|Season||Tandem Lessons and Solo Flights Open to the Public year round.|
|Contact||Malcolm Jones 1-800-WALLABY|
|Site Panoramic Images|
|<googlemap lat="28.257290" lon="-81.685280" zoom="14" scale="yes">28.257290, -81.685280, Wallaby Ranch</googlemap>|
Duration: Tyson Richmond 8+ hours
Altitude: Marco Weber 9,050'
Wallaby Ranch: A Primer
Wallaby Ranch.The ultimate hang gliding aerotow park. When I first heard the name, I thought it was in Australia. Not so, it is located outside Orlando, Florida. Each time I visit seems better than the last.
I thought, given my particular fondness for the place, I should take you on my own tour, try to give you a sense of why it holds such an appeal for me.
I can begin with the normal stuff, it is on a country road, with a cool sign as you drive in proclaiming it to be what it is.
This is an early morning shot of the driveway throught the LZ, that is Laurie, the manager, and her dog, Lucy. They had walked to the entry gate to get the paper, we met them on the way in.
The physical plant consits of a semi jumble of wooden structures, some built by Malcolm, Wallaby's owner, some built by others, called "hooches." A hooch is a shelter, an improvised structure, by definition. The hooches are clustered around an area towards one end of the landing field, and the trees have been given dispensation to grow there, unmolested by saws. There is a kind of village feel to it all, mixed with a dash of treehouse, two dashes of 'guys with tools and some boards,' and just a pinch, or maybe just a whiff, of old hippie sensiblity.
The hooches are, in some instances, available to rent. There are also a number of trailers and campers available to let. Prices vary, but are less than the local hotels by a goodly margin. You can also camp there for a 5 buck charge. My wife and I stayed one night in a camper, but we decided we preferred not to share the restrooms with others, not because we were snobbish or unfriendly, but because we did not feel comfortable tieing up the facilities as we desperately worked to make our aged carcasses presentable to humanity. So, we tend to rent a condo, or stay at a nearby hotel, when we visit.
To one side of the jumble are the main areas, where the administration hooch is located, along with Malcolm's house, the climbing wall, and the cafeteria and pool. There is a picnic table under a large tree. I have a particular fondness for that tree, it is a pleasant tree, with spreading boughs that have had swinging chairs attached to them. I have whiled away some pleasant hours, talking to the Wallaby folks, friends and family, beneath that tree. If you are there without me, give it my regards.
The cafeteria is where people gather to eat, of course, but also to view videos on a big screen tv, to use their computers with the free wifi, to sip sodas, drink brews, and otherwise be in the shade and bug free. They serve breakfast at around 10:00 a.m., and it is cafeteria style with a reasonable selection of whatever the cooks have determined will be devoured. I much prefer it to restaurant fare. There is also an afternoon meal, served at 3:00 p.m., again, it is what they make, no menu, but always a good solid meal. Oh yeah, cheap, too. Presently $5.00 a plate, and no one counted my seconds.
Part of the trick to getting to the best part of Wallaby is to be politely assertive at the meals. Join a table of folks you don't know and stike up a conversation. Most are receptive, and even if they aren't, no big deal. The staff, from instructors to kitchen folks to tug pilots, are all good folks, and if not all equally affable, are at least willing to answer queries and to be helpful.
The hooch area is surrounded by a sea of mown grass, the landing zone and take off area for the tugs and gliders. Wind tell tales are set aound the area for guidance.
Instructional flights start at 8:00 a.m. A keystone cops like band of golf carts and similar vehicles buzz about taking folks to the appropriate launch area, determined by the prevailing wind. Gliders and tugs appear in an unspoken but well orchestrated meshing of purpose, and the training flights get underway. It is an exhilirating whirlwind of early morning activity. The students are all on adrenaline highs, and each flight and landing is watched for technique, and just because it is fun to see. As the winds pick up the time to learn departs, and the gang heads back toward the jumble in careening golf carts toward the cafeteria for breakfast. I sometimes chose to mosey back, the better to release some of my excess adrenaline.
If conditions are right the more advanced pilots gather around noon to get towed up into the thermals. The air has a much different feel once the thermals kick up, and out come the topless dream machines and the pilots with those weird, bird like, helmets. The real flying starts as they are pulled by the dragon flies onto the sky. They get up there and just keep going up, specks against the white cloud fluffiness.
Wallaby is Malcolm's kingdom, make no mistake about it. He rules his kingdom, but while he is clearly in command, he is at heart just another kid in love with things that fly. I had Malcolm as my instructor, almost exclusively. As he stated while we were doing a tandem, "This is my office, it has the best views any office is ever going to have." It was clear he loved to do what he was doing. To find Malcolm, look for the barefoot guy, wearing sunglasses, chewing gum. Malcolm is shown below, on the right.
Here is Malcolm starting a tandem instructional flight, note the bare feet.
Wallaby's clientele is interesting and varied. I have met Scots, Brazilians, folks from England, Germany and Australia there. All very different, with various levels of wealth and education, but all drawn to hang glider flight. Almost every person I have met has been worth meeting. Well, a couple of folks have rubbed me the wrong way, but they were the exception. The rest have offered their wisdom and friendship, almost without fail. Then again, I do have an attractive wife.
I am not a Disney fan. I view the park as a form of being herded while paying for the privilege, it is simply mindless, uncomfortable waiting for what are essentially a seriesof three dimensional movies they call rides, where you sit in a cart to move from scene to scene. That being said, my view of it is directly contrary to its self presentation, and the minions flock to it at a prodigious rate. On the positive side, it provides a place for others to go, and Orlando is rich with other similar escapist fare.
More interesting are the various parks where you can rent canoes and go exploring in the swamps. We hit a couple of places, one well run place, and the other a mess where the vehicle transporting us to the start point for canoeing became stuck up to its axle in the sand. Both places had their charms, especially if you enjoy seeing wild life in its natural habitat, as opposed to an animated facsimile on a plastic tree. We saw snakes and gators, birds and large spiders. It was pretty cool, until we were forced to portage the canoe, and in the process the two of us, and my cell phone, went under the water. Heck, it made for a great memory, even though it fried my phone.
Wallaby offers an opportunity to return to the kind of atmosphere you encountered when you went to summer camp, but this time you have your favorite sport acting as a focus. Oh yeah, and you can drink now, too.
When time to check out rolls around you encounter one more of Wallaby's charms. They have allowed you to eat drink and fly on your good word that you will pay before you leave. It is the honor system. You tell them your totals, and settle up. Kind of lets you leave with a smile on your face. It is nice to be trusted, and even better to be trusted while staying and playing at Wallaby.
Here is the office (and Lucy)