The Gold Coast Hinterlands are a gem. Just 30 minutes drive from the white sands and skyscrapers of the Gold Coast you’ll find quaint towns, wide open spaces and plenty of curious cows. There are wineries, farm to table restaurants, and cute knick-knack stores dotted throughout.
This is where I found myself one, rather chilly, November morning, and I was going to explore just a small slice of the region as I took to the skies in a hot air balloon!
After two nights based at a Brisbane hotel, it was time to head south to the region most well known for its kilometres of white sandy beaches. As I hopped onboard the Brisbane Air Train, just steps away from the Sofitel Brisbane, I was ready to discover another side to the glitz and glamour of the Gold Coast.
As a self-confessed night owl, the sound of my alarm blaring at me to wait up at 4 am pained me. Bleary eyed and bundled into a van it wasn’t until the sight of the growing balloons appeared that the weariness left, instead replaced by excitement.
I’d been hot air ballooning in Canberra a few years back. While not the biggest city, hot air ballooning over an urban landscape was going to be totally different to the Gold Coast Hinterlands, a land surrounded by hundreds of acres of farmland.
Four balloons were positioned around the field, the take-off site for today’s flight, in various stages of inflation. With changing wind patterns, every day the balloons took off and landed in different areas with many of the companies conducting flights paying a small fee to the landowners to allow them to access the land. A win-win-win for farmers, the balloon operators, and passengers.
After battling through some heavy winds, our balloon was soon up and we were quickly loaded into the basket.
And then we were away.
We lifted almost effortlessly off the ground, the only thing telling us that we were preparing for taking off was the near constant sound of the burner. It wasn’t until someone let out a shriek of excitement that we realised we were almost 10 metres up in the air and rising rapidly.
Green pastures and hills stretched as far as we could see, something I didn’t expect considering we were only a 30-minute drive from the skyscrapers and sea of Surfers Paradise. I thought there’d be at least a small sliver of water on the horizon.
Hot air balloon’s don’t have a steering wheel, rather during the flight, the pilot’s only ability to steer the balloon is the ability to climb or descend into winds going different directions. Pilots go through more than 75 hours of flying to become a commercial pilot with our pilot having logged upwards of 400 hours in Victoria, Queensland, and New South Wales!
As our balloon began to slowly descend, ready for landing, you could see a few people getting a little more nervous at the thought of a ‘crash landing’. With another team member from Hot Air Ballooning on the ground waiting to ensure we came to a complete stop, cameras were stowed and we were told to get into the landing position – legs in a squat, back braced against the basket, and hands holding onto the straps inside the basket.
As we skimmed the ground, I pre-empted the bumps – one, two three – it was on the fourth that, as a collective, we let out an “awwwhh!!!!” as the basket tilted and fell on its side. The landing position we were squatting in ensured we were all in the basket and most of us were even laughing at the predicament about how to get out of the basket!
No sooner had we recovered and had a good laugh about our landing we were hard at work putting the balloon and basket away… well, we were until a rather curious herd of cows came to investigate the giant ‘hay bale’ that had dropped into their yard. Don’t worry – we didn’t lose a basket after they walked away, realising we weren’t going to share.
With the hard work done, it was time for a well-earned breakfast. Hopping on the sides of the balloon trailer, we bumped our way across the paddock until we reached our chariots (uhrm… mini buses?) which would whisk us away for a sparkling wine breakfast. Who could say no to that?
O’Reilly’s Vineyard is a boutique vineyard located in the Scenic Rim, one of Australia’s newly emerging wine growing regions. At O’Reilly’s you’ll find Shriaz, Chambourcin, Verdelho, Petit Verdot and Semillon grapes, many of which have won awards both nationally and internationally.
With belly rumbling, we trundled up the gravel path and into the dining room where a buffet was served with seating for all on the verandah of the building, an old home, used for tastings, weddings and other events.
After eating our way through a hearty Australian breakfast, complete with local sausages and baked beans, we could head down to the creek in hope of spotting a platypus, wander the vines, or wine tasting.
I’m sure you can guess which I chose.
For $3.00 per person – or complimentary if you are dining, picnicking or buying wine – you can take part in a tasting of four wines. My favourites had to be the sweet tastes of the mixed blends.
It’s well worth coming back as O’Reilly’s also offers accommodation, a boutique spa, and adventures tours exploring the diversity of Lamington National Park, like nature tours, Segway tours, rainforest walks, Tree Top Walks and even a 180 metre Flying fox!
I’m still not a morning person, but if I have to wake up at 4am then it has to be for a good reason. Exploring the Gold Coast Hinterlands by Hot Air Balloon definitely makes that cut.
Hot Air Ballooning
Notes: Tours include insurance, complimentary transfers from Gold Coast hotels, hot breakfast and champagne at O’Reilly’s and a 30minute balloon flight.
Flights may changed or be cancelled as hot air ballooning is dependent on wind and weather conditions.
I visited the Gold Coast as a guest of Brisbane AirTrain and Visit Gold Coast.
All thoughts and opinions are, as always, my own.