Things to do
Up, Up and Away Over Ipswich
Most experiences in life that require getting up for before sunrise are generally worth the bleary eyes and the foggy brain. I should know because one such recent experience had me out of the warm comfort of my bed at the ungodly hour of 5:00am and into a ‘troopie’ before the sun had even thought about rising. It was to be an adventure like no other. Up, up and away over Ipswich in a hot air balloon flight that simply took my breath away.
Family owned and piloted, Floating Images Hot Air Balloons had invited me to soar the heavens with them above the grand old city of Ipswich and the lush Brisbane Valley. Once my fellow passengers and I clambered out of the ‘troopie’ into the pre-dawn darkness into long dewy grass at a nearby Ipswich Park, it was all hands on deck, or should I say on balloon!
We discovered that this particular flight was the debut of a brand new bright blue and yellow balloon or envelope. The envelope was released from her bag and dragged over the grass. It required a bit of man and womanpower to get her stretched out in readiness for attaching to the basket and then inflation. Once she was inflated I was amazed by her magnitude.
With a call of “all aboard” we climbed into the wicker basket, had a short pre-flight briefing on the safety aspects of ballooning, and then we ever so gently lifted off the ground. I felt little sensation of lift off as the basket started to ascend into the now golden glow of the dawn sky. It was only when I looked below that I could see we were indeed flying and climbing higher and higher!
From the air we could see the city of Ipswich below us like an aerial map made up of buildings, sprawling green parks and sporting fields, and the snake-like shape of the Bremer River. To the east we could just make out the skyline of Brisbane city; to the west the Lockyer Valley and the Great Dividing Range; and to the north, where we were headed, Pine Mountain and the two dams of Lake Manchester and Lake Wivenhoe.
There was morning mist hanging over the verdant green landscape and the farmlands looked like a patchwork of green and brown paddocks. As we floated effortlessly towards Pine Mountain we learnt that we were at an elevation of 3,000 feet and that our speed was in the vicinity of 35 kilometres per hour. However it still felt as if we weren’t really moving at all.
Now and again our pilot Graham adjusted speed and height by using the LPG burner to increase the amount of hot air in the envelope to create more lift. Otherwise the direction a balloon flies depends entirely on which way the wind is blowing. Luckily for us it was a light southerly carrying us to the north.
The world beneath us was awakening to a new day but the silence was golden with not even a sound as we kept soaring along. There are few experiences that I’ve had that would compare with the peacefulness and serenity of this hour-long flight. As our journey progressed, our pilot Graeme was only too happy to answer any of our questions regarding Ipswich and the surrounding region so the flight was not only pleasurable, but it was also educational.
As the balloon started to descend into the extensive farmland just north of Pine Mountain, towards our landing spot I could see the trees were appearing larger and you could make out buildings, cars and farm animals. In what seemed like no time at all, we moved into our landing positions in the basket and softly landed on the grass in the paddock. We were back on terra firma!
There to greet us was the ‘troopie’ and trailer, Graeme’s lovely wife Ruth and teenage twins all with welcoming smiles on their faces. It was a matter of packing up the balloon and squishing the envelope back into her bag, which required quite a lot of team effort. Then it was back to Ipswich for a hearty breakfast, whilst everyone babbled about his or her individual balloon experience enroute. The consensus was that it was a splendid way to start the day!
My ballooning experience was part of Floating Images Hot Air Balloon’s BAD Package, that comprised of one night’s accommodation at the Metro Hotel Ipswich International in Ipswich, a delicious dinner at Harvest Restaurant at the hotel, the balloon flight, all transfers and a divine hot breakfast after the flight back at the hotel.
Metro Hotel’s 4.5 star accommodation is located in the heart of the city and offers comfortable spacious rooms with modern décor, queen size bed and all the mod cons such as internet access, LCD TV with cable channels, and minibar. Dinner in Metro’s Harvest Restaurant was a gastronomic delight. Harvest offers Tapas style, (or little plates) menu throughout the day, and a full a-la-carte dinner menu of an evening with a selection of meals to suit every taste.
For me I chose a crispy skinned piece of salmon served with two-coloured beetroots, smashed kipfler potatoes and sprinkled with crushed hazelnuts. Of course the dish was washed down with a crisp glass of Sauvignon Blanc from their extensive wine list. If you’re looking to impress that special someone or have an important occasion to celebrate a Floating Images Hot Air Balloon BAD Package would be perfect. A word of warning however, hot air ballooning is highly addictive!