Adventures in Sydney’s Wild, Wild West

Indoor skydiving at iFLY Downunder in Penrith - photo by Rob McFarland

Indoor skydiving at iFLY Downunder in Penrith – photo by Rob McFarland

Sun-Herald, Australia – March 8, 2015

“Keep your arms folded and your legs crossed,” says the attendant. “Just imagine you need to go to the loo.” This last piece of advice is unnecessary because I need to go to the loo with impending urgency. My heart is also thumping like a base drum and my stomach is doing cartwheels. As the capsule door closes I glance in wide-eyed terror at the chute next to me to see a small child grinning with unbridled glee. The countdown begins – “3 … 2 … 1″… and then the bottom literally falls out of my world. The trapdoor opens and I plunge down a 12-metre near-vertical drop before being catapulted around a 360-degree loop at almost 60 km/h. When I finally come to rest in the exit lane, my diminutive racing partner is already sprinting back up the stairs to do it again. I stagger off in search of counselling.

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Boy’s own adventure

Skydiving over Wollongong - photo by Rob McFarland

Skydiving over Wollongong – photo by Rob McFarland

TravelThereNext

This is not how I’d normally spend a Wednesday morning. I’m perched on another man’s lap in a miniscule plane with no seats. Behind me my instructor is tightening a series of straps while whistling with the nonchalance of a man who does this for a living. We hit 14,000 feet, the door opens and we’re out.

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Review of Rydges Sydney Airport Hotel

View from room at Rydges Sydney Airport Hotel - photo by Rob McFarland

View from room at Rydges Sydney Airport Hotel – photo by Rob McFarland

The Sun-Herald, Australia – June 2, 2013

Finalist, 2013 ASTW Best Australian Story under 1000 words

Travel descriptions can evoke a wide range of emotions. At one end of the spectrum sit terms such as “overwater bungalow”, “champagne breakfast” and “free upgrade”. At the other end lurk “overnight bus journey”, “flight delay” and “cavity search”. Coming somewhere in the middle is “airport hotel”.

It conjures up an image of somewhere you stay out of necessity, not by choice; a place to endure an inconvenient flight connection rather than frolic for a week drinking mojitos.

So it is with subdued expectations that I head out to the airport on a Sunday afternoon to check out the new Rydges Sydney Airport hotel.

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Adventure on the Murray River

Paddling the backwaters of Lake Mulwalla - photo by Rob McFarland

Paddling the backwaters of Lake Mulwalla - photo by Rob McFarland

It was supposed to be a hypothetical question. When I ask Jack: “What would happen if the engine failed now?” I didn’t expect him to reply: “Let’s find out.”

I wouldn’t be so worried if we were in a car or a boat. But we’re in a two-seater plane – and we’re at 760m (2500ft). Jack powers back the engine of the Piper Tomahawk and then, with a grin, tells me we’re about to attempt a dead-stick landing.

I try to hide the look of sheer terror on my face. I don’t like the sound of the word “attempt” and I’m even less enthusiastic about a landing with the word “dead” in it. But I’m in safe hands. As an instructor, Jack has flown for 34 years and has racked up more than 12,000 hours in the air. After a couple of sharp, banking turns to lose height, he glides in and touches down smoothly.

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Island Paradise – Lord Howe

View of Mount Gower

View of Mount Gower

You know you’ve arrived somewhere a little different when a beaming Qantas representative jumps on the plane and cheerily welcomes you to your destination. He’s clearly happy with his lot on Lord Howe Island and it’s not difficult to see why.

Lord Howe, between Australia’s east coast and Norfolk Island, was designated a Unesco World Heritage site in 1982 for its “rare collection of plants, birds, marine life and exceptional natural beauty”. The surrounding waters were declared a marine park in 1998.

What this means in real terms is spectacular scenery, unique wildlife and stunning vistas wherever you turn. I lost count of the number of times I was stopped in my tracks by yet another perfect postcard scene.

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