Tuesday, 23 January 2018

Activating with VK2IO in New South Wales - Day 1

We travelled out to Sydney, Australia in January 2018 to stay with family. The last time I visited in 2013 there was no Australian SOTA Association. Now that there is gave me an opportunity to do some portable operating from the family's apartment in Sydney and more importantly, some SOTA chasing and activating while I was there. Travelling via Cathay Pacific through Hong Kong with my radio equipment did not present any problems. I packed the Yaesu FT-857, pole and aerial in my hold luggage and carried my batteries in my hand luggage. 
Phil VK2/G4OBK at the Lithgow Information Centre 
A few days after arriving I got in touch with one of the most prolific SOTA operators in New South Wales - this is Gerard Hill VK2IO. I knew Gerard had provided support to other visiting operators and thought that he may like to do some joint activations with me and provide some steerage. Fortunately Gerard was most enthusiastic about us getting together and going out to do some SOTAs! I provided him with a short list of summits I would have liked to visit - these were a handful of summit contacts I had logged in New South Wales as a Chaser from my home QTH in England or when I have been out SOTA portable - some of these were QSOs with Gerard as the operator at the VK end... 

On 23 January I had the use of the family car and drove, early morning, up to Gerard's QTH at Castle Hill - around a 50 minute drive from where I was staying in Balgowlah, a northern suburb of Sydney. Gerard had picked out a handful of summits from my short list for our day together in and around the Central Tablelands - we activated four in total. We left the VK2IO QTH at Castle Hill and drove inland to the North West towards the (SOTA VK2/CT) Central Tablelands area. By 9.00 am we arrived at a tourist information centre for a comfort break. The centre is located in a coal mining area and this aspect is proudly proclaimed by a miners Davy Lamp built into the building design of the information centre.

VK2/CT-007 Mount Lambie (1290m 8 points)

After a little more driving Gerard located a gravel track leading from the A32 main road which took us close to the top of Mount Lambie VK2/CT-007. The summit area was not fenced and supported several commercial towers with lots of aerials and dishes. We were now over 100 Km from Sydney and set up two stations on HF around 200m apart. I was at the trig point and Gerard was down the hill a little sitting by a tree in relative comfort in his short legged folding beach chair:
Gerard VK2IO/P VK2/CT-007 using Elecraft KX3 (built in ATU) and ZS6BKW dipole fed with 300 ohm ribbon
There was a brief shower, but no rain of any significance to prevent us making contacts. HF SOTA operation is a different ball game in Australia as I found, with just 14 contacts being made on 20m, 30m and 40m in a 45 minute period whilst running 50 watts on average from my Yaesu FT-857. I operated on my usual 7033 KHz frequency for CW and the standard VK/ZL calling frequency for SOTA on the 40m band of 7090 KHz. The popular WWFF awards frequency is 7144 KHz. 

My station situated at the trig point on Mount Lambie VK2/CT-007 Yaesu FT-857 and link dipole on 20m/30m/40m bands
SSB was used on 30m as the WIA (Wireless Institute of Australia) VK bandplan permits the use of 'phone.  If I had spent this amount of time and power operating within EU on two modes over three amateur bands I guess I would have made  approaching 50 QSOs with ten or fifteen DXCC Countries, such is the difference in geography and population density in EU compared to Australia / New Zealand. As it happened I worked just ten VK and ZL stations which is par for the course here:

After what was a very laid back activation we took a few photos, packed up and ate a pork pie each before starting to head back to Sydney by calling in at another three summits en-route.

VK2/CT-005 8 Points (1310m)

VK2/G4OBK Station - using 30m SSB on VK2/CT-005 - a summit with no name

VK2/CT-005 is a summit with no name located on top of a forested hill in the Jenolan State Forest near Oberon, 31 Km south of the previous summit of Mount Lambie CT-007. The forest is classed as lying within the Blue Mountains Area. A forestry graded public road runs over the summit which is most convenient for access from the metalled road 3 Km away from the summit. It was dusty driving on the road in my borrowed Toyota Kluger V6 SUV Auto - the car needed to be put through the car wash the next day....

Gerard's SOTA Flag is flying by the track on top of VK2/CT-005
So here I was at 0200z (1300 local time) operating in Australia and enjoying a most comfortable SOTA activation in a pleasant ambient temperature of around 28C.

Rigging my link dipole by the gravel track on the unnamed summit VK2/CT-005
I can understand why some operators over here think nothing of spending several hours on a summit, and even as Gerard does on occasion,  camping out overnight. On CT-005 I made just 10 contacts on 3 bands in 35 minutes before it was time to pack up again. All contacts were in SSB on 40m and 30m bar one with ZL1BYZ on 20m CW. 

VK2/CT-003 Mount Bindo 8 Points (1363m)

Mount Bindo lies around 8 Km north of CT-005 and is again reached via a graded forestry track which leads to some radio masts on the summit, one of which Gerard informed me supports an amateur radio 2m repeater property (VK2RDX) of the South Sydney based St George Radio Society - what a grand name for a radio club...There was evidence of campfires here and Gerard confirmed that people do camp here, and that he had actually camped out himself in the past, activating over two days.  I located the trig point and set up near to that and Gerard walked on for 200m and set up his station against a tree. 

Trig point on Mount Bindo with broken mounting

I made six contacts on 40m from Bindo in ten minutes - then no response from 10 minutes of CQ calls on 20m and 30m. Midday conditions for sure, but Gerard had cleaned up on 20m before I got there, making 9 Qs on CW/SSB on that band. Gerard confirmed that the repeater here has outstanding coverage into Sydney and beyond. I set my station up against the old log near to where the campfires has been lit: 

So my activation time here was shorter than Gerard's and after less than an hour on the summit in total we were ready to pack up and head back to Sydney via our final (drive in) summit in the more greener Blue Mountains area.

VK2/CT-043 Mount Tomah 6 Points (1010m)

Gerard VK2IO operating in comfort 20m CW on Mount Tomah VK2/CT-043
To reach Tomah we drove via The Bells of Line Road. I was driving and the terrain the road passed through was spectacular.  It was amazing that a road could be driven through there. Gerard told me there has been some spectacular crashes on that road due to brake failures on the enormous trucks using it -  typical of the type that I saw that day using the road.  The highest point and the designated summit of Mount Tomah, is on the south top which is reached down a minor metalled road leading off the B59 Bells of Line Road. There was the occasional country house along the minor road, with very well trimmed grassed verges.

We parked near an International Reiki Centre driveway with a barking dog for a time. We again set up around 200m apart, keeping in touch via our 2m handhelds for liaison as to who was operating on which band/mode to avoid clashing.  My operation on 40m was very successful with 12 QSOs on CW/SSB. A few chasers appeared who I hadn't worked on the previous summits, so I guess it was more a case of hams getting in from work, rather than improved propagation, The 40m band did seem noisier than earlier in the day, and I think this was down to more sky wave propagation so maybe conditions were up... Gerard concentrated on 20m again and I tried 30m SSB which resulted in a single contact with VK3GGG - nice call!  


NYSA (North Yorkshire SOTA Association) members generally try their best on activation days in Scotland, Wales and England to call in somewhere for a fast food meal on the way home and today was no exception. It can be a burger joint or chicken. Today we passed my favourites - there were three KFC outlets on the way back to Sydney.  We called in at the Richmond branch. I noticed a few differences with the franchises in the UK and how the food was served. I can report that the quality of the chicken and chips served was just as good as what we have come to expect in the UK. I've been eating this stuff since 1973 - when Colonel Sanders was still alive - he went silent key in 1980.

VK/KFC/G4OBK/P - Australia style - drinks in tins and a pot of mashed potato with gravy on the side!
After dropping Gerard off at Castle Hill and filling up the tank on the Toyota I rolled back into our Balgowlah QTH at 9.45 pm - it had been a fifteen hour day which reaped me 4 summits (2 SOTA Complete) for 30 points. I had a QSO total of 39 whilst Gerard made 48. I'm hoping we can do another joint activation day before I head back home in February, so if you read this keep a close eye on the SOTAWatch alerts page if you read this in time.  My next activation is likely to be solo from the often activated Mount Elliot VK2/HU-093, the week commencing 29th January. I'll alert as soon as know I have got transport - probably the day before. It will take me around 90 minutes to get there from Sydney. 


  1. Hi Phil
    I am sorry I missed you. I enjoyed reading your blog: an excellent post! Gerard is great and you will have some great memories to take back to the UK.
    John D. VK5BJE/VK5PF

  2. Good to hear from you John. Hopefully we may make a QSO on my 2nd activation day next week.

    73 Phil VK2/G4OBK/P

  3. Hi Phil
    I did get two out of four. Not too bad!
    John D, VK5BJE/VK5PF