make the perfect itinerary for your post isolation holidays, so get in touch with your preferred consultant to start planning!