In mid-August, two British twins set off on a world-first paramotor expedition from Adelaide to the Red Pole – Australia’s geographical centre. Two weeks later, the Turner Twins find themselves back in Adelaide, a life-changing 5000km outback adventure behind them and a 24-hour flight back to the UK ahead of them.
“We’re still processing the whole thing,” says Hugo Turner over the phone. “It’s just one of those trips that we know we’re never going to do again. It was amazing.” The trip – as well as being just a big, old fashioned adventure – was in aid of Wings for Life, a charity that supports spinal cord research. It’s a cause close to the twins’ hearts: Hugo broke his neck in a diving accident at the age of 17, and their story could have easily been a very different one. Since the accident, Hugo and his brother Ross have dedicated their lives to pushing themselves to the limit to help raise vital funds for spinal cord research.
The flight took the twins from Port Augusta in South Australia, all the way to the Red Pole in the middle of Australia and back again. It was 1600km of some of the most epic flying imaginable.
Red Bull caught up with the dynamic duo before they set off on their awesome trip, so it seemed only fitting that we’d catch up with them when it was all said and done, too.
So…Hugo…how was it?
It was everything and more! With these trips, you don’t know what to expect. It’s through the unexpected that you gain a new perspective – whether that’s people, country, culture, flying conditions… It was a massive mixed bag of surprises. I’m still trying to take it in, to be honest. We were in the outback for two and a half weeks – it’s gone quickly and slowly at the same time. And we couldn’t have done it without our guide and mentor, Kester. He made the whole thing possible.
In the bush, you could drive a whole day and see no signs of life whatsoever.
I saw that Plane Henge place you posted on Facebook – that looked crazy.
Yes! So all the way from Adelaide we were asking locals about it. No-one really knew what it was or how to get there. We met this English guy called Robin who had very few teeth, a massive beard and smelt a bit funky, and he told us that he heads up there every winter to work on this sculpture park…and one of the sculptures is these two planes. It was an amazing place…lots of really strange stuff. To fly over those sculptures at twilight was such a magical thing.
It’s probably a good summary of a trip: it was really weird, odd and completely not what we expected. But somehow, because it’s the outback, it’s regarded as being completely normal.
Did you come across many towns or settlements along the way?
Yeah we did. We came into one place called Roxby Downs, which is a little mining town. That was a very weird experience – a town with every mod con you can imagine, but it was literally a square – a 100m block – and outside that you’ve got nothing but outback. You could be sitting in a café or supermarket and you know that a stone’s throw from that spot is absolutely nothing. In England, you could drive for five hours and you’d be hard pushed to not see anyone. In the bush, you could drive a whole day and see no signs of life whatsoever.
You can plan for everything, but life will flip you out sideways and you have to deal with it.
I saw on Facebook you met a woman called Shaynee – what’s the story there?
Yeah. We met an amazing woman called Shaynee in a town along the way. It was a really humbling moment in the trip, to be so far away and to meet this woman who sustained a fractured C1 – which is the very top vertebrae in your neck. It’s very rare you walk away from an injury like that. Instantly, we had the connection and the understanding of what we’ve both been through – and she’s suffered a lot more than me.
One night she was teaching us how to crack a bullwhip, and the next morning she could hardly walk because of the pain. She signed my paramotor and had to go back to bed. It was quite raw and quite real – but it was so good to meet her.
Before you left you told me how excited you were about seeing the outback from the air – did it live up to your expectations?
[Laughs] Absolutely! It blew them 100% out of the water. Seeing it from the air, from 1000 feet up, you just can’t put it in scale. We’ve looked at videos of us flying around and you can’t grasp the scale – you could be 100 or 10,000 feet in the air. Kester would usually use cows and other animals to judge the perspective but out there, save for the odd camel, there was nothing. Landing at the pole was definitely interesting.
If everything went to plan, it wouldn’t be a real adventure.
So, the whole perspective thing. When we landed next to the pole itself, we thought there was a brilliantly lush green field right next to it. I committed to landing first and then realised that this ‘lush green field’ was actually a load of trees. You didn’t get the scale at all. So, because I committed, the other two had to commit to.
It was nearing dark and we quickly realised we wouldn’t be able to take off in the midst of all that bush. We cleared an area for Kester – who was experienced enough to take off in such a tight space – and he set off to go and find our support vehicle. Within half an hour it was pitch black, so Ross and I were on our own with limited comms with Kester. Luckily he found the vehicle and made it back to us in the pitch black around two and a half hours later. But that’s all part of it – adventuring. You can plan for everything, but life will flip you out sideways and you have to deal with it.
We were fine, but it was a little unnerving being so far from anywhere. We camped there the night and in the morning we properly scoped out the pole. We found a little plaque and left a geocache at the pole for anyone who came after us – though I don’t think it’s going to be an Uluru anytime soon! There’s absolutely nothing there.
How would you say the trip as a whole stacks up against other things you’ve done?
I would probably say this is the best. Part of that is because nobody else has ever done it. I mean, it didn’t all go to plan – we couldn’t fly the whole way to the pole because of bad weather. That was frustrating, but then, it’s a world first: if everything went to plan, it wouldn’t be a real adventure. Going from brainstorming ideas to going out and doing this…it’s incredibly satisfying.
Obviously these big trips always end up teaching you something…what have you learned from this one?
I think the importance of being prepared. These environments can very quickly come back and bite you in the arse. One minute you can be feeling very safe, and the next, no matter how many safety procedures or protocols you have, you can still find yourself out of your depth.
Total KMs covered: 5000
Total flying time: 15 hours
Fastest flight: 130km in 90 minutes
Length in days: 18
Total kangaroos spotted: 10
Total camel trains chased: 2
Total emus badly photographed: 30(ish)
Total number of blokes who asked about the engine: 6