TRAVEL: Flying high over the Gold Coast
IT'S not as quiet as you might think flying in a hot air balloon as it sweeps high across the landscape.
Two sounds break the silence. With reassuring regularity, the burner bursts into action filling the air with shooting flames and the balloon with hot air. Then there is the chatter of fellow passengers as they wonder at the changing vista and the constant clicks as they record the stunning landscape.
There's nothing pleasant about being ready for a pick up at 4.20am, especially when the night before included plenty of cocktails, but that's all part of the package when you decide on a balloon flight.
It's too early. It's too cold. You are stuck on a bus, and you don't know where it's heading, but there's plenty of excitement because you are going to get high on the Gold Coast in a balloon!
This is for people who like to live life large, so I'm leaving all my fears and phobias safely tucked up in the warm hotel room bed.
The bus heads into the Gold Coast Hinterland, about 30 minutes' drive from the coastline. Here the scenery is dramatically different thanks to an ancient volcano which created the tall mountains now coated in green by Mother Nature.
The first task is to fill the balloons with hot air, and they gently start to inflate skywards. As the balloon gains buoyancy, we climb into the wicker basket to add weight, so it hugs the ground. There are a couple of hefty lads holding on to the basket as well, just in case. Climbing over the steep basket side is a little challenging, but there are plenty of helping hands close by.
When we lift off, it's a smooth ride upwards until everything below is a long way away. It's such a beautiful morning with patches of fog hiding some parts of the land and sky reflections in lakes as we float past. The buildings seem Lilliputian below, and tiny dogs run around the lake chasing roosting birds. It's life in miniature.
The pilot points out landmarks including Tamborine Mountain, Lamington National Park and the tall towers of the Gold Coast's skyscrapers in the distance.
This is a photographer's paradise, and there's much clicking to capture the memorable images.
Gradually we start to lose height, and the balloon is no longer dancing way above the trees but closing in on a paddock. We glided over the top of long grass strands for a few minutes before coming to a stop with just a slight bump. The landing was almost as smooth as the take-off. Too easy.
Then it was all about getting the remaining air out of the balloon and packing it up. Opening a vent at the top of the balloon allowed the hot air to escape and passengers became workers, rolling and folding until the balloon was just a bag on the ground.
Another short drive and we were off the bus at O'Reilly's Homestead set among the vineyard at Canungra in the Gold Coast Hinterland. Hot Air Balloon's Champagne Breakfast at O'Reilly's Grand Homestead Vineyard costs $280 for an adult.
(Disclaimer: Ed+bK was a guest of Gold Coast Tourism.)