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Great Outdoors

The high life

winter 17




I’ve been in big aeroplanes, and I’ve been in small ones. I’ve even been in a 1930s Tiger Moth. But nothing comes close to the thrill of taking off and landing on the water, for sheer out-of-the-box novelty alone.

Let me introduce you to Wilga Warbird, affectionately known as Willy. 

She’s the absolute beauty of a seaplane you’ve probably driven past a hundred times along Bradman Avenue, in Maroochydore – the one with wings outstretched as the river’s reflection glistens underneath her.

Although she looks like something from the 1950s, she was actually built in the ’80s and has since had a major six-month rebuild with new interior, new radial engine, new prop, all new flight control systems and new glass. In fact, Willy has more glass than a helicopter.

Co-owner and chief pilot Shawn Kelly is smitten with her ways – she’s strong, stable and ultra quiet. 

“When I came across this aircraft, I went ‘tick, tick, tick’ – every single box, she just ticked,” Shawn says.

“She does all the things I want her to do really, really well, and for adventure flights, she’s absolutely perfect. 

The workmanship on her is phenomenal and completely suited to the Sunshine Coast’s saltwater conditions.”

The morning I arrive for a flight with Paradise Seaplanes could not have been more picture perfect – with blue skies and a crystal clear, glassy Maroochydore River. 

Shawn runs me through a brief safety induction including what to expect, and when (which is way more enjoyable than pointing out the exit doors and aisle lighting), before giving me the best news of all – today we’re flying with doors off altogether.

Yep, we’ll be completely open to the elements, both the ocean and the sky and with even better visibility from every angle. 

And I’m pumped.

Radio headsets on and all buckled up, Shawn radios for permission to take off. 

Willy offers a unique perspective of the river as we taxi down our watery runway, as fishermen and boaters wave happily to Shawn as we pass by – faster and faster – and then gently, gently, we’re airborne.

Woohoo! It’s an unsurpassed view of the Sunshine Coast from the south to the north and inland to the Glass House Mountains. And without doors, it’s a completely immersive experience.

Shawn’s right. 

Willy is strong and stable and obviously enjoys the thrill of flying as much as any of us. The plane heads keenly towards Point Cartwright before banking smoothly to the north.

Colourful surfers dot the fringes of the deep-blue blanket beneath us, as familiar landmarks create reference points and I am reminded just how beautiful our own special piece of paradise is. The whole experience is spectacular.

“That’s Noosa and Double Island Point in the distance,” Shawn points out over the radio. 

“It’s amazing to be able to see that far, almost to the southern tip of Fraser Island.”

All too soon, we’re heading back towards the Maroochy River. 

The landing is so super smooth that I can’t even tell when we touch down but, either way, I’m ready to go straight back up again.

“Something that I really enjoy about this job, is that people have come up to me on a regular basis and say ‘20 years ago on the Gold Coast we went for a ride in a seaplane and it was amazing’,” Shawn says. 

So this is something that 20, 25 years from now, people are still going to be talking about.

When you look at it from a value perspective, where else can you spend 150 bucks on something that somebody’s going to talk about for the rest of their lives?” 
I have to agree. And memorable moments (they say) are the stuff that life is made of.  Willy, you’ve swept me off my feet.

Winged Ways

How much?

There are three main flights including a 10-, 20- and 30-minute flight, from $149 per person. All flights are based on a minimum of two people, and Paradise Seaplanes is more than happy to pair you with another passenger if you’re on your own. The most popular flight is the one that soars over the beach at Maroochydore before taking in the sights of Mooloolaba harbour and down to Caloundra and back (20 minutes and $225 per person). There’s also a round trip to Noosa, and one that goes up to Rainbow Beach and back.


How to book?

You’ll find Willy ready for a flight Thursday to Monday, 9am to 3pm (weather permitting). Walk-up bookings are welcome or book online (where you can also purchase gift certificates). Shawn and wife/co-owner Sandra Groundwater are happy to get in on the surprise too, and will help with coordinating your own signature flight for special occasions.



Paradise Seaplanes is located at Bradman Avenue, Maroochydore (opposite Minti Street). 0437 719 088 or


words karina eastway

photos krista eppelstun


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