STEP 1: Set your alarm!
Getting up at 4am on holidays isn’t usually my thing. But today, in the name of rediscovering Queensland and my pledge to do things differently, I’m making an exception as we take to the skies in a hot air balloon.
We’re up in the dark, but I’m assured we’ll be rewarded with a stunning sunrise and a glorious view of the Gold Coast Hinterland, followed by breakfast in a vineyard and the chance to meet a couple of local celebrities. I’m intrigued…
STEP 2: Pray for calm conditions
There’s a reason why hot air balloons fly early in the morning, and it’s not actually because of the view – it’s the stillness. Windy conditions mean balloons can’t fly, so the calm, quiet morning we’ve woken to is perfect.
We arrive before dawn for our safety briefing at Hot Air Balloon Australia and meet our crew led by our pilot, Captain Frank. To be honest, I don’t love heights, but these guys have been flying for over 22 years and have an impeccable safety record, so I know I’m in good hands.
STEP 3: Absorb the serenity
You can hear the rush of the burners that keep us aloft, but otherwise it’s incredibly quiet up here, with just the gentlest whisper of a breeze. As the sun comes up over the sky it’s an absolutely spectacular show of pinks and oranges that change by the minute. We fly over the hinterland, which is a surprisingly diverse landscape dotted with villages, farms, nature reserves and rivers, but then you turn and there’s ocean and mountains – all within a 360-degree view. I’m surprised to find that while it feels really high, I get over my nerves and am completely distracted by the view. I don’t think you could get this perspective from anything other than a balloon, so it’s a truly unique way to see this amazing area.
Below us the birds are waking up and we peek over the side to see a flock of cockatoos fly over a dam, where our beautiful yellow balloon is reflected back up at us as we pass overhead. It’s spectacular and a completely upside-down view of the world!
STEP 4: Brace for landing!
We start our slow descent and the wind has picked up a bit. As we come in to land, we closely skim the top of a tree (which feels close but by the look of calm Captain Frank is probably an everyday occurrence) and land with a bump, sideways in a field. It’s white-knuckle at the end, but more thrilling than terrifying and everyone’s on a high as we help fold the balloon.
STEP 5: Refuel and recharge
Then we were off to O'Reilly's Canungra Valley Vineyards for a well-earnt breakfast at the historic Killowen homestead with a side of bubbles, of course! Their cellar door boasts some of the finest wines in the Gold Coast region not to mention the views.
STEP 6: Make friends
Then Ed Sheeran, the furry and friendly alpaca from the onsite Mountview Alpaca Farm took me for a stroll through the vines and we explored the rest of the property. Next time I am booking in for an Alpaca Picnic!
STEP 7: Finish with a zip
It was time to get the heart pumping, so I took off to the TreeTop Challenge inside the gorgeous Tamborine Mountain rainforest.
It looks tranquil, but don’t be fooled. This place is where nature meets adventure. With 120 huge TreeTop Challenges, including 10 insane ziplines, this place is really where you can see the rainforest from a different perspective, as you whizz through the trees! This is a thrillseeker’s dream and I was excited to get into it.
Just getting harnessed up was fun and I felt very snug and secure in my safety gear. Once strapped in, it was straight into a series of bridges, ropes and cables suspended above the forest floor. All I had to do was keep moving forward and every section was just a little more challenging than the last. I can’t quite believe how far I’d come by the end – especially for a first timer! They saved the best bit for last, which was a zipline to the end - SO much fun!
For the thrill seekers who like to take it up a few notches, there are more advanced courses, and for the truly young at heart, they also have Australia’s largest, highest and fastest zipline tour. I’m tempted, but I’d pushed myself enough, so instead I took a break in the treetops to listen to the birds and strolled through the sanctuary to visit the Tasmanian tigers and wildlife on display. It was heaven.