Paragliding Down Under
by Kim Galvin

My husband Mike and I decided to plan a vacation which would be a combination of paragliding the coastal ridges of Australia and relaxing on the beaches below. Our trip did not exactly end up the way we had planned it, but we had the time of our life.

Before making our trip to Australia, we contacted the Hang Gliding Federation of Australia. They sent us a recent copy of their official publication, and a print-out with names and phone numbers of paragliding instructors and club contacts in Australia. We began writing/faxing/phoning and e-mailing pilots and were happy to see how responsive they were.

We thought we had done our homework, as we had a long list of pilots to show us the sites. Our original plan was to fly into Sydney, soar the coastal ridges at Stanwell Park for a week and then head to the Great Barrier Reef for some beach time. Unfortunately, we failed to ask a key question in our pre-vacation research, which was "when is the prime flying season?" When we got to Stanwell, the sea breezes weren't cooperating, so we had to go to Plan B.

We had heard good things about the High Adventure Air Park, which is about four hours north of Sydney. The owner/operator boasted of "launches in every direction" and offered us accommodation on their beautiful property, which consisted of rolling hills between the local mountain and coastal sites. When we arrived at the Air Park, the sites looked great. The only problem was that a front was coming in, the wind was howling and the locals didn't expect the conditions to change for several days.

Reports were that the conditions in Manilla, a paragliding "mecca" with inland thermals (located between Sydney and Brisbane), would be gusty for several days. We were starting to get discouraged. We were tired of paradriving and parawaiting. We were desperate to get airborne, as our itinerary called for us to fly north to Cairns (great diving, but not much flying) at the end of the week.

We remembered that an Aussie we met while paragliding in Maui told us about a place called Rainbow Beach, which is about three hours north of Brisbane. As it turned out, we had the name of a pilot who lives in Noosa (an hour and a half south of Rainbow Beach) from our pre-vacation research. We called Jean-Luc to see how the weather was along the Sunshine Coast and to learn a little about the sites in the area. Jean-Luc felt certain that the weather conditions were changing and he promised us we would fly if we stayed in Noosa.

Fortunately for us, we put our faith in Jean-Luc and canceled our plans to head to the Reef. We settled into an apartment in Noosa, which is a lovely beach town. Jean-Luc introduced us to the three coastal sites in Noosa and he showed us several beautiful sites on the beach route between Noosa and Rainbow Beach.

Jean-Luc took us under his wing (pardon the parapun) and spent the entire week with us. Mike and I were novice pilots with relatively little air time. Our previous flying experience had consisted of lots of inland sled rides and no coastal soaring or flying in heavy winds/thermals. Jean-Luc worked with us on our ground handling skills, as the sea breezes on soarable days were between 15-18+ mph. He gave us thorough site intros and lots of practical tips about interpreting the clouds, listening to the trees, reading the waves on the water and following the eagles as they soared above us on the coastal dunes. After a few days of training with Jean-Luc, Mike and I experienced our first soaring flights! I will never forget this experience.

The sites on the Sunshine Coast were magnificent. Some ridges have stretches of 10-15 miles of breathtaking dunes, with wide unspoiled beaches below. We got to see whales and dolphins in the ocean below us. We felt like we owned the sky, as there were only a few pilots flying each day. This felt like paragliding paradise!

We learned that the keys to traveling with our wings are patience and flexibility. From now on, we'll plan our vacations so that we can easily move on if the conditions aren't favorable. If it's "on," we'll hang out and have fun. We made real friendships flying with Jean-Luc and his group of local pilots.

When we returned to Noosa the following year, we weren't tourists, we were family!

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