Nothing can beat a scenic flight over interesting terrain on a clear, sunny day.
We knew we were in for a treat when the skies over our patch of the Australian coast turned pink on the eve of a coastal flight we had booked in a small aircraft. For it is generally true that a red sky at night, with the setting sun sending its rays into a stable high pressure system from the west, indicates good weather is on the way.
And it was indeed a perfect day for flying.
We met our Piper Cherokee Six – and its owner, veteran pilot, Andy – at the small coastal airport of Merimbula. Once we’d had our safety briefing and strapped on our life jackets, we were up and away; off on one of Merimbula Air Services‘ “Gabo Island Adventures”.
The first lighthouse was started on the current site in 1847, but the project quickly ran out of money and was abandoned until after the loss 30 lives in 1853, when the steamship Monumental City was wrecked on nearby Tullaberga Island. The current tower is Australia’s second tallest: 47 metres high and 55 meters above sea level. The lighthouse and surrounding fences and are built from beautiful red porphyritic granite quarried on the island itself. Buttresses were added to the fences following a freak wave in 1895 which washed over the island, damaging property.
The island used to house three families: two light-keepers and a weather technician, but of course modern times demand less people-power. Today, there is always a live-in “caretaker”, and one of the other homes is available to recreational visitors or scientists who come to conduct studies. At the moment, two young scientists are in residence: one studying the feral rats who have come on to the island from ships, and the other studying the 30,000 strong colony of Little Penguins who come ashore to burrow every night.
The island has its share of sad stories. As I said earlier, the lighthouse wasn’t completed until 30 lives were lost to a ship wreck in 1853. The governments of the neighbouring states later erected a monument in memorial. Up an overgrown, road there is a small cemetery with three headstone: for two infants who died in 1861, possibly from a contagious illness, and for a young woman who died later the same year in childbirth. As recently as 1929, a lighthouse-keeper’s wife died as a consequence of a fall when medical attention couldn’t be accessed promptly due to rough seas.
Mid-afternoon, we touched down gently back at Merimbula Airport. Merimbula Air Services call this trip: “A great day out!”, and indeed it was.
Photos: January 25, 2012