Hidden amongst the Finch Hatton rainforest, a magical first-of-its-kind flying fox experience awaits. Friendly Brits Dave and Donna, who are the owners of Forest Flying, tell the story behind the 15-year operation.
Cast your mind back 27 years ago, and Dave and Donna were living in a self-constructed tree house on their newly purchased property in Finch Hatton.
They had first met through mutual friends in Townsville and, when their paths crossed again later in Sydney, they decided to make the move to tropical North Queensland to take advantage of the relaxed lifestyle.
They built a tree house on the property and became self-sufficient, growing their own vegetables, eggs and keeping a small amount of livestock. They established (and still use) a micro hydro electricity supply from the creek on the property.
Having moved to Airlie Beach where they dabbled in the tourism industry in the late 1990s, Dave and Donna decided they wanted to return to Finch Hatton Gorgeand make full use of the beautiful rainforest property that they had west of Mackay.
“We wanted to come back to Finch Hatton Gorge and we knew we wanted to do something with tourism,” Donna said.
“We had the rainforest, the bats and the beautiful creeks so our initial idea was a rainforest canopy walkway but that was going to be too expensive, had been done before and wasn’t ‘green’ enough for us. So Dave then came up with the idea of a flying fox and then after watching the movie Medicine Man he said ‘let’s make it a slow flying fox so that you can look around at your own pace’. It’s turned out to be quite a good idea!”
It took six months of planning and approvals, and another 12 months to physically build the flying fox, with lots of help from volunteers and plenty of trials and errors, according to Donna.
“It was quite a frustrating experience setting it up. We used a bow and arrow with a fishing line which we fired over the canopy between the trees in order to pull the rope through, and then eventually the cable,” Donna said.
“We didn’t want to cut any of the rainforest down so there’s been lots of pruning of tree branches and vines since that time.”
Forest Flying is touted as the first flying fox experience that allows the flyer to be in full control of their speed, thanks to a purpose-built hand braking system developed by Dave.
This means you can literally hang out with the bats on your way through the forest.
Being suspended 25 metres above the ground may seem like a daunting experience, but Donna and Dave put flyers at ease almost immediately with their easy-going and calm nature.
Chatting with Donna, I find out that they have around 1,000 visitors per year. Despite doing this flight over 15,000 times now, Donna and Dave didn’t rush through the safety points or practice runs.
As part of the experience, we took a short uphill bushwalk to the starting platform, which, Dave explains, is the hardest part of the whole tour. It also gives us a chance to admire the local flora and fauna and hear more about the native plants and flying foxes that inhabit the region.
Upon arrival to the starting point, and with full safety equipment and harnesses secured, we bid farewell to Dave who disappeared into the forest to await our arrival at the second platform.
I had gotten quite attached to Donna, so when she calmly explained that it was time to fly the nest; I must admit the nerves kicked in.
But once I was sailing down the cable I completely forgot about any worries I had and enjoyed the experience, even stopping along the way for photos and for a closer look at the beautiful surroundings.
As we arrived at the second platform, Dave discussed the ever-changing rainforest environment, the challenges they have faced with weather events like cyclones and future plans for the flying fox path.
When it was time to fly back to the coop, Dave gave me the go-ahead and away I went; this time my growing confidence enabled me to zip along a little faster while taking happy snaps with the flying foxes.
The whole tour (340 metres of zip line through the rainforest canopy, practice session and guided walk) took about an hour and was the perfect way to see a different side of the Finch Hatton Gorge rainforest.
Over the last 15 years, the couple have flown through the rainforest with thousands of visitors and locals, from an 84 year-old flyer all the way through to four-year-olds.
“We get people from all walks of life and even the little ones can do tandem flights with Dave,” Donna explains.
So what’s next for Forest Flying?
“We want to make it more like a park so people can come and enjoy spending time and watch the flyers if they don’t want to participate themselves. We are also looking at building a new entrance,” Donna said.
And with such a unique tourist experience in pristine surrounds, it’s safe to say Dave and Donna will likely be flying high for many more years to come.
For more information on Forest Flying, visit www.forestflying.com