I rarely invite others on writing assignments but this was too good. My mother’s response to suggestion of her first helicopter flight? “No way.” So we gave her the front seat.
Osborne Heli Tours are into their second season of operation from their Port Arthur base (opposite the Port Arthur Lavender Farm) and I was absurdly excited about taking flight. So excited, I bundled my father into the fold as well. Off we ventured down the Tasman Peninsula beneath brooding low clouds and a weather report that whispered of thunderstorms. I was certain it would clear while Mum was no doubt secretly delighted.
The grey skies allowed us to go slow en route to our flight. We dropped in to Cubed Espresso at Pirate’s Bay Lookout for a delectable orange hot chocolate and morsel of raspberry infused brownie that was so delish it was hard to savour and inhale at the same time.
On arrival for our 30 minute flight, Two Capes and Tasman, only one young lady was in the office. Cheery and bright, she held hope the clouds may part. As she began talking radars and weather patterns, it didn’t take long for us to ascertain that the 22-year-old was not only our reception welcome but also the pilot.
With a flick of the pony tail we were told there would be no lift off. Lucy didn’t want to take us if we wouldn’t be able to see the magic she knew awaited. My shoulders dropped but a promise of improved morning conditions meant we just had more time to enjoy on the peninsula and after all, this region is no day trip. Many a tourist has fallen for a Port Arthur visit of hours, later realising the ancient rock formations, distilleries, walks and eco-cruise are deserving of far more time.
Next morning we front up eagerly and again have to wait on a weather break. Our pseudo Qantas Lounge (aka the Port Arthur Lavender Farm) welcomes us once more with savoury scones and tall coffees. The suspense has raised Mum’s nerves, but I insist that my first chopper flight over World Heritage Wilderness on Tasmania’s west coast remains one of my treasured memories and indeed the sensation is like nothing she’s experienced.
A quick text from Lucy confirms it is lift off time. We arrive two minutes later. After a safety briefing, Mum is fitted with her waste-belt life jacket and directed to co-pilot position, much to the grins of my father and I. For a moment I feel waves of ‘mean daughter,’ with flash backs to the time I invited her canyoning up Cradle Mountain, where she leapt off 9 metre precipices in thick neoprene like a good mid-sixty aged sport. I was about to test her comfort limits once more. “Sorry Mum,” was all I could manage but the emerging smile conveyed a silent delight.
As the rotors warmed above us with a noisy whir, I gave a knowing backseat nod to Dad. A second later came the customary and thrilling vertical rise, followed by a swooping over the treetops before we barely realise we’re airborne. Through the headsets come an excited shriek from the front-seat passenger. Mission accomplished – Mum is settling into her bird-like role with delight.
In what feels like seconds, we are suddenly peering over Port Arthur Historic Site and careering out toward the ancient coastline. Lucy points out the sweeping white curve of Crescent Bay and the famed Remarkable Cave down below.
Casually, she navigates the low level cloud with the finesse of someone who has been in the air with her Dad since the age of 12. We are doing the tour in reverse order, Tasman Island typically first. In safe hands, the avid surfer points out Shipstern’s Bluff and arcs around dramatic Cape Raoul. From above, the sheer dolerite columns plummet into the sea. Incidentally, the cape was used as target practice by the British Navy during World War 1, missing some of its towering ‘fingers’ as a result.
We swoop around, next destination, Tasman Island. Mum can be heard chirping away about the Three Capes Track down below, hugging the cliff edge. It’s a walk we’ve all enjoyed, entirely anew in its perspective when hovering above. Her words drift off, replaced with gasps of wonder. There is Cape Pillar and Tasman Island. Tiny dots of humans can be seen taking in the view from Pillar. Known as ‘The Blade,’ it remains one of my favourite places to perch for lunch.
We arc around Tasman Island, the lighthouse and cottages in clear view. Its flat green top looks prime for a golf swing, sitting 300 metres above sea level at the highest point. No sooner are we hovering on the world’s edge, next stop Antarctica, Lucy lays us safely back down to earth. We each shake our heads. Words cannot be found. Was that spectacular, momentary bird-embodiment a fleeting dream? Mum climbs out, dizzy with wonder. The giddy smile says at all.
With flights starting at $145 for 15 minutes (Sea Cliffs and Convicts) whether you want to impress a first date or simply push your mother to the edge, book some time with Osborne. Lucy has flown around the world from Canada to northern Australia and considers it the finest flying territory she’s found. For around the cost of filling a mundane supermarket shopping basket, a lifetime memory can be forged in one of the most spectacular locations on the planet.
This summer, add something lofty to your must-do list.
Words & images: Alice Hansen (unless otherwise captioned)
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