So slow and gentle, the Floating Images hot air balloon rises majestically into the sky leaving the ever-retreating ground below looking like a giant jigsaw puzzle.
In the distance, Brisbane’s skyscrapers line up along the horizon as a reminder that the heritage city of Ipswich is only a short drive from Queensland’s capital. At 4 am in the morning, the departure time for the balloon flight connection, it is an even shorter journey.
Hot air balloon love
This early morning drive and ride is a task balloon pilot Graeme Day has been enjoying since he established the company in 1997.
Graeme’s love of ballooning began in France when as a backpacker he followed a French girl to her homeland and stayed for a while. As France is the birthplace of hot air balloons, opportunities to be involved with flights naturally arose, and Graeme was able to bring his skills back to Ipswich. With over 220 hours of flight time and 25 years of ballooning, he has plenty of experience in the air.
The pre-flight meeting point is the foyer of the Metro Hotel in Ipswich for a sharp 4.10 departure. I arrive early, keen not to be the person who holds the group up.
Ready for flight
Graeme drives us to a field on the outskirts of the city where the balloon is inflated as we watch. One by one we climb into the wicker basket adding weight, so the balloon does not depart. It’s a bit of a scramble up over the side, but there is plenty of room once inside. I asked Graeme why the baskets don’t have doors and he told me this affects the integrity of the structure. As I’m about to fly 2600 feet in the air, integrity is my friend, so I’m happy to clamber in.
Peering over the edge of the wicker basket, the suburbs scroll past like a patchwork quilt. I can see swimming pools, dogs running around and cars with people starting their drive to work.
Looking straight out I’m eye to eye with fluffy grey clouds which add an atmosphere of mystery to the voyage.
Landing the hot air balloon
We scoot very slowly across the sky towards a field that looks like a landing spot. I notice a few powerlines along the way as we brush past a tree. Graeme laughs when I compliment him on a tricky landing and says he doesn’t do Kentucky fried chicken.
Packing up the balloon is like squeezing a double sleeping bag into a single bag. All hands are needed to make this happen as it needs to be done before the rain arrives. Our welcoming committee of a bunch of yearling steers watches on with interest, but the resident horse has retreated to a far corner of the field.
The pick-up truck with its trailer edges into the paddock to take the hot air balloon, basket and passengers back for breakfast. There’s a bottle of sparkling wine as a thank you for the farmer who has allowed access to the field.
Finish the hot air balloon flight with breakfast
Over breakfast, I chat with the other passengers to see why they chose to spend their morning hanging about it in the air. One couple said they were given the flight as a present from their daughter for a birthday. It was early training for a much-anticipated bucket list balloon flight planned in Cappadocia, Turkey which is frequently voted as one of the best ballooning destinations in the world.
Hot air balloon flight details
The cost for a Floating Images adult flight is $330; children cost $280. Friends and family can join you for breakfast afterwards for $25 per person. The flights start 45 minutes before sunrise and last for around an hour. The whole thing takes between three to four hours finishing with breakfast at the starting point, the Metro Hotel in Ipswich.
Ed+bK was a guest of Floating Images