Lady Elliot Island is a 42-hectare island at the southern tip of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. It is about 46 nautical miles north-east of Bundaberg located off Queensland, Australia. It is managed jointly by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority and the Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service under a collaborative lease arrangement with the Lady Elliot Island Eco Resort. The resort is the dream of one man, Peter Gash.
With a mild and comfortable year-round climate, it is little wonder the innovative eco-destination is regularly fully booked. Many are returning visitors seeking a reprieve from the busy hustle at mainstream destinations and tourist hotspots.
Dating back to 1995, Gash has been the provider of air services to the island. Utilizing his tourism and charter aircraft company, Seair Pacific, Gash has utilized several CESSNA and BEECHCRAFT aircraft to allow visitors to encounter the island. Seair Pacific is now the only means of connectivity for visitors to and from the private resort island and the mainland. Each piece of the island follows Gash’s passion for entrepreneurship and conservation.
His passion continues to this day. Peter Gash holds many titles regarding his creation. He is the current island custodian as well as the Managing Director of Lady Elliot Island Eco Resort and the Owner and Chief Pilot of Seair Pacific.
But the island wasn’t always the wonderous beauty current visitors are used to seeing. According to Gash, the island was a forgotten former guano mine, which by many accounts is an unsustainable act that results in ecological degradation. Over the years, Gash and his company have worked hard to transform Lady Elliot Island into both an innovative eco-resort as well as a thriving business focused on sustainability and conservation.
You may be curious what makes the resort sustainable. Gash says the island is a self-sufficient destination with its own solar powerplant, a reverse osmosis desalination system which sees a 50% reduction in power usage to make the same amount of water, and a wastewater treatment plant. Lady Elliot Island's revegetation program is also quickly improving the once ravaged mining island.
Gash sees himself, his family and his team as stewards of the island meant to care for it and educate others on the biodiversity it contains. He says they take pride in showing visitors the eco-management practices used on the reef firsthand. These efforts along with interpretation and education programs are known for inspiring visitors to use their new knowledge for the greater good.
“Sustainable tourism is at the heart of everything we do on Lady Elliot Island. We need to ensure that whatever we do today does not have a negative impact on the island, The Great Barrier Reef or the planet tomorrow,” Gash said.
Gash is also getting recognized for his efforts in conversation and sustainability. He was awarded an Order of Australia Medal (OAM) in the General Division in the annual Australia Day Honors List in 2020 for his dedication and contributions to promote and advance eco-tourism and aviation. The Order of Australia Medal is the highest order of honor for aviation in Australia. It recognizes Australians who have demonstrated outstanding service or exceptional achievement.
Caravan: a versatile enabler for sustainable tourism
Around 30,000 tourists visit Lady Elliot Island’s shores yearly, so Peter Gash is sensitive to the unusual demands of operating high traffic in such a pristine environment. Like all business decisions, Gash focused on his keen sense of responsibility when selecting which aircraft would transport visitors to the island. He selected the Cessna CARAVAN turboprop.
“The Caravan is the versatile aircraft we rely on for our missions,” Gash said. “Even with our short airstrip, we can fly a full load of 13 passengers and luggage in and out of the island year-round. I have flown the Caravan for over 26 years. Whether it is an amphibian aircraft on floats, delivered with wheels or the cargo pod, the Caravan is just so reliable, efficient to fly and easy to maintain even in harsh environments with daily exposure to ocean spray. It’s a great design that continues to be relevant today.”
Gash’s company, Seair Pacific, has operated more than 20 Textron Aviation turboprop and piston aircraft in its 25-year history. In addition to the several Caravan turboprops, it operates a KING AIR B200 turboprop, a Cessna Centurion piston and a GRAND CARAVAN EX turboprop.
Pictured; VH-LMD (s/n 217), VH-LMZ (s/n 173), VH-LYI (s/n 657) on Lady Elliot Island
As a passionate Cessna aircraft supporter, Gash still owns and operates his first Cessna Caravan aircraft from 1995 due to its rugged versatility as well as its sentimental value to him and the family.
Gash says the Caravan turboprop is part of a legacy he’s creating at the island. His eldest daughter, Amy, helps run the resort business as well as being now endorsed on the Cessna Caravan aircraft.
“It’s really amazing when I see how our first Caravan is around the same age as my daughter, Amy,” Gash said. “We love the aircraft and have many wonderful memories in it. It feels like just yesterday that Amy was a young child sitting on my lap in the cockpit. Today, Amy is a fully trained and qualified pilot. I am sure our Caravan aircraft will continue to be a companion for many milestones to come at Lady Elliot island.”
Amy Gash in VH-LMD circa 1995
Amy & Peter together after Amy completed her Cessna Caravan turboprop Endorsement 2020 in VH-LMD (s/n 217)
Pictured (left to right) Daughter Chloe, Daughter Amy, Peter, Wife Julie Gash on Lady Elliot Island