Outback Floatplane Adventures

“What happened to our dry season?” asks Dave, our pilot, early in the morning, looking up at the clouds colorfully illuminated by the rising sun. At the airport in Darwin, the capital of northern Australia, he looks up at the sky with concern. June is actually the dry season in Australia’s Northern Territory, and the sky should be cloudless. But apparently climate change is making itself felt everywhere else. We’ll probably feel a few air holes on our short flight to Sweets Lagoon, Dave says, but that doesn’t stop our group of eight from boarding his single-engine Cessna 208, with which we land on the waters of the Finniss River less than half an hour later. With this flight, however, the adventure has only just begun.

Pilot Dave am Steuerknüppel seines Wasser-Flugzeugs, mit dem er sowohl auf festen Rollfeldern als auch auf Füssen und Seen starten und landen kann / © Foto: Georg Berg
Pilot Dave at the controls of his waterplane, with which he can take off and land on fixed airstrips as well as on feet and lakes / © Photo: Georg Berg

Adventure trip to the crocodiles

We feel transported to a completely different world and now lay down the first tension with a typical outback breakfast. Fried eggs and bacon sizzle in the pan, peanut butter, the Australian spice paste Vegemite and toast bread are ready for the adventure-hungry morning guests next to sunscreen and insect repellent.

Sonne und Mücken sind vielleicht nicht so gefährlich wie Krokodile. In Australien sind Schutzlotionen allgegenwärtig / © Foto: Georg Berg
Sun and mosquitoes may not be as dangerous as crocodiles. In Australia, protective lotions are ubiquitous / © Photo: Georg Berg
Das australische Vegemite Buffet: Vegemite enthält viel Vitamin B und Aussies schwören, dass sie nur deshalb selten von Mücken belästigt werden, weil sie es ständig essen / © Foto: Georg Berg
The Australian Vegemite Buffet: Vegemite is high in vitamin B, and Aussies swear they are rarely bothered by mosquitoes only because they eat it all the time / © Photo: Georg Berg

From the floating pontoon we watch as our plane flies back to Darwin with lots of spray behind the skids. At the latest now the last crocodile dozing on the riverbank has woken up.

Typische Verkehrsmittel im nordaustralischen Outback: Airboat mit Krokodilschutz, Wasserflugzeug, Helikopter / © Foto: Georg Berg
Typical means of transport in the North Australian outback: airboat with crocodile protection, seaplane, helicopter / © Photo: Georg Berg

For a short time it is almost quiet and we listen to the sounds of the wilderness, but soon they are drowned out by engines again. We are divided into smaller groups, which take turns to go on fast-paced excursions by propeller boat and open helicopter. All modes of transportation have their own safety briefings and special life jackets.

Best view from the helicopter

Luftiger Logensitz: Durch die offenen Seitenteile des Robinson R44 Hubschraubers hat man eine phantastische Aussicht / © Foto: Georg Berg
Airy log seat: Through the open side panels of the Robinson R44 helicopter you have a fantastic view / © Photo: Georg Berg

Before the flight, Jock, the helicopter pilot, points out to us that his Raven helicopter has no windows or doors and that the strong wind from the propeller could tear cameras or cell phones out of the hands of us passengers. What crashes can’t be salvaged. At least we can strap ourselves in along with the special life jackets.

Vielseitig: Eben noch am Herd mit dem Frühstück beschäftigt und schon sitzt Jock am Steuerknüppel seines Robinson R44 Raven Helicopters / © Foto: Georg Berg
Versatile: Just a moment ago, Jock was busy at the stove making breakfast, and now he’s already at the controls of his Robinson R44 Raven Helicopter / © Photo: Georg Berg

The flight takes ten minutes. Since everyone on board has put on headphones with a headset, communication is possible despite the loud rotor blades. Jock explains the flora, fauna and geology of the Sweets Lagoon area.

Fast berühren die Rotorblätter die Baumkronen, so dicht fliegt der Heli darüber / © Foto: Georg Berg
The rotor blades almost touch the treetops, so close the helicopter flies above them / © Photo: Georg Berg

Just above the tree tops Jock puts the helicopter sharply into the turn, to land after one kilometer once briefly next to huge termite mounds. Two seconds later we are in the air again and recognize the construction site of the Ultimate Overnigters, in which soon the afternoon participants can finish the evening luxuriously and spend the night. The property is modeled on the layout of Australia.

Unter den Kufen des Helikopters eine im Bau befindliche Ferienanlage im Grundriss Australiens / © Foto: Georg Berg
Under the skids of the helicopter a vacation resort under construction in the ground plan of Australia / © Photo: Georg Berg

Thrill in the crocodile river

After landing on the pontoon we already get a foretaste of the following ride. Our predecessors stand dripping on the pontoon and are just getting rid of some superfluous clothes. The first ride with the fast propeller boat consists of a rapid slalom ride, during which the boat crosses its own bow waves several times. Fortunately, no crocodile sloshed into the boat! I prefer to leave my photo equipment in the dry for this ride.

Der Propeller in Heck des Airboats entwickelt einen gewaltigen Schub / © Foto: Georg Berg
The propeller in the stern of the airboat develops an enormous thrust / © Photo: Georg Berg

On the next trip we go crocodile hunting in the Billabong. Billabong are the Australian rivers called, in which the water flows only in the rainy season. In the dry season parts of the river become stagnant water. The Big Guys (crocodiles) are well camouflaged, because in the Billabong you can see them between the many branches only with a trained eye. To get stuck here surrounded by hungry crocodiles with the boat, I don’t even want to imagine. But the propeller boats have a very shallow draft and with their strong thrust they can even overcome branches lying in the water.

Langsam schwimmt ein Krokodil durch den Billabong und kommt dem Boot gefährlich nahe / © Foto: Georg Berg
Slowly a crocodile swims through the billabong and comes dangerously close to the boat / © Photo: Georg Berg

Adventure time flies by

It’s hard to believe how much we have experienced in one morning in the outback, because Dave has already landed with a group to take us back to civilization in Darwin. On the curvy part of the billabong the seaplane takes a run-up to reach the necessary take-off speed on a short straight.

Blick aus dem Fenster der Cessna 208, wenn das Wasserflugzeug auf dem Billabong beschleunigt / © Foto: Georg Berg
View out of the window of the Cessna 208 as the seaplane accelerates on the Billabong / © Photo: Georg Berg

Travel advice: Australia for European tourists

The research trip was supported by the Northern Territory Tourism Office

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