Up the Coast: Network Fokker 100 Perth to Geraldton
Residents in Perth's northern suburbs are accustomed to jokes about their having to commute each day from South Geraldton to get to work. Geraldton itself is a pleasant city on the coast, about 420km by road from Perth. I decided it would be a good choice for a day trip by air and visited the Qantas web site to make the booking. It just so happened that Qantas had a "new year sale". Despite the claimed reductions, it still would have been cheaper to fly to Melbourne. But hey: regional flights have always been more expensive.
QantasLink used to operate the Perth - Geraldton route with Bombardier Dash 8-Q400s, with the aircraft coming from Sunstate Airlines. Those aircraft were later redeployed to routes in the eastern states and now the service is provided by Fokker 100s from Network Aviation. On these flights, at the time of booking it is not possible to make a seat selection beyond specifying a preference for window or aisle. I selected window and would have to wait until check-in to pick a suitable place.
As usual, I arrived at the airport with heaps of time to spare. On the ground was VH-VYH Queanbeyan
; the morning departure for Dubai was just getting underway, and Traralgon
was about to be made ready.
Over at Cobham Aviation an Embraer 190LR (VH-NJA, previously D-AEMG with Augsburg Airways and Air Dolomiti) was under taxi, while maintenance was being carried out on an Avro RJ 85, VH-NJU.
At remote stands, several Qantas tails and some more aircraft with Cobham. In the distance were the two OzJet Boeing, waiting to be disassembled and transported to a field near York where one will be put on display and the other converted into accommodation.
While VH-VXC Gippsland
was loaded, over at the International Terminal there was a flurry of activity. Air New Zealand, Air Asia and Singapore Airlines were being boarded for the early morning departures.
A Beech 1900D that I'd not seen before, VH-YBH with a charter operator, taxied away for take-off; Queanbeyan
had been pushed back; a plain skin freighter arrived; a BAe 146-100 in Cobham Livery was underway, and breakfast was loaded on to a flight scheduled to Kalgoorlie.
Arrivals and Departures destination boards indicated where passengers need to be, although a couple of Gate changes were announced.
More movement on the apron, as the aircraft that was bound for Geraldton was towed to the stand. This aircraft previously flew with American Airlines as N1449D and Avianca as HK-4444, before coming to Network Aviation and flying for QantasLink.
Fokker aircraft are a popular choice among Australian carriers. They appear to be ideally suited to conditions here, being able to land in hot and dusty conditions. They are extensively used not only on regional networks but also on charter routes to remote mine sites. Alliance Airlines has a fleet that (according to Planespotters.net) includes 17 Fokker 100, 11 Fokker 70 and 5 Fokker 50. As I waited to board, VH-FKK taxied by. This Fokker 100 was previously with USAir and US Airways as N894US.
A boarding call was made: all passengers travelling to Geraldton please proceed to Gate 17. Oddly, no staff appeared to check boarding passes. After a five-minute delay, a further announcement that due to cleaners still being on the aircraft, boarding was expected to commence in five minutes. After another five minutes, a further delay was announced. Meanwhile, a group of passengers used the time productively to practice a Capella singing:
"Who loves you pretty baby,
Who's gonna help you through the night?
Who loves you pretty mama,
Who's always there to make it right?"
Eventually a couple of crew appeared at the Gate and passengers could make their way down the jet-bridge.
QantasLink QF1618 Perth to Geraldton
(Op by Network Aviation)
Aircraft ID: VH-NHF
Type: Fokker 100 Seat: 06A
STD: 07:00 ATD: 07:15
STA: 08:00 ATA: 08:16
A friendly greeting at the door of the aircraft before I made my way to 06A. The initial impression was of space and cleanliness. The seat pitch is good on Network's Fokker 100. There is no IFE box taking up space, so you can actually stow hand-luggage under the seat in front of you. Loading on this flight wasn't high: most E seats remained empty and passengers in A and B generally had the seat next to them remain empty.
In the seat pocket were copies of inflight magazines. One was the Qantas-wide issue featuring "romantic getaways". The other was QantasLink's Spirit, featuring an article on a small town set in the tall karri forests in WA's southwest.
On the apron, position markers indicate some of the types that use the stand. Meanwhile, boarding was completed, the jet-bridge retracted and the cabin door closed. At the neighbouring stand, the flight to Kalgoorlie was pushed back for departure. Meanwhile, the Captain had introduced himself as Clive and seated with him was Nick. In the Cabin were Kelsie, Emma and Luke.
A Boeing 717, VH-NXH, operated by Cobham Aviation for QantasLink stood off, in front of which some men were doing pavement works as part of the airport's upgrade to CATIII. But my attention was drawn to the cabin crew who were performing the safety instructions. A reminder to read the safety card was given and I did check to see that the life vest was where it should be.
Taxi commenced and we passed a number of Qantas tails, including Charleville
VH-VXL - a Boeing 738 being prepared for its journey to Darwin - and an Airbus A332, King Valley
VH-EBF, that would be flying back to Melbourne.
Turning into Runway 03, the Fokker's engines whined a bit more as the aircraft sped past the International Terminal and Terminal 2. Very soon it was lifting into the air and passing over the network of new roads that form part of GateWay WA Project.
We passed through some dark clouds that looked threatening in the early morning light. But they were patchy and soon gave way to small puffs as we continued in an arc that took us over Bentley and Ardross, with views of Fremantle at the mouth of the Swan River and Rottnest Island off the coast.
On a forty-minute flight there is not much time for idle moments and as soon as the seat belt sign was extinguished, the cabin crew started the breakfast service. On offer was a bacon and egg panini and a choice of beverages, including fruit juices, tea and coffee. The panini proved to be tasty and certainly filled a gap. But mine was stuck to the bottom of the box, so I ate it as best I could.
By the time the meal was cleared, we were passing over small communities that dot Indian Ocean coast. Some of these started out as squatter's shacks but the State Government regularised land titles a few years ago, planning regulations were introduced and a new road was built. The result: grumbles from those who now longer live free on land they didn't own, a sealed road and the attraction of more businesses and tourism. These communities include Seabird, Ledge Point, Lancelin and Wedge Island.
We also passed over the Nambung National Park. This is known for the Pinnacles Desert with its curious wind-carved limestone formations. Nearby is the fishing town of Cervantes and Lake Thetsis, home to stromatolites composed of cyano-bacteria, a form of life that may date back 3.7 billion years. Further on is Jurien, home of Rock Lobster fishing.
The Captain announced that descent had been commenced as we turned inland, passing over the old settlement at Greenough (bottom left). In the distance, the port city of Geraldton could be seen.
The approach took us over paddocks that had been harvested and covered areas for production of crops like tomatoes as we aligned with Runway 21. We were heading into quite a stiff breeze.
Very soon we were over the runway and touching down, with reverse thrust and flaps fully extended. The runway also serves as the taxiway and at the end the Fokker turned about to head to the terminal. The field features three runways: 03/21 at 1981m/45m wide is the longest and is used by RPT and larger charter flights; 14/32 is 844m/ 18m wide sealed, and 08/26 is 900m/ 18m wide and unsealed red gravel.
The aircraft taxied to a stand in front of the departure lounge, Gate 2 as a welcome to Geraldton was announced. De-boarding was by steps that were brought to the aircraft. A cheerful thankyou from the crew as I left the aircraft and walked to the arrivals hall. It was good to get out of that stiff breeze.
Once inside the terminal I made my way over to the car hire section to pick up the pre-booked car. My first visit was to the Geraldton Museum. This abuts a small boat harbour and features a replica of the longboat that Pelaert and 47 others sailed to Batavia (now Jakarta) following the wreck of the VOC ship Batavia
on the Abrolhos Islands in June 1629. Inside the museum is an extensive display relating the loss of the ship and the brutal events that followed when Cornelisz took control and started systematically killing those he thought might oppose him.
Another interesting display is that of the archaeological research into the 1712 Zuytdorp
wreck. Some of the survivors intermarried with local Aborigines who adopted them into their communities. Of course, that was a long time before that other fellow arrived on the far side of the continent.
I decided to drive out to Greenough, a historic settlement dating back to the 1850s. There is a museum and gardens in the former home of John Maley who constructed a steam-powered flourmill and the home. He also established a hotel and several other businesses. In his spare time, he fathered fourteen children. No television in those days but there were other joint activities available. I guess you needed a double dunny with fourteen kids.
The main historic settlement is run by the National Trust. It features a number of buildings, including St Peter's Church (Catholic, still in use) and some cottages. The old convent school and the Police Station and Gaol were being restored, appropriately enough by prisoners from the regional prison. This isn't an old-style chain gang but an employment and training scheme offered to prisoners as part of their rehabilitation.
On a fencing post, evidence that the settlement is still inhabited. St Catherine's Hall was used for social events, dances and festivals. Nearby is Clinch's Mill, one of several flourmills that were in the area. There is another church, St Catherine's Church (Anglican, still in use) and at the old state school some alpacas were resting in the shade.
While in Greenough I decided it was a good time for a light lunch. That fruit cake looked as if it would fill the gap and nutritionists always recommend fruit as part of a healthy diet.
The area around Greenough is fairly flat and being near to the coast is subject to quite strong winds. As a result, some River Gums have trunks that grow parallel to the ground, the result of growth on the side facing the wind being burnt off by the saline winds.
But there are some sheltered spots, ideal for relaxation or a picnic on a hot day. Devlin Pool on the Greenough River, is sheltered by dunes that separate it from the coast.
It was time to drive back into town. In Geraldton, there was a couple of other landmarks that I wanted to visit before flying back to Perth. Perhaps, you'll join me on the next trip report.
Previous Trip Reports:Getting into the Spirit: Qantas A332 Perth to SydneyYour Personal Airline: AirLink Beech 1900D to DubboOur Heart is in the Country: Regional Express Saab 340BMotorcycles Galore: QantasLink Dash-8 300Q to TamworthDjawannasnack: Virgin Australia ATR 72 to SydneyNow You're Flying: Virgin Australia A332 Sydney to PerthA Surprise Dash: Skippers Aviation to RavensthorpeA Brasilia to Perth: Skippers Aviation Embraer 120
Necessity is the plea for every infringement of human freedom. It is the argument of tyrants; it is the creed of slaves. - William Pitt Speech, 1783