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Hot-Air Ballooning in the Atherton Tablelands

Published 30 March 2016

Nikki James

Nikki James

I am not a morning person. I always hit the snooze button on my phone a few times before I properly wake up. So it was with a combination of excitement and dread that I set my alarm for 3:30am, making sure I had plenty of time to get ready for our transfer out to the Atherton Tablelands to begin the first adventure of our Tropical North Queensland Journey – a sunrise hot-air balloon ride.

Ballooning at sunrise

©Nikki James

Morning preparation

Freshly arrived on Australian soil, I'm pretty sure that jetlag was definitely in play as I felt unusually refreshed and awake, even failing to drift off on the short drive out to our meeting point an hour or so from Port Douglas. Hot Air Balloon Cairns were our guides this morning, and seeing as they pilot the largest collection of balloons in Australia, I knew we would be in good hands. As well as north Queensland, they also fly along the Gold Coast and in Brisbane, but the climate around Cairns is best for the perfect balloon flight. After a few quick measurements checking the wind direction, we hopped onto the back of a trailer, racing towards the distant shapes that were slowly emerging through the haze to meet us at the landing site.

Hot-air Balloon

©Nikki James

Up up and away

Hot Air Balloon Cairns do two flights daily, each a half an hour jaunt across the Tablelands. Taking part in the second flight meant a short changeover in passengers, but we were soon settling into the basket below the largest balloon in the Southern Hemisphere. It was at this point that my nerves kicked in – I realised I had literally no idea how this would feel, and I'm not normally a great one for heights.

Sunrise view

©Nikki James

A couple of safety notes later, and the burner was opened as we began slowly drifting over the fields only a few metres off the ground. Gliding is the best way I can describe it, as I had no real feeling of gaining height or moving at all until I looked down. What really struck me is the silence; once the burner had stopped there wasn't a sound other than the occasional cicada and our own pips of excitement. A few short bursts of flame and we rose higher, and our normally noisy group was struck silent by the spectacular views that surrounded us. Our guide pointed out the mountainous landscape and the distant rainforest, as well some small wallabies and birdlife a few hundred feet below – and based on the bemused faces staring back, they could see us too!

Balloon in the sky

©Nikki James

The flight was exhilarating and unlike any experience I've ever had before, and before we knew it our 30 minute flight was up. After a gradual descent we slowly we came down to rest, landing with only a couple of small bumps. A quick pull on the ropes and the hot air that had just transported us across the countryside disappeared in seconds. Then it was just a matter of trying to fit the balloon back into a bag about one-hundredth of its size…

Hot Air Ballooning

©Alex Gregg


Fancing visiting the Atherton Tablelands? Check out Round the World Experts' Tropical North Queensland Journey, and chat to your Expert about adding a thrilling hot-air balloon ride.


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