CHARLOTTETOWN - When one thinks of a safari, elephants, lions and tigers might immediately come to mind.
However, it was lobsters, mussels, spuds and more for one group of Australians who were on an air safari to Prince Edward Island on a fully guided, all-inclusive flying tour with Air Safaris International.
‚ÄúIt‚Äôs a really safe, convenient, no-hassle way of seeing another country from the air,‚ÄĚ says Shelley Ross of Sydney, a licensed pilot who was travelling with her husband, Peter Ross and four fellow their flying friends.
‚ÄúI think it would be nearly impossible to organize the logistics in a foreign country. We do it all the time in Australia, but in another country it‚Äôs another matter,‚ÄĚ she adds.
Looking after the logistics and much more is tour director and Air Safari International Inc. president Clare McEwan of Toronto, Ont.
He founded the company in 2004 and started with tours in Australia where the flying season is considerably longer. On an air safari, licensed pilots can fly their own plane, but those who prefer to take a back seat in this regard can be provided with a pilot.
He did his first Canada trip in 2009, which included a stopover for fuel on P.E.I. but no on-the-ground adventures‚Äô component at that time.
‚ÄúThis trip I decided to change it to have a more extended stopover here because the more I looked into it the more I realized it would make a lot of sense from a weather point of view to use this as a base,‚ÄĚ he says.
‚ÄúIf the weather is good we can go out and do our flying, but if the weather is not good flying then it‚Äôs a great place with lots of things to do.‚ÄĚ
The idea of a guided flying tour of the Canadian east coast was a big draw for Steve Weber and his wife Lyn Weber of Melbourne, who had been to the west coast in the 1990s.
‚ÄúWe all have an appetite for long-distance flying and Australia is a wonderful venue to do that . . . ,‚ÄĚ he says.
‚ÄúBut we‚Äôre from Melbourne and at this time of the year it‚Äôs cold and this looked like a particular interesting place to come to.‚ÄĚ
They happened upon Air Safaris International on the Internet.
‚ÄúIt just seemed like a wonderful opportunity because without somebody here with a presence on what is foreign soil to us, it would not be easy for us to facilitate this as something we would organize ourselves,‚ÄĚ Steve adds.
‚ÄúClare has made this a seamless and very pleasant operation. We just turn up, the airplanes are there and we fly them.‚ÄĚ
It was the first North American flying tour for Don and Suzie Ross of Melbourne, who have flown around their home country about 10 times.
‚ÄúWe like to explore and this is just a bit more exploring,‚ÄĚ he says.
The Australian couples flew the regular airline route to Toronto where they were paired with their airplanes.
They had various stops on the way to and from P.E.I, including Quebec City and the Gaspe Bay.
There were also plenty of on-the-ground outings to fill the nonflying time.
‚ÄúMy goal is to give them experiences that are unique to the region we are in and that are not something that they would normally experience at home. Ideally I find a few off-the-beaten-path experiences that are truly special, even though we may be staying in an area that is regularly visited by tourists. So I have to dig a bit deeper and not necessarily go with the most obvious options, although I don‚Äôt automatically exclude the obvious attractions,‚ÄĚ McEwan says.
‚ÄúIn P.E.I. I was looking for Canadian Maritime experiences. This group happened to be very interested in food, so an evening with a chef, found through Experience P.E.I. was well received. . . .‚ÄĚ
A lobster dinner was also tops on the must-do list.
‚ÄúSure, they can get lobster at home, but P.E.I. is famous for its lobster so I felt we had to do that while in town. But to make it a bit more interesting, we went Top Notch (Charters‚Äô lobster excursion), so they could have the experience of being on a lobster boat, learn about the lobster fishery and have a great meal to boot.‚ÄĚ
A day tour of P.E.I. and a stopover at the Confederation Bridge was also part of the earthbound activities for this group of fliers.
As an added bonus, with the help of Brian Pound, who is the president of the P.E.I. Flying Association, they met with local members of the flying community, many of whom were on hand to greet them when they first landed on the Island.
McEwan hopes to make P.E.I. an annual air safari stopover.
For Suzie Ross, there is one very specific image in her mind that she will take home with her.
‚ÄúIt‚Äôs just beautiful flying into Prince Edward Island with the fields and all the different colours,‚ÄĚ she says.
‚ÄúThe thing that‚Äôs lovely is that everything is so neat. It‚Äôs so manicured and it just was so pretty. Just that flight in from Gaspe Bay, going over the water and then coming to what looked like a lovely green oasis.‚ÄĚ