As defined by Wikipedia, paragliding “is to pilot a lightweight, free-flying, foot-launched glider aircraft with no rigid primary structure. The pilot sits in a harness suspended below a fabric wing”. Agnes and I had little more than this definition on hand to prepare us for what was to become an amazing week in Manilla, NSW.
Good old fashion word of mouth brought us to Godfrey Wenness, owner of Fly Manilla. The town of Manilla is about 40 minutes northwest of Tamworth along the fossicking trail. After a successful career in Sydney, Godfrey left the big city to pursue his life-long passion, paragliding. Initially everyone in this tiny farming community thought Godfrey was crazy but over the course of 20 years, Godfrey transformed Mt. Borah into a paragliders’ paradise. Today you can’t buy a beer in town without a local asking if you’re a pilot.
Godfrey took it upon himself to blaze a trail to the top of Mt. Borah after countless hikes up the mountain with 25 kilograms of gear on his back. With a decent 4WD you can now easily drive to the summit. Or jump into the Basher (the house 4WD) to avoid the hassle of walking back to the top after your flight. Once at the top of Mt. Borah you will discover launch points on each side of the mountain covered with artificial turf. This is ideal for a smooth take off into the wind no matter which way it’s blowing.
At the bottom of the mountain you will find Godfrey’s homestead. After a long day of paragliding he welcomes guests to relax by the pool (which is cooled in the summer) or in the well-stocked clubhouse. Pilots come from all corners of the planet to stay at Fly Manilla. Even during slower times of the year, it is very likely to bump into someone with an interesting story. Throughout our stay, we met pilots from England, New Zealand, South Africa, Argentina and Japan.
Godfrey even provides onsite accommodations and yes, it’s pet friendly! In fact you’ll likely run into Clumsy the cattle dog and Bonnie and Clyde resident emus.
By the way, if you hear strange bongo drums around the property it’s just the emu’s mating call. You will be blown away (pun intended) with the hospitality at Fly Manilla. Accommodations are clean, cheap ($9-12/night camping and $20/night for bunks) and cabins are available upon request. Fresh bedding is provided daily, power is available for caravans and quick WiFi is free. Community kitchens are also located on the premises including appliances, cookware, free coffee/tea and even breakfast cereal. Amenities, including laundry are kept clean and tidy.
Flying is in my blood. My Dad is a recreational pilot and I grew up around airplanes. So Agnes and I could not leave without an introductory flight. The 4WD ride to the top was half the fun. Nothing like the feeling of anticipation while bouncing around in our old Land Rover, Blue Steel. Once at the top, our tandem pilot Evo strapped us into our harness after unfolding the glider on the launch pad. A strong breeze heaved the glider into the sky and after a short sprint down the runway we were off!
What a feeling of freedom. Once caught in an updraft (or thermal) you’re silently lifted into the air. No motor, no dashboard full of gauges and no closed in cockpit. The best way to describe the experience would be to imagine riding on your living room recliner through the sky. I quickly discovered how one could instantly fall in love with the sport. On a good day, paragliders can spend hours in the sky. The harness is very comfortable and offers storage for water, food, equipment and other supplies. I’m sure you’re all wondering how a pilot would use the bathroom after spending hours in the sky. Well, some harnesses come with elaborate plumbing or you could opt for an adult nappy, crude but efficient.
Yes, Manilla is quite the place for paragliding enthusiasts. It’s not uncommon to find many of the pilots swapping stories in the local Royal Pub, found in the center of town. This small country town has everything you need for an extended stay at Fly Manilla. Including a grocery store, bottle-o, general store, café and plenty of shops full of cliché country nick-knacks. Manilla is about a 10 minutes drive to Godfrey’s place.
If you become really bitten by the paragliding bug, Godfrey is a fully certified instructor. You will learn from one of the best in the business. Check out Fly Manilla’s website for an overview of his experience and media coverage. Mt. Borah has even caught the attention of gravity enduro bicycle racers and 4WD enthusiasts.
Agnes and I were so impressed with everything that we decided to spend a week around the mountain getting friendly with the locals and pilots. The opportunity to fly with minimal gear (which is travel friendly) fits my lifestyle perfectly. I could easily see myself becoming a pilot after our tour of Australia.