You don’t have to travel far to find premium experiences in Ipswich. From sunrise camel rides to hot air balloon adventures to retreats steeped in history, luxury and intrigue, there’s plenty to sample from the city’s top shelf.
Spicers Hidden Vale
Spicers Hidden Vale is a luxury retreat nestled into 12,000 acres of bushland in Grandchester.
With only a small number of restored Queenslander style cottages dating back to the 1800s, the location spells privacy and seclusion.
Although fire destroyed the retreat’s landmark homestead and restaurant in 2018, these have since been rebuilt.
You don’t need to stay overnight to enjoy the new Homage Restaurant led by executive chef Ash Martin and head chef Simon Furley.
One highlight of a visit to Homage is the restaurant’s ‘cooking with fire’ concept, featuring a grill fired by local Mulgowie olive tree coals, and The Barn’s coal pits and rotisserie and coal oven.
Supporting the restaurant is an 89-bed market garden, beehives, smokehouse and preserving room, while much fresh produce is sourced from local suppliers.
Floating Images Hot Air Balloon Flights
Want a special spot to pop the question, mark a milestone or simply enjoy a top-notch view?
A hot air balloon ride with Floating Images could be just the ticket. It’s dreamy up here, drifting at 2400 feet.
Keep your camera handy, because you’ll want to capture the city landmarks and ever-changing landscape.
Owner and pilot Graeme Day trained in the Alsace region of France nearly 30 years ago and has spent the last 19 years sharing his bird’s eye view of the region.
Savour the quiet, broken only by the distant barking of dogs down below which rolls like a wave as we pass.
Day says that (unlike us) dogs can hear the high-pitched frequency of the burners which help to keep the balloon aloft.
Bring a scarf and a beanie to stay warm during the early morning start. Rides conclude with a delicious breakfast at one of Ipswich’s leading local cafes – on the day I flew, it was Fourthchild.
Woodlands of Marburg
A grand driveway, manicured lawns, lush vineyards and a 131-year-old mansion all contribute towards the sense of occasion that accompanies any visit to Woodlands of Marburg.
The imposing residence built from 1889-91 for sugar baron Tommy Smith is the centrepiece of the site and has variously functioned as a family home, Catholic seminary and Ipswich Grammar School gathering place.
In 2002, a local family purchased the property and undertook extensive renovations, including turning the old priests’ quarters into 4.5-star motel rooms.
Woodlands of Marburg was then opened to the public for the first time. Current managing director David Ritchie took over about three years ago and continues to expand offerings, with cinema nights and ghost tours.
There’s plenty of stuff to see and do in the region as well, so it’s a great base.
Imbibis Craft Distillery
For a true taste of South East Queensland, it’s hard to beat Imbibis Craft Distillery. Jason Hannay brought 20 years of winemaking experience to the business which he and wife Maree started in 2019.
“People said, ‘You’re crazy, you’ll never be able to do it’,” Hannay says. “I just went, ‘Yep, you watch me.’”
Hannay’s first gin, Clarity, was distilled amid the chaos and uncertainty of the first pandemic lockdown. “It was all about gaining clarity, and clear thoughts – I was trying to embody all of that and create a gin that would just be uplifting and flavoursome,” he says.
Three Myrtles, which contains lemon, cinnamon and anise myrtle, along with Dorrigo pepper leaf and local olive leaf, was created as “an Aussie twist on a London dry style of gin”.
Then came Passion Pink Gin, coloured with local rosella blossoms. Imbibis recently won two silver medals for brandy and gin at the London Spirits Competition.
Hannay is currently working on his next recipe – a gin featuring fruit from Watercress Creek Olives and Limes and a pepper endemic to the Marburg area. You can buy Imbibis products at around a dozen locations from Brisbane to Toowoomba, but to really drink in the atmosphere, book a tasting, available by appointment only.
Summer Land Camels
A sunrise ride at Summer Land Camels is an experience well worth the early start.
Guests are first invited to pick up a brush and help groom the animals, before saddling up for a cameleer-led tour of some of this 830-acre Harrisville property.
You’ll quicky get acquainted with the dromedaries’ different personalities – some are gentle and patient while others are mischievous and fun-loving. As the sun rises higher in the sky, it’s back to the farmhouse for breakfast.
There’s a selection of options, including eggs benedict, with add-ons like camel milk feta, haloumi, fromage blanc, or sausage.
The business was born after managing director Paul Martin hit on a different way to manage Australia’s feral camel population. “We’re trying to save these animals by turning (them) into something that people will farm and enjoy,” he says. If sunrise is too early for you, join sunset cocktails with the camels instead. Summer Land Camels currently has about 550 camels on site.
For most of us, a private jet is out of the question, but that doesn’t mean you can’t borrow a bit of the high life aboard Pterodactyl Helicopters.
From helicopter-led pub crawls through Ipswich and surrounding regions through to flying lunch dates at top notch venues, Pterodactyl Helicopters is perfectly equipped to give guests the grand view.
Each helicopter flies around 150,000 kilometres a year so you know you’re in safe, experienced hands. The most recent addition to the suite of tours involves meeting at Archerfield Airport, being whisked away to ride an electric mountain bike around the Hidden Vale Adventure Park, and then chilling out with a burger and beer before heading home.
Heli MTB Tours start from $540 per person. For the ultimate knees up, there’s a full day tour of four local wineries, which includes tastings and a take-home bottle from each, and a luxe lunch at either Spicers Hidden Vale or the Woodlands of Marburg.