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WA by Air

WA by Air

Flying over Lake Argyle (photography BJK Photo Gallery).

It’s day eight, and every synapse of your body is singing. Your hair, still damp from the morning swim at the falls, whips in the wind. Below you is a vast expanse of white coastline, flanked on one side by the pounding Indian Ocean and, on the other, a collage of rusty red earth and green bushland that stretches to the horizon. The gentle hum of the helicopter engine is interrupted by your pilot’s voice. He’s spotted another breaching humpback whale and swoops the aircraft down for a closer look.

Far, far away is your life, with its alarm clocks and car parks, schedules and shopping lists. Here, the only challenge is where to go to next: that reef-rimmed archipelago or the river gorge you’ve heard so much about. For the life of you, you cannot remember why you put off taking an air safari. You’re finally seeing WA. The wide-open vistas, iconic landscapes, vivid colours – it’s a place unlike anywhere else in the world. And it’s all yours for another six blessed days.

If there’s a better way to travel than by air, we don’t know it. It might not have the rough-and-ready charm of caravanning or the laid-back quality of a cross-country road trip. But for sheer dramatic impact and bang for your buck, nothing beats the luxury of a scenic flight.

Chartering a private flight means you choose when and where you go, and who your fellow passengers are. You also have a choice of pilot. You might opt for one who knows where to find all the best cave art, or the perfect deserted island to go snorkelling. What WA’s pilots all share is a passion for the land they know like the back of their hand.

Then there’s the comfort – no more neck aches from jostling over off-road tracks, not another sore back from a long-haul drive. So long as you don’t suffer airsickness, you’re golden.

Speed is also a massive benefit. Aircrafts can cover heaps of ground in a day, distances that by car or 4WD would take hours or even days. And in a state as large as WA, that makes a huge difference. Who has the time to 4WD around the Kimberley or sail the length of the Coral Coast? If you’re serious about exploring
even a fraction of more than 2.5 million square kilometres in the state, flying is the most time-effective way of doing it.

Then, of course, there’s the unparalleled beauty of this state. Whether it’s soaring above the coastline in a plane, hovering over waterfalls in a helicopter, spotting aquatic life by float plane, or zig-zagging over gorges in an microlight, flying over WA gives you a wholly different perspective on the state’s unique colours, landscapes and beauty. WA is unique in that so little of its land is developed; the vast majority remains in a pristine, natural state. And it’s just begging to be explored.

What’s more, we have some of the best and most dependable weather in the country. Perth pilots, for instance, enjoy an average of 300 visual flying days each year. Up north, it’s as simple as planning your trip around the very predictable wet and dry seasons.

Then there’s the simple fact that a handful of WA’s most beautiful places are only accessible by air. There are no roads leading to the ultra-luxurious Berkeley River Lodge on the Kimberley coast, for instance. Only from your vantage point in an aircraft can you truly experience natural wonders like the Horizontal Waterfalls and the Bungle Bungles in the Kimberley, or the 100-plus islands of Recherche Archipelago near Esperance.

So, you’re convinced. Now, where to go? The following pages are a guide to what we consider the best scenic flight destinations in the state, and what you’ll experience there. Beware: your bucket list is about to get a whole lot longer.

Catalina helicopters (photography Simon Pynt)

Fixed-wing vs helicopter

Can’t decide whether to book a fixed-wing or helicopter flight? In general, fixed-wing flights are more spacious, faster, larger and cheaper than those in helicopters. On the other hand, helicopters have the advantage of being able to hover, stop on a dime and land almost anywhere. Because of this ‘wow’ factor, helicopter flights tend to be more expensive. 

Get your licence

For those who prefer the idea of being a pilot to being a passenger, earning your wings is easier than you think.
Pursuing a Private Pilot’s Licence for a fixed-wing or helicopter takes around 60 hours of flying time along with study of basics like pilot navigation, map reading and radio navigation. If you’re short on time and don’t mind a little wind in your face, Birds Eye View in Exmouth offers microlight courses. The company recommends up to 18 hours of flying time before taking the exam. 

 

Over the Buccaneer Archipelago (photography BJK Photo Gallery).

 

BUCCANEER ARCHIPELAGO

Superlatives don’t do the Buccaneer Archipelago justice. The richness of its colours, the variety of landscapes and its singular beauty have made this slice of paradise one of the world’s most popular scenic-flight destinations. As you take to the skies from Broome, spot the camel trains inching along the iconic Cable Beach, or sun bakers enjoying the pristine Eco Beach. Soak up the vastness of the mighty Dampier Peninsula as you approach Cape Leveque, famous for its red earth and white sandy beaches. Stop for lunch, a stretch and a refreshing swim in the clear waters of the Indian Ocean before continuing on across the turquoise depths of King Sound. Soon the 1000 islands of the gorgeous Buccaneer Archipelago will come into view. Marvel as the sea rushes through the famous Horizontal Waterfalls. If you’re in a floatplane, ask your pilot to land below the falls to get a fresh perspective on the natural wonder’s incredible tidal power. 

Bespoke Air Safaris

Imagine two weeks spent flitting from one scenic destination to another, skipping the banality of driving or map reading, and staying in the best luxury accommodation in the region. Book yourself a private air safari, and it could become a reality. As well as getting to design your own itinerary, you’ll have the aircraft – and the skies – all to yourselves, not to mention a pilot and tour guide at the ready. A bucket-list experience like this doesn’t come cheap, but it’s a guaranteed trip of a lifetime and certainly one worth saving for. “You add a whole new magical dimension to your Kimberley experience utilising the helicopter for a bespoke air safari,” says Heliwest pilot Peter Sinden. “We know of humbling rock-art sites and cascading waterfall locations where you can just literally drop in for lunch or sunset drinks on the top of a remote mountain peak with a flash bottle of wine… No matter, the options are truly endless, and it’s by far the most spectacular scenery you
will probably ever come across!”

Mt Trafalgar (photography Paul Parin, Studio Red Dust) 

 

EAST KIMBERLEY

East Kimberley, a region made famous the world over in Baz Luhrmann’s film Australia, is home to some of the state’s most wild, remote and iconic landscapes. Get a bird’s eye view of the unique orange and grey-striped Bungle Bungle Range in World Heritage-listed Purnululu National Park. Spot the Argyle Diamond Mine before landing by floatplane on Lake Argyle, Australia’s second largest reservoir, for a picnic lunch on one of the lake’s many uninhabited islands. Or simply glide over the incomparable El Questro Wilderness Park. Once a cattle station, its million acres contain gorges, rainforests, waterfalls, deep-red mountain ranges and its famous cliffhanging homestead. For wildlife lovers, there are helifishing tours on the snake-like Ord River, or, for those who prefer to observe crocodile habitats rather than share them, there are croc-spotting helicopter tours over the wetlands. To gain a better understanding of East Kimberley’s unique cultural heritage, be sure to choose a tour that includes a visit to a local Aboriginal community. Kalumburu, for example, is home to a museum, Benedictine Mission and the remains of a WWII aircraft.

Helifishing

The Kimberley is home to some of the country’s best barramundi fishing. A helifishing tour will take you to your own remote stretch of river, upping your chances of landing a monster, the biggest of which reach nearly two metres, and upwards of 60kg. From September to March, when the fishing’s at its finest, your helicopter pilot will fly you to the best fishing holes where you can check for barra from the air before touching down with all the gear you’ll need for an unforgettable day. Best of all? No boat means no seasickness. 

The Horizontal Falls seen from above (photography KAS Helicopters).

 

NORTHERN KIMBERLEY COASTLINE


For sweeping ocean views, white-sand beaches, tall red cliffs, rushing waterfalls and lush mountains, a scenic flight over the picturesque and remote northern Kimberley coastline is a must. The spectacular multi-tiered Mitchell Falls, the jewel of the region, is best experienced by helicopter. Hover above the majestic falls before alighting on the Mitchell Plateau to explore the bushland or have a swim in the pools at the top (check with your pilot first). Or stay buckled in and fly over the rugged landscape: flat-topped Mt Trafalgar, 80m-high King George Falls, the whale-breeding sanctuary of the Montgomery Islands and their extensive reefs, terraced Kings Cascade and the lush wetlands and red gorges of the iconic Berkeley River. Better yet, splurge on an overnight tour that includes a night or two at a luxurious bush camp like Faraway Bay Bush Camp, Kimberley Coastal Camp or Berkeley River Lodge.

Cruise by air and sea

Keen for a holiday that combines the thrill of a helicopter flight with the relaxation of a cruise? Sail along the Kimberley coast on a luxury yacht with an on-boat helicopter to provide guests a bird’s eye view of the sights. Both True North and The Great Escape Charter Company offer this unique package.

When to go

The Kimberley’s wet season runs from November to April, and its dry season is from May to October. While you can fly all year round, the best time to take
a scenic flight is immediately after the wet season when the land is lush and the rivers, lakes and waterfalls are filled with water and teeming with wildlife.

Who to fly with

  • Broome Aviation (08) 9192 1369
  • Bush Flight  (08) 9193 2680
  • Catalina Adventures 1300 554 026
  • Horizontal Falls Seaplane Adventures (08) 9192 1172
  • Kimberley Air Tours (08) 9168 2653
  • Kimberley Aviation 0429 112 407
  • King Leopold Air (08) 9193 7155
  • Kingfisher Tours (08) 9168 1333
  • Lone Eagle 1800 180 085
  • Shoalair (08) 9169 3554
  • Slingair Heliwork (08) 9166 9300

Zuytdorp Cliffs.

CORAL COAST

Why spend hours – even days – driving and offroading through the Coral Coast when you can take in its whole expanse of colours, patterns and wildlife by air? The reef-rimmed Abrolhos Islands, located 60km off the coast of Geraldton, are great for spotting stingrays, dolphins and whales before landing for a spot of snorkelling. Further north, Shark Bay is home to some of the most extensive and varied seagrass beds in the world, creating incredible patterns from above when in contrast with the white-sand beaches and red earth that the Coral Coast is famous for. Equally impressive are the Zuytdorp Cliffs, a 150km-long stretch of limestone cliffs towering 200m above the ocean. Ask your pilot to point out other must-sees: clusters of stromatolites, the huge salt pan of Lake MacLeod, the World Heritage-listed Ningaloo Reef, and Mount Augustus, the world’s largest rock, more than twice the size of Uluru.

Island hopping

Like the sound of playing Gilligan for the day? Whether it’s in the Abrolhos Islands, Cygnet Bay or the Buccaneer Archipelago, your privately chartered helicopter or floatplane can drop you at any far-flung island your heart may desire. Beware: you’ll be tempted to make it a one-way flight. 

Who to fly with

  • Axiom Aviation (08) 9417 1927
  • Geraldton Air Charter (08) 9923 3434
  • Kalbarri Air Charter (08) 9390 0999
  • Kookaburra Air (08) 9417 2258
  • Mircrolight Aircraft Specialist 0427 996 833
  • Norwest Air Work (08) 9949 2888
  • Ozwest Aviation 1300 699 378
  • Shark Bay Air Charters (08) 9948 1773
  • Shine Aviation (08) 9923 3600
  • Skyworx Aviation (08) 9417 2258

Swanbourne to City Beach (photography Alex Bell/Sunday Sunset Images)

 

PERTH AND SURROUNDS

No matter how well you think you know Perth, flying over it will give you a whole new appreciation for the capital. Soar along Perth’s famous coastline for a bird’s eye view of its beaches, the sailboat-dotted Indian Ocean and even the backyards of some of the city’s largest homes. Charter a quick flight to Rotto and fly over the island’s picturesque bays, salt lakes and rolling hills before landing for a two-wheeled tour or, more likely, a drink at the pub. Inland, get an eyeful of the Perth skyline before continuing on over the geographically unique Darling Scarp, the winding Swan River, the patchwork of farmland in the Avon Valley and the forest-covered Perth Hills. A food-and-flight tour with Heliwest is a must for wine lovers because there’s a specific trip that visits the award-winning Millbrook Winery in Jarrahdale. Thrill-seekers, on the other hand, shouldn’t go past a ride on Attitude Acrobatics’ ‘Formula 1 of the skies’, a 300-horsepower aircraft that reaches speeds of 400kph as it tumbles through the Perth skies. An experience not for the faint of heart.

Windward balloon adventures

For an entirely unique airborne experience, take a flight with the award-winning Windward Balloon Adventures, WA’s only balloon operator. The hour-long tour begins just before dawn at the Northam airfield. Once aloft, watch the mist melt away as the sun rises over the Avon Valley’s fields, farmland, vineyards and streams. Or simply enjoy the early-morning peacefulness as the balloon floats slowly along. If the views aren’t reward enough for the early rise from bed, then the post-flight champagne breakfast certainly is. Flights run from April to November and fill up fast, so be sure to book early.  

Who to fly with

  • Attitude Acrobatics (08) 9417 3535
  • AVWest (08) 9477 7000
  • Axiom Aviation (08) 9417 1927
  • Catalina Adventures 1300 554 026
  • Heliwest (08) 9499 7700
  • Kookaburra Air (08) 9417 2258
  • Maxem Aviation (08) 9478 5988
  • Ozwest Aviation 1300 699 378
  • Paul Lyons Aviation (08) 9459 3191
  • Rotorvation Helicopters (08) 6555 5372
  • Rottnest Air Taxi 0411 264 547
  • Royal Aero Club (08) 9417 0000
  • Skyworx Aviation (08) 9417 2258
  • Windward Balloon Adventures (08) 9621 2000

Bald Head from above (photography Andrew Halsall, City of Albany).

 

MARGARET RIVER AND THE SOUTHWEST

As beloved for its spectacular scenery as for its world-class wine, produce and waves, Margaret River and the southwest offer some incredible sights by air. To the east are the craggy peaks of the Stirling Range and Porongurup National Parks, as well as the iconic Wave Rock. To the south are the green, cliff-lined capes near Albany. Soar over natural wonders like The Gap and Natural Bridge in Torndirrup National Park, the boulder-dotted Greens Pool near Denmark, or the towering 400-year-old tingle tree forests in The Valley of the Giants. Or head west and set your eyes on the calm waters of the Blackwood River, the checkerboard of vineyards and farmland near Margaret River, and the crystal blue waters of Geographe Bay. Visit between June to September and you might be lucky enough to spot migrating humpbacks making their way along the coastline, past landmarks like Cape Naturaliste, Sugarloaf Rock, Canal Rocks and Cape Leeuwin. 

Wine touring by air

Imagine touching down by helicopter on the manicured lawns of Voyager Estate, popping in for lunch and a taste of the winery’s world-renowned chardonnay, then flitting off for dessert (and more wine, of course) at the equally elegant Vasse Felix. Private helicopter flights offer the ultimate in wine touring. Perth-based wine lovers can charter a fixed-wing or helicopter flight from Jandakot Airport to wineries with airstrips or helipads, like Leeuwin Estate or Edwards Wines. For those already in the region, Margaret River-based Wild Blue Helicopters offers bespoke wine and lunch tours to wineries like Xanadu or Knee Deep. If you’re lucky, your pilot will even fly you straight back to your hotel afterwards, provided there’s a safe landing. As it turns out, pilots make excellent skippers.

Who to fly with

  • Air Charters West 0408 931 139
  • Albany Aviation 0428 922 838
  • Ashburton Air Services 0408 846 041
  • Axiom Aviation (08) 9417 1927
  • Busselton Air Service (08) 9753 1009
  • Helispecs 0448 094 422
  • Heliwest (08) 9499 7700
  • Kookaburra Air (08) 9417 2258
  • Ozwest Aviation 1300 699 378
  • Paul Lyons Aviation (08) 9459 3191
  • Rotorvation Helicopters (08) 6555 5372
  • Wild Blue Helicopters 0402 555 550

Fitzgerald National Park (photography Tourism WA)

 

ESPERANCE

With its vast national parks, varied landscape and reputation for being home to some of the world’s most beautiful beaches, it’s little wonder Esperance offers some of the best scenic flights in the state. Soar above the beautiful Great Ocean Drive, past the aquamarine waters of Twilight Beach, the wind farms, and famous Pink Lake (so much pinker from the air than by land). Head east over Cape Le Grand National Park, keeping your eyes peeled for kangaroos sunning themselves on the snow-white beach of Lucky Bay, and the towering Frenchman’s Peak beyond. Pass Cape Arid National Park with its lush banksia groves, swathes of vivid white beaches, Mount Ragged and the meandering Thomas River. Try counting the 100-plus islands of the beautiful Recherche Archipelago, something only possible by air. If time isn’t an issue, ask your pilot to fly you to Fitzgerald River National Park. In winter, the region is one of just three places in the world where southern right whales calve. In spring, the park’s distinctive quartzite coastal hills, spongelite cliffs, and river valleys are covered in colourful blooms.

A different perspective

No-one knows the WA skies better than Richard Woldendorp. The 86-year-old, arguably the state’s most famous aerial photographer, has been flying over Western Australia for the last six decades. “To some people, flying is a way of getting from A to B, but for me it is an opportunity to observe the landscape from a different perspective,” says Richard. “Everything – rivers, coasts, mountains, plains and deserts – changes with the seasons and with the light at different times of the day. As much as possible, I like to be inspired by what I see: this is where I experience a sense of wonderment of a world so complex, varied and beautiful.” Esperance holds a special place in the photographer’s heart. “The Esperance coastline is unique,” says Richard. “The waves travelling to the shore are often very dramatic because of the strong southern winds. Another highlight is the enormous number of salt lakes to the northeast. There are literally thousands.” For his contribution to the arts as an Australian landscape photographer, Richard was appointed a member of the Order of Australia in 2012. Richard’s latest aerial images are captured in his book Out of the Blue, due to hit shelves this November.

Who to fly with 

  • Axiom Aviation (08) 9417 1927
  • Geraldton Air Charter (08) 9923 3434
  • Kalbarri Air Charter (08) 9390 0999
  • Kookaburra Air (08) 9417 2258
  • Mircrolight Aircraft Specialist 0427 996 833
  • Norwest Air Work (08) 9949 2888
  • Ozwest Aviation 1300 699 378
  • Shark Bay Air Charters (08) 9948 1773
  • Shine Aviation (08) 9923 3600
  • Skyworx Aviation (08) 9417 2258

 

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