This coastal run was first done in 1990. As far as I am aware, only high performance hang gliders have done the run. A small number of experienced pilots have, for some years now, been doing this flight whenever conditions permit. Some have logged an impressive number of successful completions of the flight. But while it is flown repeatedly, the Bells to Apollo Bay run is always a challenge and can never be taken lightly. Not every attempt is successful, and the history of the run includes landings in some undesirable and risky locations. There is one epic story of survival after a landing in the ocean some distance from shore. It’s an adventurous flight, and requires a high level of skill, a high performance hang glider and more than a dash of daring. Paragliders do not have the performance to do this coastal run in a single flight.
The road distance between Bells Beach and Apollo Bay is 85kms. The straight line distance is 78kms or thereabouts, varying according to where in Apollo Bay you land and whether you fly direct track from Bells Beach or take the customary (and seemingly mandatory) short detour via Jan Juc immediately after takeoff. Jan Juc is a short distance east of launch, Apollo Bay is south west from launch. Track distance flown is greater than 78 kms given the deviations left and right of track and the amount of turning required to maintain altitude. A track distance of around 120kms actually flown (the total distance flown over the ground including all the turns and diversions left and right of the direct track maximising lift) is not unusual.
I understand the record time for this flight is 1:15. Flight times around the 2 hour mark are more typical and considerably longer flights are not unusual. But safe completion of the journey with all the challenges it invariably presents, regardless of the time taken, is the real reward.
Rohan Holtkamp is the only person to have done the return trip non-stop. That epic flight was done in March 2018. Rohan, a champion pilot of great experience and knowledge, wrote of this flight:
“Finally did one of my bucket-list flights Tuesday – Bells Beach to Apollo Bay and back! I launched at Bells, flew to Jan Juc then to AB and back to Jan Juc – its 180km coastal soaring flight never done before. A mix of dune soaring, mountain soaring, thermalling, orographic cloud surfing and standing wave lift has to be worked to complete this flight,”
Starting from the Bells Beach (Winki Pop) launch, the flight requires a series of essentially downwind runs interspersed with topping up height on all the headlands where the wind is creating lift. Thermals and other forms of available lift are also used to maintain or gain altitude. The small handful of skilled and experienced pilots familiar with this coastal run know with some precision the minimum height they need on any given day at each such headland to safely leave the lift and head off down wind to the next headland. Relatively reliable locations at which lift can be found in the favoured ESE conditions include Southside (at Bells Beach), Point Addis, Eumeralla cliffs, Point Roadknight (Anglesea), Urquharts Bluff, Aireys Inlet, Eastern View, Moggs Creek (Spion), Lorne (Teddys Lookout), Wye River, Kennett River, Cape Patton, Apollo Bay (Wild Dog Creek). Altitudes in excess of 3000 feet are sometimes achieved, and altitudes below 1000 feet are not uncommon on this route. The most efficient route does not involve closely hugging the coast. Depending on conditions, flights can involve tracking seaward or inland from the coast to find the best lift.
The favoured wind direction for this run is ESE; the wind this day was an easterly. While the easterly had some benefits in terms of good lift and good height gains at some of the earlier east-facing headlands, pilots reported rough air west of Cape Patton for the last 16kms of the flight as the wind direction at their altitude (which had backed around a little from east towards ENE) put some of the route in turbulent air in the lee of the land. Pilots needed good height at Cape Patton before commencing the last section of the flight to Wild Dog Creek.
Orographic cloud can be a significant feature on much of this coastal run. This is cloud which forms as moist air is forced up over rising terrain (the hills along the coast in this case), cooling in the process until it reaches its saturation point and the water vapour condenses forming cloud. While the beginnings of orographic cloud formation were visible on certain parts of the coast this day, it was only a background feature. There are days when orographic cloud can create remarkable flying conditions, and other days when it can terminate an attempt at completing the coastal run.
I was pleased to drive a vehicle from launch at Bells to Apollo Bay for one of the pilots on this day. I had a UHF radio on the channel used by the pilots. It was a very interesting and informative day to follow the pilots by road down the coast to their successful completion of the goal at Wild Dog Creek, Apollo Bay. I have neither the hang glider nor the knowledge and experience necessary to undertake this coastal run.
Left: Bruce setting up his Moyes LiteSpeed.
Bottom right: James setting up his Moyes LitesSpeed and Hughbert setting up his Aeros Kombat.
Launching from the clifftop at Bells Beach
I saw eight pilots take off with Apollo Bay as their destination. Seven of those pilots completed the flight to Apollo Bay. The pilot who landed short did so safely. That makes eight successful flights by my count.
The following photos shows the named pilots taking off (in launch order).
Arrival at Wild Dog Creek, Apollo Bay
Hughbert Alexander – gun pilot and good bloke. The five best photos in this blog post were taken by Hughbert Alexander during his flight. He generously consented to me publishing them here. Thanks Hughbert.
Later in the day after the above seven had flown, an eighth hang glider pilot, Mark Willy, also successfully completed the coastal run.