First steps north: Sydney to Cairns to Osaka

I wake up minutes before the alarm sounds at 4.30 AM. We rush to get ready and repack our bags, then head out into the waking dawn light.

Last time it was winter and dark. This morning they are pale orange and clear of heavy cloud. It gives me confidence for the flight.

The walk back to the Domestic Terminal T2 feels shorter than yesterday. We print out our bag tags from the Jetstar automated kiosk and join the long queue to the bag drop desks. There’s little time left before boarding, so B grabs a chocolate milk to go for Alex and herself. I’ve just had the latest round of antibiotics so can eat nothing.

The airport is busy, despite it only just opening for services for the day. We join the crowd at gate 54 and are soon boarding the aircraft.

I sit at the fogged up window, 8A, and watch the day brighten as the aircraft fills up.

The cabin manager introduces herself, then Captain Geoff Bray, along with First Officer Troy Dixon, welcomes us to the flight. We’ll be taking off to the south along the third runway, then turning inland, across Richmond, Narrabri and Moree towards Queensland.

A mostly smooth flight is expected.


Still, I turn on some relaxation music as we taxi out to the runway.

Quickly we are aligned with the runway and launching up across the bay, carefully turning at La Perouse to avoid subjecting the rich Eastern Suburbs to noise.

Out to sea, turning and rising, passing through the thin cloud layer as we head back towards the land.

The airport is visible through the cloud, the Olympic precinct, then the sandstone walls of the Blue Mountains and Hawkesbury River.

Our fare includes $15 each worth of food, which isn’t really needed now, so we buy bottles of juice and snacks for later. I can now eat again, so I buy sandwiches, but cannot finish them.

Most of the flight is above cloud. I’m so tired that I drift off with frequent microsleeps. It is a smooth flight and I am quite relaxed.

Our route into Cairns seems a little different today. We head across bright green and plowed brown countryside. A river snakes through it and further inland I can see a tall waterfall feeding it, caved into bare rock.

Wind turbines spin languidly in the meagre breeze.

We overshoot Cairns, who skies are bare of cloud, and descend into the airport from the north.

A perfect flight and with perfect skies above I’m feeling confident about the next one.

We hurriedly collect our baggage from the belt as we are desperate to use the facilities. We are not in a hurry to take the long hot outdoor walk to the International terminal.

As B points out, there’s a lot less in the International Terminal than the Domestic. There do appear to be some changes though.

After snaking our way through security and the duty free outlet we discover that the Cafe has gone. The only food outlets now are the adjacent Hudson’s Coffee and the Cassowary Cafe.

There isn’t much to do in the International Terminal so B and Alex just sit in a sunny spot and use their devices. I wander around, take photos and make use of the bathroom facilities, still feeling a bit queasy.

They’ve pre-ordered lunches on the flight, but I haven’t so I grab a meal from the Cassowary Cafe, which has a surprisingly decent menu.

Hours later an it is time to board. The weather has changed. It’s windy now and small clouds drift across the sky. But it’s not until I am seated inside the big silver Jetstar Boeing 787-8 that I can see they great grey storm clouds approaching.

I think we’ll get out in time.

This is my first departure towards the north that I can remember out of Cairns. Away from the clouds, then turning out to sea. But not too far!

Usually we fly northwards across the Coral Sea, but this time are going along Cape Yorke Peninsula. Storm clouds sit inland, then we actually cross the northern tip of the peninsula.

The Torres Strait Islands separate Australia from Papua New Guinea, green in a pale shallow sea. There are storm clouds over PNG, as always. Also a distinct difference between the north and south, separated by the mountain range running East-West through the country.

It feels like there are storm cells and high cloud all the way north to past Guam, a marker for where the weather usually improves. But the ride is smooth and I am relaxed. I have new noise cancelling headphones and they really do work. I just sit and stare out of the windows listening to my music.

Meanwhile Alex and B are watching movies on the inflight entertainment system. I can’t believe he has picked “Crazy Rich Asians”!

They have hot lunches of macaroni cheese and quiche. Towards the end of the flight I forgo the chance to eat and use my $15 credit to buy snacks to share.

In the last two hours of flight we glide smoothly over a carpet of cloud as the sun disappears quickly. We leave our turn into Osaka until the end, heading down through the cloud layer, seemingly fighting a bit, until at last we cross the threshold of the artificial island.

We have arrived back in this familiar place.

Alex and B are hangry and desperate to revisit the airport sushi restaurant that Satoe and her mum took us to last time.

I can’t eat and have to put up with convenience store food from the Lawson adjacent to our hotel much later in the night.

At least I get down to the hot spa to wash away the grime that somehow accumulates despite spending the day seated doing nothing. It is a relaxing way to end a long day of travel.

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