Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Bali, 2007

By Heather St. Claire:

What a magical trip!

Months ago our friend Matty Senior told us of a paragliding paradise, a place where you can fly for hours & hours, everyday, in the sunshine. Hearing these tales of such a wonderful place, I had to find out for myself what flying in Bali was like. Twelve of us joined Matty on the Indonesian island of Bali for an almost two week paragliding adventure in September. Matty is an accomplished pilot and has traveled to Bali for the past 14 years. He first went there to surf and in recent years to paraglide.

Descending into the Ngurah Rai international airport on the island’s south, you can see the beauty of the tropical island and realize you are arriving in a very special place.

Steve Pieniak flying at Timbis.

For the first part of the trip we flew at Timbis, a coastal ridge soaring site along the southern tip of Bali. After a leisurely start to each day, enjoying a nice breakfast by the pool, getting a massage or playing on the amusement park sized waterslide in our resort hotel, we would make the 10 minute drive to launch. By late morning the smooth trade winds flow in from the Indian Ocean and last until after sunset most days, making it soarable for hours every day. One day I flew for four hours, my longest flight in terms of duration. Even as the sun set there was abundant lift!

Timbis is located near the center of the southern tip of Bali, on the Bukit Peninsula. At first, getting off the ground provided a bit of a challenge. Winds were stronger than I was accustomed to, but help was on hand. Local instructors have trained Balinese men to assist on launch. These men have more kiting experience than most of us paraglider pilots, but are too scared to fly. They are right there to grab the correct line/riser or provide ballast to launch, and then at the end of the day, fold up your wing & pack your gear for a small price. I truly felt pampered. If you land on the beach or hang your wing in one of the trees near launch (not me!), they’re on their way to haul your gear back up or get it out of the tree for you. Several Balinese women come to launch each day bringing coolers full of drinks and ice which is a good thing to have in the hot Balinese sun.

Another lovely day of flying at Timbis.

Flights were awesome, with 11 miles of coast line to soar. From Uluwatu on the western tip of the Bukit Peninsular to the spectacular Nikko Resort on the eastern tip. Miles and miles of coastline to fly! The ridge is lined with temples at many points, luxury houses and hotels. These Hindu temples are frequented by wild monkeys. On one flight I counted over 20 monkeys climbing all over a temple. Local seaweed farmers harvest seaweed from the shallow waters below launch and have created a patchwork of seaweed you can see from the air. Soaring along the miles of coastline, the clarity of the water below allowed us to see pods of dolphins, sea cows, manta rays and giant turtles swimming in the ocean.

Within the first few days of this trip I experienced several firsts/personal bests. Longest flight in terms of time - 4 hrs, largest number of flights in a day - 6 flights then 10 flights on another day, and first time driving in a foreign country and in the left lane. I flew 10 flights one day just to get lots of practice top-landing. Snuffy & Matty were great help figuring out the best approaches.

Flying high at Candi Dasa.

The next site we flew was in Candi Dasa, a 2 hour drive to the northeast. Candi Dasa is a southeast facing mountain right on the coast. It’s about 1000 feet high and different from Timbis in that you can’t drive up to launch. Finally some exercise. Launch is a lovely hike up. Here we hired local people to carry our gear up the hill. It was quite nice to hike without my pack in the 80+ degree heat. This area of Bali is lusher, with rice farms terraced up the hillsides and coconut palms as far as the eye can see. Launch at Candi Dasa would have seemed more spacious if it hadn’t been for the 10-15 locals hanging out to watch us all take off. After landing on the mile long, black sand beach we were greeted to a warm welcome by the local kids.

After hours of flying day after day, we took a day off and went up the coast to check out Bali’s number one diving and snorkeling spot at Tulumben. More firsts! First time scuba diving for Kevin and first time snorkeling for me. This is a popular spot for diving because there is a 400 foot US WWII shipwreck sunk close to shore.

Sunrise at Mt. Batur.

After flying Candi Dasa & Timbis, we went on to hike and try to fly a volcano. We stayed one night on Lake Batur. Well, nearly one night. Local guides knocked on our room doors to wake us up at the unwelcome hour of 3:30 am. By 4 am we were on our way to hike up Mt. Batur to watch the sunrise. Pilots hike up not only to watch the sunrise, but also to arrive on launch before it gets blown out. Again, we were fortunate to hire local men and women to carry gear. At this hour, walking in the path of our headlamps, we didn’t talk much. It was a pleasant, quiet hike in the cool pre-dawn morning. We reached the top to see the most gorgeous red sunrise. Looking east from Mt. Batur (1717 m), you see the even larger Mt. Agung (3142 m). What an amazing & breathtaking view at sunrise! Mt. Batur is still an active volcano with steam rising out of earth - steam hot enough to cook eggs. Unfortunately on this occasion the winds were strong and most of us chose to not fly & hiked down. Steve & Snuffy flew tandem, followed by Matty and then Kevin. I did not feel the least bit disappointed that I did not fly Batur. The beauty of the sunrise made the hike worth it, and with Timbis only a few hours drive we still flew for 3-4 hours later that day.

The last few days of the trip we spent back at the beautiful Jimbaran Hills Resort flying Timbis. We had the finest meal of the trip (and for most our lives) at Ku De Ta, an exquisite restaurant on Seminyak beach where I finally cashed in on the dinner Steve owed me from all the XC retrieves back home.

Matt Cone & Kevin White at Timbis.

A real highlight of the trip was watching Natalie Stockman learn to fly. She came on the trip with her Dad Bob just before entering UW as a freshman. A couple tandem flights, hours of kiting & off she went for hours & hours of flying with the rest of us!

Flying on this trip was the most relaxing airtime I have experienced paragliding. One of the reasons I fly is to reach the state of peacefulness & calm that only comes from getting my feet off the ground. Flying in Bali provided such tranquil/serene conditions (the air, the sights, the sound of the ocean), it was easy to reach that peaceful state. Many other experiences on the trip were nearly as incredible as the flying - sunrises, sunsets, snorkeling/diving, wandering through beach caves, watching native ceremonial dances, moonlight fire on the beach with good friends - words & photos can not recreate the marvel of it all.

I definitely plan to return to Bali. There are many things I still want to do and see. For such a small place, it has so much to offer. Definitely paragliding paradise!

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Sunshine Coast to the Outback

By Matty Senior:

Flying new areas and over new terrain is one of the many things that make paragliding so special. Last weekend was the Indy 300 race on the Gold Coast; it’s a huge party and unless you’re into it, you may as well get as far away from it as possible. At the moment I’m living in Surfers Paradise, the heart of the Indy, and decided to skip town and take a short vacation to the Sunshine Coast about 2 hours to the north.

The Sunshine Coast as I’ve discovered is a Paraglider’s Paradise. There are about 10 coastal flying sites that accommodate all variations of the sea breeze and about 10 inland flying sites. The inland sites are all fairly small in that there is little altitude available to find a climb before you bomb out. The positive side to this is that if you do bomb out it’s a fairly short walk back to launch.

With the Glasshouse Mountains to the south, rainforest-rimmed escarpments and lush rolling pastures underneath, the terrain you get to fly over is breathtaking.

With rumours surfacing from some of the Gold Coast weather gurus that Saturday the 20th of October was looking like a potential record-breaking day, we hooked up with Sunshine Coast local Carl Forster for a flight. Carl took us to a site called The Playground, about 6km east of Maleny on the Blackall Mountain range. The Playground is a beautiful meadow type launch that rolls down into the valley. It would be the ultimate playground if the sea breeze was in, as you could land and relaunch from pretty much anywhere.

I launched first at about 10:15 and soared around for about 5 minutes in some early morning disorganised thermals that were pretty broken up. Pretty soon I found a decent core that I hung onto as I drifted over the back. It wasn’t the strongest climb but it was going up, and by the time I got to base I had already drifted 6km over the back. Carl was climbing much faster upwind of me and got to base about the same time. Within minutes we were side by side cruising along under some pretty nice looking clouds at about 55-60km/hr.

About 20km later we found ourselves low in the Connondale Valley scratching around desperate to get another climb. With plenty of sun on the ground we eventually stumbled across a 1200fpm freight train that took us to base in what seemed like seconds. Out of the Connondale Valley the terrain changed, from lush green farmland and dense rainforests to more typical Australian rural scenery of gum trees and kangaroos. The next 60km went by fairly quickly; we stayed high, drifting several kilometres with each thermal, topping out at base with ground speeds of 60-70km/hr without touching the speed bar.

92km from where we launched Carl and I found ourselves approaching an area you simply wouldn’t want to land. Although there were plenty of landing options, there was no sign of civilisation, nor was there any indication from our slowly diminishing altitude of which way to walk should we land. As we pushed on into the blue I spotted a cloud start to dome up to our right, so we changed our heading and went for it with the little altitude we had left. As we arrived at a small hill in the fairly flat terrain that appeared to both of us to be the trigger of the thermal, we spun around into the wind before we got tossed over the back of it. With only 300 feet between us and the ground, and zero ground speed it was obvious to both of us that our flight was about to come to an end. So much so I even yelled at Carl in the air to say, “Looks likes that’s it mate.” As I approached the ground it started to become obvious that I wasn’t going to make it over the hill, so I decided to turn downwind and use the altitude I had left to get as far away from the hill as possible to avoid landing directly in the lee of it. As soon as I made my decision to turn and run, Carl followed. At the time I thought he was following me to avoid the same sketchy landing situation, but after talking to him later he figured I had spotted a climb and didn’t want to miss it.

As I glided over some trees to pick a field to back my glider into, we started to get tossed around by some bullets coming off the hot ground. As we turned back into the wind to try and work these bullets we noticed a wedge-tailed eagle climbing up underneath us. All I can remember thinking was, “Don’t lose this bird; if you can just hang onto the eagle you’ll get out of here”. After talking to Carl later, that was exactly what was going though his mind as well. Like most soaring birds, wedge-tailed eagles don’t like to flap their wings. As soon as you see one in the air it’s fairly certain he’ll be in a thermal or on his way to one. As we drifted with that thermal to base, we crossed the 100km point and things got easy again, base lifted and our ground speed began increasing to more than 70km/hr. After another 25km the terrain began to make another obvious change from the typical Australian landscape of gum trees and kangaroos to flatland like I’ve never seen before. A patchwork of wheat fields and other crops, the flat lands were totally devoid of any variations in terrain. They were flat as far as I could see from 2km above the ground.

After topping out a climb at 138km I got on the radio to find out what Carl’s personal best was, only to find out it was 140km in Manilla. “Well, the beers are now on you Carl”, I said as we cruised through 139km, 2km above the ground. That was the last climb I got that day and ended up landing 153km from launch about 16km northeast of Dalby. Carl, who was a little behind, managed to get a climb out of the field I landed in, and cruised on another 20km, landing 173km from launch.

Congratulations Carl, awesome flight mate! Carl doubled his longest flight from the Sunshine Coast of 84km and we both smashed the Sunshine Coast record of 106km. On the same day a few hours drive to the south, Shane Hill flew 261km from Beechmont, smashing the state record of 206km. A copy of my flight can be seen on Leonardo.