The art of attaching a propellor powered motor to a parachute, paramotoring is a beautifully simplistic way to explore the skies. But how far can one travel simply suspended under a canopy, with a backpack fan for propulsion? Keen to seek answers, in 2022, paramotor pilots Rich Dolan and Andrew Twitty made their way to the world’s largest island to find out. Arriving at mainland Australia’s westernmost point, their plan was to fly east to Byron Bay, 5000kms away on the west coast of New South Wales.
Flying out of Broken Hill, NSW, heading for sunset.
The red dirt enhances the sun’s glare as we begin to unload the car at The Overlander Roadhouse. It’s refreshing to finally be free of those four wheels after eight tedious days spent driving across the continent. Our plan is to fly 5000km back across Australia on what some people describe as a backpack fan.
As we continue to assemble the paramotors, the challenge we have undertaken is beginning to sink in. We’re based 180km from the most westerly point of Australia whilst we get ready to take on the world’s first crossing of Australia by paramotor. And we’re doing it unsupported. It’s taken six months of preparation (mainly by Scott Ryan) to land us here. For some reason, we are naively confident it will take around five weeks to complete.
Happy, exhausted, unshaven.
Selfie, gliding over Steep Point, Australia’s far westerly point.
The start eventually rolls around and we begin our return flight to the first checkpoint, Steep Point. Climbing up to a safe height we notice the road disappear off onto the horizon and continue to do so for the next three hours. This never-ending road has brought home the magnitude of our journey and I’m starting to wonder why on Earth we started this thing.
Oh well, it’s only five weeks…
The sun is shining, we’ve got a consistent tailwind and the views are breath-taking. It’s just a gentle glide to the edge of Australia, a moment to take in the views before turning back towards The Overlander. By this time the land has heated up and switched the wind direction 180°, giving us a helping hand in our fight to beat the sunset. Almost everything about this day is in our favour, minus a few minor hiccups. Just making last light, we’ve managed 360km in a single day. Man, this thing is going to be easy!
This, I can now say with confidence, was was a false sense of security, a deceivingly inaccurate representation of Australian weather and the unpredictable challenges that lay ahead of us. From here on in, we were in for a rough ride!
A deceivingly inaccurate representation of Australian weather and the unpredictable challenges that lay ahead of us
Patchwork of canola fields.
I first started paramotoring six-years ago and was instantly hooked. The appeal was not the peaceful flights themselves, but the ability to travel and simply land in a random field. I could take in the amazing scenery from above and experience the friendly atmosphere from the ground. All that from this machine that packs neatly into the boot of your car. I couldn’t believe I hadn’t started sooner and you can bet I was making up for it.
I started taking the paramotor to different parts of the world; Egypt, Kuwait, Italy, Spain and France. All of these trips offered the sights, culture and unique experiences but there was still something missing. I wanted that big adventure, one to challenge my ability, force me to meet new people and see sights that I would never otherwise have the opportunity to experience.
A few months deliberating options and, this opportunity landed right in-front of me. As many great adventures do, the story starts over a couple of beers and a random idea. Fast forward eight months and we’re finding out just how challenging those random ideas can be.
Although beautiful, low, horizontal tube-shaped clouds like this are often associated with particularly cold front or thunderstorms. Time to land.
A lesson learnt to wander into the unknown, defy those preconceived views and go forward with intrigue
The Law of Attraction is a philosophy suggesting a positive attitude brings positive results. Well, the same applies for negativity which may have had a rolling contribution to the series of events that followed. 1450km in is where the fun really started. A broken prop, first blown engine and a blown tyre to name but a few. A full day spent repairing gear, balancing props – which is a challenge in itself never mind the lack of tools – and ordering more spares to meet us en route, and we were finally ready to go again.
Australia is of course well-known for its desolate lands and halfway into our journey we reach the infamous Nullarbor, which translates as no trees in Latin. An area known for extreme weather, Australian wildlife and scarce civilisation. It’s here we had to take extra precautions, a wrong decision to fly here could leave us stranded for days on end with no access to supplies.
That point proven with our first stop leaving us stuck for ten days straight. No signal, limited food options and persistently bad weather really tested our mental aptitude while stuck between those four walls. It’s safe to say I wouldn’t cope well if ever sentenced to prison.
Above the clouds
Sand art on the Fraser Range salt flats of Western Australia.
The thought of Australia also brings to mind beautifully sunny days and soaring temperatures. 45 days and 2180km into our trip, those temperatures finally arrived. As did the reptiles. Discovered by almost stepping on a baby brown – one of the deadliest snakes in the world – finding an adult brown close to the road and watching Andrew run away, much to my amusement, from a dead huntsman spider (yes, he knew it was dead).
A notable moment in our journey was arriving in Wilcannia, a town with an underserved reputation. The repeated words of warning for this place were countered with great friendliness and a huge warm welcome. What started with great hesitation was soon transformed into a great experience, a lesson learnt to wander into the unknown, defy those preconceived views and go forward with intrigue.
It’s safe to say our journey was filled with challenges. The first and largest problem we faced was, of course, the weather. What the news stated as the worst rain in 100-years, delayed us for weeks at a time in the most remote locations. Something known in the paragliding world as para-waiting is when you stare longingly at the sky, hoping it will change for the better. Para-waiting was a strongly developed habit by the end of our trip.
The final stretch, flying along the western coast northern NSW and into Byron Bay to mark the end of this thirteen week adventure.
But the weather was not the only thing to test our grit. In between these persistent storms were challenges tough enough to warrant throwing in the towel. Amongst the list includes three broken propellors, one broken trike, one bent axle, one wing repair, three tyres, three blown pistons, four engine rebuilds, three emergency landings and two venomous snakes.
Despite all of that, our crux, the pinnacle of tests, the hardest challenge of the whole adventure, came only 50km from the final destination, Byron Bay. A final engine blowout left us with a four hour mission to recover Andrew, and his gear, from a swamp alarmingly named Death Adder Trail. A brutal reminder to never get complacent while flying, no matter how close you are to the end. Another friendly Aussie to haul us and our gear, we arrive in the nearest town to rebuild the engine…again. Our last flight was one to remember, sunrise beaming over the Pacific Ocean, smooth air and the stunning coastal views all added to the closing excitement of our adventure. Flying back towards the crash site before turning back for the last 50km flight, we land on Byron Beach at 07:33am.
A brutal reminder to never get complacent while flying, no matter how close you are to the end
Final day, clocking up home-straight miles above Broadwater Beach NSW.
Cloud inversions are one of the many highlights of paramotoring. Here, Glen Innes shows off its cloud pools, just a few hours from reaching the west coast.
Remember that five weeks? Well, 13 weeks later we finally touched down in Byron Bay, elated and in dire need of a barbershop. You may be asking was all the hardship, time away from loved ones and the cost worth it? You bet! All of the challenges we faced along the way were actually all blessings in disguise, forcing us to see things up close and more importantly meet some incredible people along the way. The awe-inspiring sights, that we’d only otherwise get to see in films, and a lifetime of great memories to look back on make all of those days’ worth while.
So to close this brief recap of our adventure, I will end with some words of encouragement. If you are even remotely considering taking on a challenge or lacing up your boots for an adventure, I insist you push for it with all your might! You’ll meet new friends, see unforgettable sights and of course, have some great tales for the pub.
You can check out more of Rich’s adventures from this epic Australia expedition, over on his YouTube channel.
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