Escape to adventure on Brisbane’s doorstep
I’d heard good things about the new appeal of Ipswich for an overnight escape from nearby Brisbane, so we hit the road early Saturday morning with open minds and a zest for a journey of discovery.
An easy one-hour drive got us to the starting point for our first rush of adrenaline (if you discount the driving atrocities of motorists encountered along the way) – mountain biking at Hidden Vale Adventure Park, just west of Ipswich.
We’re both relatively well acquainted with the workings of a bike, and not total novices at riding off-road, but it would be a very long stretch to suggest we’re experienced mountain-bikers. The beauty of Hidden Vale is its ability to cater for all levels of riders, from complete novices to experienced, competition-hardened downhill racers. There are more than 100km of tracks to explore here where you can enjoy the calming nature of being in the great outdoors among the eucalypts, with seemingly nonplussed kangaroos for company.
As a city dweller unfamiliar with native wildlife in their natural habitat, there was inevitably a somewhat delayed departure from the trailhead as I tried to calmly coax Skippy and his mates to pose for an Instagram-worthy pic to highlight the wonders of biking in the bush. That mission achieved, we headed off on the main dirt road to a specially constructed area for testing your skills on various structures including balance beams, see-saws and bridges.
I think the idea is that, dependent on your success, you decide on trails with the appropriate difficulty level to match your skills. Needless to say, we opted for tracks at the lower end of the spectrum. That said, we still found ourselves weaving in and out of gum trees, skilfully (sort of) negotiating rocks and tree roots, and even occasionally leaning into a banked corner with an accompanying “woo-hoo” for good effect.
The main loops are colour-coded to prevent you getting too lost in the 12,000-acre reserve, but the haphazard nature of our choices (some of the track names are just too enticing to resist – Trailer Trash/Chinese Whispers) meant we occasionally found ourselves unsure of our exact location, but that’s all part of the fun and eventually we worked things out. (#teamwork)
Keep in mind that if you’re not too keen on cycling at all, as long as you follow the rules and guidance from Hidden Vale staff, you can just head out on foot and explore the park that way. If you do want to take the two-wheeled option, you can either bring your own bike or hire one on site.
All that pedalling definitely left us desperate for refuelling, so we headed back into town… and modern Ipswich doesn’t disappoint with its options for weekend warriors.
Brothers Leagues Club has recently undergone a major renovation and there’s a new executive chef, Neil Smith, at the helm at the club’s Shamrocks restaurant.
Neil’s arrival from legendary Brisbane steak restaurant The Pineapple Hotel aligns with the policy of providing a modern dining environment and fare to match.
The grain-fed eye fillet with silky smooth mash and a green peppercorn sauce, and my partner’s wild barramundi dish were both thoroughly enjoyed.
Our visit to Ipswich happened to be on the weekend of the famous Ipswich Cup and Captain Mike from Pterodactyl Helicopters was already on site at the leagues club – he’d been ferrying race-goers across to the track for the morning.
I’ve sometimes wondered how it would feel to be a celebrity and as I walked across the footy field to the waiting chopper I couldn’t help but notice the inquisitive looks from patrons on the clubhouse deck. I thought it only right to give them a little rock star salute, which I imagine had them heading inside to check what famous folks were in town.
But Captain Mike’s the star performer in the Pterodactyl show, and his stated philosophy is to create lifetime memories for anyone lucky enough to strap themselves into the three passenger seats available. He succeeds. When it comes to having happy customers, he reckons the formula’s pretty simple: “It’s not rocket science. Engage with them and be passionate about what you do.”
Mike and his fellow Pterodactyl pilots see themselves as tour operators – not just fly-guys who transport people from A to B.
“It’s all about providing experiences that will last a lifetime. We want them to be over the moon.” (note: this is just an expression… actual flights are not yet available).
Pterodactyl has several standard packages including a country pub crawl (celebrity style) but specialises in creating individual itineraries to transport you in style to the best local cafes, wineries, restaurants, pubs and accommodation choices for a once-in-a-lifetime adventure.
Our flight from Brothers gave us a grand aerial tour of the city (accompanied by Mike’s informative commentary on all that lay below) including views of the race crowds and the Brisbane CBD on the skyline. Then it was on to Ironbark Ridge Vineyard at Purga, just a short drive south-west of Ipswich for those unfortunate enough to not have ready access to a chopper.
Wine-making in the region dates back to the late 1890s, so Ironbark is a relative newcomer having opened in 1984. It’s going through a transformation under new owners, with the first of a new release of wines expected next year, and its Chardonnay, Shiraz, Grenache (among others) promise good things.
Ironbark is one of a number of vineyards in the Lockyer Valley and Scenic Rim, all easily accessible from an overnight base in downtown Ipswich.
As with seemingly all things, accommodation options in Ipswich are becoming increasingly enticing, with a growing range of hotels, apartments, motels, B&Bs and cabins/camping.
The modern Quest Ipswich serviced apartments proved ideal for our getaway. The rooms have everything you need to settle in to a home-away-from-home mentality.
Definitely of more immediate advantage to us was Quest’s central location, which meant it was an easy stroll to our evening’s fine-dining venue, The Cottage Restaurant.
While undoubtedly moving with the times, a big part of Ipswich’s charm is its proud link to a rich heritage, and you see signs of this throughout the city.
Built in 1861, this cottage is a great example of how heritage buildings are being lovingly preserved/restored and made available to the public in different guises.
Local couple Mark and Angela Naoum are dedicated to making it a special evening out at The Cottage and bring to the table years of experience in the restaurant game – Angela front of house and award-winning chef Mark in charge of the delicious fare exiting the kitchen.
We settled in next to the cosy fireplace and mostly I didn’t have to use my quiet voice, but after my second glass of smooth chardonnay my dining companion did note it was unlikely other guests would share her keen interest in my enthusiastic recollection of mountain biking prowess.
We both love restaurants where you’re genuinely torn over which of several dishes to order. All courses (entrée/main/dessert – remember, we did do all that riding in the morning!) had us truly undecided.
We sent our tastebuds into overdrive by opening with the venison and scallops entrees, consolidating with the spatchcock and rabbit, and squeezing in a shared rose water panna cotta.