Monday, June 17, 2013

HKTrip12: Day 6 - Arrival in Sydney

It's been a while since the last installment (with various hiccups along the way), but I just wanted to finish this series before starting the next one. So hopefully, this time we'll get all the way to the end at last :)

This eleventh episode covers the second part of the overnight flight from Hong Kong to Sydney and a spot of aerial photography.

Hint: Scroll right to the bottom for some of the "cool" aerial shots...

QF128 - Hong Kong to Sydney (Continued)
Dawn Break
Continuing from where we left off in the previous installment, the overnight flight from Hong Kong to Sydney effectively had 3 parts, each about 3 hours long. The first third involved the takeoff, some flying in darkness, and finally a meal being served - all while still within the general Asia area. The second third involved flying in darkness, when most people slept, but I ended up watching a few movies until I finally started getting a little sleepy, and probably managed some 20-30 minutes of sleep. We were probably flying over Malaysia or the bit of sea between Asia and Australia. Either way, this didn't really last too long in practice...

The view out the window mid-flight - you can just make out the wing, with a bit of light from the moon or so lighting up the ribs of the wings. Down below, there weren't that many clouds that night.

Before long, a bit of light started showing on the horizon. I'm not sure exactly how I ended up noticing this, but once you do, it's hard not to be somewhat captivated by it. There is something about seeing a sunrise which is really quite magical and poetic. Perhaps it's just that I hardly ever really get to see them, except for those few times when I am on an overnight flight, or the nights I ended up pulling all nighters last year when everything for honours year would be due.

On the few nights that I've ended up puling all nighters, I've always found it somewhat surreal sitting there after having been hunched over working madly all night to suddenly feel a shift in the outside world; as if the grinding wheels of "the normal world" are slowly grinding back into life gradually, with the sounds of single cars occasionally passing by returning, or perhaps the sound of busses and other traffic flowing past on some arterial routes, all with a new found freshness and energy which cuts through the calm and still of the night. And of course, there's the light, which somehow always manages to find a way to creep through the curtains and blinds - a soft blue-green glow at first, which gradually becomes a dull red/pink/orange, then full blinding yellow, then brilliant sunlight bathing everything in its path...

Dawn break on board the A380 - While it was still dark through the left window, it was a lot brighter on the right window (in the shadow of the wing). On the window to the left, you could still see a sort of reddish haze/glow, while on the right window, there was just a cool blue glow on the horizon (as seen in the next pic).

Cool blue glow of sunlight on the horizon...

The sky gradually glows brighter and brighter, as the peachy red glow of the sun slowly creeps over the horizon, illuminating the landscape below (there seem to be faint taces of some lakes or so). As can be seen, the colours changed from a dull red/purple, to a warm reddish glow, which showed up on the ribs. In the middle shot, there was probably another plane flying around...

From the other window: As the sky got brighter, and the colour of the horizon started to change from a dull reddish/purple glow to a warmer shade of orange/gold, this was reflected on the surface of the wing (probably from the light bouncing off the fuselage).

As the sun rose higher, it began to illuminate the whole wing. From the windows a few rows ahead, there was also a warm glow coming into the cabin, and passengers were slowly waking up. The queues for the toilets also started to lengthen, as passengers awkwardly shrugged off blankets, squinting and blinking groggily as they were blinded by rays of sunlight aimed at their faces, and doing the "overhead lockers dance" before scampering off to the toilets.

Eventually, as I looked closer, it soon became obvious that we were over land now - Australian land - and that through the mist, you could actually see what looked like rivers, lakes, paddocks, and in some cases mountains/hills and even roads too...

What a nice way to start the day - a golden sunrise, giant airplane wing, and a long meandering river-lake...

A closeup of the wing ribs (they're somewhat dirty, and have a number of interesting features such as those round patches, the groove between the top of the rib and the flaps, and the tiny little lightning-strike "hairs"). Down below, the lakes and rivers can be seen clearly. There's also what looks to be a highway going across the bottom left (slightly diagonal).

Around about this time, breakfast started being served. From memory, there were two options (as usual) between a Western styled (omelet + sausage) or Asian styled (fried noodles or something similiar IIRC) option. These were served with a light fruit salad, yoghurt, orange juice, and coffee/tea as per usual. Perhaps it was the lack of any good sleep, or maybe the catering services when flying out of Asia are just crap in general, but the egg and sausage were reasonably rubbery-stale. Sure, you can't expect too much out of airline food, but the main breakfast offerings on this flight were particularly dismal (though not much better than the ones I had on a similar overnight flight from Singapore back to Christchurch two years earlier). 

Around the same time, the sunshine started getting brighter - so bright that by the middle of breakfast service, the blinds had to be pulled down, as the bright light was blindingly bright and the reflections off the wing even worse.
 Full daylight shining through the windows...

One of those little ice crystal thingies that grows at the bottom of each window, on the little metal bit that sticks out at the bottom. Although not quite captured in this shot, this crystal glowed and refracted brightly in the early morning sunlight. It was quite pretty.

Aerial Photography
Approach to Sydney
As we carried on, farmland and hills could be seen out the windows... I've no idea where these were, but judging from the overall time in the flight, these were probably somewhere between south Queensland and New South Wales.

Farmland of sorts - on the lower left corner, you can almost even make out what seem to be a bunch of cattle (black and white ones too) milling around on a paddock.

 Hilly terrain
 More hilly terrain, some of it covered in dense forests...

Some more farmland...

A note about image quality: although many of these features were identifiable at the time, a combination of general haze in the air and also the strong glare on sunlight against the windows meant that the contrast on the resultant shots turned out to be quite low. Hence, I've ended up heavily boosting the contrast to make things read better, though this has had the result of giving everything a really grainy blue tinge. (Note to self: get a circular polariser before doing this next time).

Nevertheless, it was quite exciting at the time being able to actually see scenery outside the window while the plane was in level flight (and while we weren't really making our descent into an airport). In the past, it has always been that there was generally too much cloud out there to see anything at all (if there was any light outside and we weren't just flying over the sea)!

Flying Over Sydney
As we started to make our descent into Sydney, the scenery outside the window began to get a lot more exciting.

After a little turn, the following complex river system became visible out the windows:
River system visible outside the window - as well as a few boats on the water (left), clusters of buildings, a road, and perhaps even some cars/trucks on that highway can be seen (right).

A closer look at that settlement on the lower right - here we can see the road in much clearer detail, complete with a number of trucks, cars, and road markings (i.e. what seems to be a double-yellow line in parts). Various houses can also be seen, as can a number of parks (or at least, estate-sized yards - top left, and bottom left). Those tree-covered hills also look quite like polar fleece when viewed from the air...

Or how about a golf course/lifestyle village in the hills, away from it all?

Sydney CBD
A short while later, we made a slightly larger turn, and a few famous landmarks started popping out of the landscape...
Looking out over the Sydney bays... and what is that? The Sydney harbour bridge makes an appearance just under that rib... 

This is perhaps understandably my absolute favourite shot of this bunch! The Sydney Harbour Bridge and Sydney Opera House, from the air (and not just any plane, but an A380!) during what was probably rush hour in the morning on November 30, 2012 (the flight landed around 8:30am local time IIRC). The silky texture of the sea is just amazing in this shot. 

And another one, taken in a bit of a hurry - rotating camera and zooming out a bit: Here's the Harbour Bridge again, but in the context of the wider bays. On the right, the CBD is starting to come into view, as well as a massive cruise liner parked alongside the wharf. Heaps of boats out and about in the harbour too!

Sydney CBD - looking back at this shot, it's interesting how these buildings have turned out looking like miniatures in this shot.

A short while after passing the CBD, we made yet another turn - clearly the air traffic controllers were routing us around a bit that morning (at the time, it seemed that we might have been put into a bit of a holding pattern towards the end), but all the better for the sightseeing from the air, as we'll soon see...
Urban sprawl - I quite like how there's this start-shaped roading network in the lower half of this shot... Those paddock/warehouse like things in the lower right corner also look quite interesting. 

Sydney Airport
Within minutes (or less than a minute probably, since the airport is apparently "quite" close to the airport, in that the CBD can be seen from the airport buildings), the airport itself came into view.

Sydney Airport in full view - note the two runways at right angles to each other (for use in crosswind conditions), and all the jets lined up all around the place (including some in various random places on the taxiways). The water-park area to the "north" of the vertical runway there looks interesting...

A closer look at the terminal - we can now clearly see all the jets clearly lined up outside the terminals, including: the blue Korean Airlines 747, a jet being towed out to the taxiway, and a few smaller jets roaming around the tarmac. It seems that we're looking at the International Terminal here - the part with that teal-coloured oval bit within a gray trapezium roof is probably that skylight in the middle of the terminal, while those two light grey tubular-looking bits in the lower-left corner are the dilapidated looking canopies for the check in hall (where taxis and minibus vans stop to drop off passengers).

Looping out to sea...
Shortly after we passed over the airport, we banked sharply to the left, vectored straight out to sea, in what at the time to be a need to send us out into a holding pattern for a while.

Some more stunning views of the bays as we turn back out to sea. Note how pretty the sea looks in the second image - dark blue on one side, meeting with a lighter/cyan reef (or perhaps it's an estuary where fresh and salt water merges?)

A nice sandy beach and coastline as seen on the way out to sea. Manly beach?

After heading out seawards for a while (to the point where the coastline had vanished from view), we suddenly started making a really sharp turn straight back into shore. It basically felt like the left wing was pointing nearly straight down into the sea while we pivoted around some 180 degrees or so, as can be seen in the following shots:

Banking heavily to head back to shore - the view down the wings as we turned. Notice how calm the sea looked overall - nice and smooth... and very very blue.

As we started to head towards land, the flaps were extended out to "full" it seems (or very close to full, as can be seen from the later shots). But apart from that, there were really no further course corrections on final - we were apparently nicely lined up with the runway, and coming in for "straight from the sea".

Coming in past the sandy coastline - flaps were still being extended at this point. You can almost see the sea dropping off after a few hundred meters here (where it goes from light coloured to dark all of a sudden).

Getting closer to the ground. A lot of that misty water vapour/cloud-like stuff that flows over wings at a certain altitude appears here. Note how the flaps are extended past the "silver strip".

The landing itself was a bit of an interesting one: after lightly making contact with the ground for a split-second, we seemed to "bounce" back up before coming down for real and solidly. When we hit the ground, the row of spoilers were fully deployed upwards (as seen below), fully exposing the innards of the wing.

Innards of the wing exposed as we speed down the runway. As can be seen, flaps are (nearly) fully extended (where they basically start curving around/down), while the spoilers are fully deployed upwards (controlled by that row of grey actuators with those red knobby bits at each end. As for what those nail-like bits holding those boards are, I've no clue, but they certainly look a bit weird/creepy. And it was also quite surprising seeing just the ribs of the wing and then the bare runway passing by through those gaps as we landed.

Another view of the flaps after we'd come to a stop on the runway. The spoilers still weren't retracted yet - perhaps there was quite a strong headwind blowing on landing (or we were just landing really hot and fast).

Another closeup of the innards of the wing - interesting looking stuff this!

"Deplaning" as it's called took a while - strangely, we seemed to end up a similar gate to the one from when we arrived from Christchurch almost a week earlier.

As usual, there were some delays before we could get going (as people got blocked trying to grab their luggage and so forth). Meanwhile, out the window, I spied another Qantas A380 about to depart (and then actually go and take off).

Another Qantas A380 taxiing off to the runway. Meanwhile, out of sight, some luggage trolleys start passing by on the ground underneath the plane.

Finally, when stepping off the plane and on to the airbridge, the heat could be felt immediately. It wasn't quite "Changi" bad or even "Hong Kong terminal" bad, but given that it was still early in the day, it was still quite a surprise to feel the heat in the air already just walking off the plane.

Closing Thoughts on the Flight
While the food was so-so and it sucked to have be cooped up quite uncomfortably in cattle for so long, the scenic sightseeing we got that morning was awesome. I'd still be happy flying Qantas again on this route, though probably not in economy if I can help it!

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