As we rise higher and higher I feel like Charlie floating away in Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory after sneaking one of those fizzy drinks. But no amount of burping will bring me down. Not with that massive hot air balloon above my head.
I had wondered how scary it might be to lean over the side of a small wicker basket some 2000ft (610m) in the air and stare downward as we clambered aboard the Floating Images hot air balloon for our dawn flight across Ipswich. It turns out hot air ballooning is such a surreal experience I was not one bit scared. As a result, I was free to enjoy the peace and city and country views as the sun slowly rose on the horizon.
Our pilot, Graeme, explains how he steers the balloon by adjusting our altitude and points out landmarks as we drift west over suburbs and occasional barking dogs (apparently the burner emits a sound dogs and young children find intolerable but adults can’t hear). We check out tiny planes parked at the Amberley RAAF airbase before following snaking rivers out to farmlands on our one-hour flight. But it’s not all about the views, as magnificent as they are.
There’s something special about travelling in one of the oldest flying aircraft and experiencing the same awe our ancestors must have felt as far back as the first successful hot air balloon flight in 1783. Graeme learned to fly balloons in France – the birthplace of ballooning – and has flown over three continents, including Europe’s highest mountain, Mt Blanc.
Post flight, we stay at the site of a former sawmill at Marburg, now a boutique hotel based around its heritage-listed 1889 plantation-style mansion and among 101 hectares of beautiful scenery. Woodlands of Marburg’s history is an interesting and varied one. First a sawmill, it later had a sugar mill and rum distillery before a deep financial depression in the state led to its auction in 1905. In 1946 it became a mission and in 1986 became part of Ipswich Grammar School before its transformation into a hotel and popular wedding venue in 2002.
We settle in for a three-course dinner in the wood-panelled dining room in the ‘Mansion’ where we select wine from the nearby Warrego Winery. It turns out to be a great selection, especially because it sports one of the most unusual wine labels we’ve ever read. “Many of the German immigrants living in Marburg were very fortunate if they survived the sea journey from Europe on ships such as the Wandrahm,” it reads. “The conditions were deplorable and many perished en route to Australia…We guarantee you will not perish from drinking this pleasant fruity Verdelho, rather raise a glass to toast the fact that you are alive and in good health here in sunny Australia.”
Good to know!
When: Meeting times vary according to season and time of sunrise but range from about 4.30am in summer to about 6.30am in winter. Times are confirmed on booking. Flights begin about 15-20 minutes before sunrise.
Where: Foyer of the Metro Hotel Ipswich International, 43 South Street, Ipswich 4305.
How long: While the flight is one hour, allow 3-4 hours for the total experience.