South Solitary Island: A Helicopter Adventure

Step into our wild adventure story of exhilaration and historical discovery…. an unforgettable journey to South Solitary Island off the breathtaking Coffs Coast, with Precision Helicopter Tours. South Solitary Island is only accessible by helicopter and is closed to the general public for most of the year. Only a handful of people are lucky enough to experience this historic landmark each year, and it’s our turn this year!

It all starts on a misty morning at the hangers, where a cool breeze tickles our skin, and anticipation fills the air. We listen to the instructions from the pilot, and we eagerly slip into our life jackets. I catch a mischievous grin from my companion, matching my own excitement. The pilot’s instructions reverberate in our ears as we prepare to take off. With a dash of adrenaline, we dash across the tarmac, careful not to disturb the invisible, swiftly spinning blades. Finally, nestled into our seats, we receive a quick briefing on the coms system, allowing us to chat throughout our flight. And just like that, the ground drops away beneath us, and we soar into the sky!

From high above, we gaze down at the picturesque Coffs Coast beaches. Surfers carve their way through the waves, colourful canopies dot the shore, and tiny figures frolic along the sandy expanse. Suddenly, a majestic whale steals our attention, and we press our faces against the window in awe. It feels as if we could tip the entire helicopter as we marvel at the sight. Magic envelopes us as we venture further, the white-capped waves below creating a mesmerizing spectacle. And then, like a hidden gem, South Solitary Island comes into view. Two magnificent rock formations cloaked in vibrant green grass beckon us closer. I can’t help but wonder how we’ll land on the petite launch pad rapidly approaching.

With remarkable skill, our pilot executes a smooth, feather-light touchdown, returning us to solid ground. Here Jane, our National Parks and Wildlife Ranger, begins the tour and guides us to the island’s crown jewel, the lighthouse. Majestic and elegant, its original lantern burned tirelessly for almost a century, from 1880 to 1975, only being extinguished a couple of times during WW2! As we ascend the spiral staircase, narrow windows reveal glimpses of the world outside. I can’t help but imagine what life must have been like for the lighthouse keepers, isolated from the mainland yet tantalisingly close.

Atop the lighthouse, we were blasted by the force of the sea air and the glare from the sun bouncing off the sea. Chilled and windblown, we bask in the thrill of the 360-degree panorama before us. To the north, we spot the remains of a shipwreck and the mesmerizing coastal stretch carved by stunning beaches and imposing headlands. This is an experience that will forever be etched in our memories.

Guided by Jane, we wander along a pathway bordered by sturdy stone walls, leading us to the living quarters of the lighthouse keepers. Despite the relentless battering from the elements, the quarters remain intact, exuding an eerie aura. The empty rooms and corridors silently whisper tales of the past. I can’t help but shudder at the thought of being alone in this place. Could it be the presence of Lydia, the young woman who tragically succumbed to typhoid before help could reach her? Visitors and keepers have shared stories of moving objects and strange occurrences in her room.

Outside, we breathe a sigh of relief and cast our gaze toward Dammerels Headland, where a heart-warming love story once unfolded. In the transition from flag signalling to Morse code, a young woman named Maude assumed the role of a messenger from the headland. Here on the island, a young lighthouse assistant named Harry eagerly awaited her messages. What began as a means of sea navigation slowly blossomed into a beautiful flirtation between the pair. Their affection grew, culminating in Harry building a boat to row across to Maude. And, as fate would have it, they eventually tied the knot. It’s enough to make even the most stoic among us swoon with delight.

The atmosphere surrounding us is simply breathtaking. Jane tells us more about the remnants of a time long gone, the ancient middens, burial sites, and dunes that once graced these lands thousands of years ago. In those times, wisps of smoke from Gumbaynggirr camps would have danced along the coast while cool coastal plains stretched out, offering abundant freshwater streams and estuaries. These islands were once the mighty headlands themselves. I’m reminded of the profound history of this land and its people, and I can’t help but feel grateful for this fleeting moment in time.

As we retrace our steps, it’s as if we’ve returned to a bygone era. Our cheerful pilot ushers us back into the sleek, whirring flying machine that brought us here. What a day it has been! We depart, filled with wonder and the pleasant weariness that only comes from immersing yourself in the wild sea air and feasting on a rich tapestry of sights and stories. My admiration for the challenges faced by those who came before us has grown, and a touch of wistfulness tugs at my heart, yearning for a time when humanity was more intimately connected to nature. As we fly back to our home base, surrounded by beaming smiles, I know this day will forever be etched in our souls.

Fly with Precisions Helicopters to South Solitary Island and enjoy a walking guided tour of this historic lighthouse island by a National Parks and Wildlife Ranger.

This article was written by Ottilie Bick-Simpson, with video and images by Headline Productions. Thanks to Jane Grebert, our National Parks Discovery Ranger, for leading the tour.

Premium Two-Hour Tour – $499pp

Includes 2 hours on the island, a tour of the Lighthouse, a tour of Keepers Quarters and a walk down to the gantry.
Saturday 4th May 2024
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