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There’s no better way to watch the sunrise than from a hot air balloon, floating high above Mareeba first thing in the morning. It is just magical and something you don’t get to do every day.

If you’ve never been on a hot air balloon before, the whole experience is incredibly memorable from watching the balloon being inflated to actually seeing it launch and then flying in it. I admit that taking a hot air balloon flight had always been on my bucket list and it didn’t disappoint.

Early Start


hot air balloons cairns

We had to meet the crew from Raging Thunder at 4.45am, a pretty early start, but this was so we could all be ferried to a field where the balloon could be inflated before an early take off.

Each morning the balloons leave from a different location because the wind’s direction changes every day and the balloon is at the mercy of the wind. Raging Thunder have about 400 properties they launch from, with 30 regular properties being used most of the year.

Every morning the hot air balloon pilots check the wind direction and this determines which property they will launch from so they can safely float on the wind.

mareeba hot air balloon tour

Once a property has been determined, the crew unload the basket and balloon and the ‘envelope’ is rolled out flat on the ground and attached to the basket before being inflated and it is quite spectacular to watch.

We learned the reason the hot air balloon only takes people out first thing in the morning is because there is usually only a two-hour window before 8am each day where there is a stable atmosphere and the wind is calm enough for flying hot air balloons.

Watching the sunrise is just an added bonus of the early morning flight.

The Great Chase


hot air balloons tablelands

Although we had to meet Raging Thunder at such an early hour, we were actually on the second balloon flight of the morning and not the first, as a tour group from Cairns were on an express half hour flight before us so they could race back to Cairns for a day-long reef trip.

So once the balloon was inflated, we watched it launch and then the rest of us climbed into the waiting 4WDs and bus to follow the balloon.

It really felt like we were storm chasers following a tornado as we were chasing the wind, which is the direction the balloon was heading.

If you’ve ever seen the movie ‘Twister’, that’s just what it felt like but without the panic of an oncoming disaster.

We would wait on the side of the road while our driver radioed the pilot of the balloon, then we would drive off in the direction the balloon was heading. Sometimes we would need to change direction when the wind changed, but we eventually caught up with the balloon as it landed and saw it touch down.

Boarding the Balloon


hot air ballooning cairns

Passengers are weighed prior to boarding the basket so weight can be evenly distributed on both sides of the basket, then boarding is one at a time.

When one passenger from the first flight climbed out the balloon, one person climbed in, one climbed out, one climbed in and so on.

There were carefully placed holes in the side of the basket to make it easier to climb into the basket and once everyone was on board we were given a safety rundown before taking off.





The launch was incredibly smooth and we slowly floated upwards with each blast from the burner (which was a little hot at times I might add).

Before we knew it we were floating above farms and bushland, creeks and houses and we were even able to make out wallabies and kangaroos below.

We had a bird’s eye view of Mareeba and were lucky enough to see the sunrise and all the other hot air balloons in the sky at the same time as us.

And even though I am scared of heights, I didn’t feel in the slightest bit anxious while in the air as the basket comes up quite high and you never feel like you are going to fall out or that you are unsafe.





Well after hearing terrible landing stories before the flight, I was relieved that our hot air balloon landed incredibly gently.

We still had to get into a landing position by holding the rope inside the basket and bending our knees as we descended, then after landing we stayed inside the basket as the balloon was slowly deflated and ever so slowly the basket tipped onto its side.

We lay inside the basket until we were told we could climb out. The kids thought this was just as much fun as the flight and it added to the excitement if the whole experience for them.

In all, getting up early to take a hot air balloon flight as the sun came up was an incredibly magical experience and definitely one to tick off the bucket list. But if you still haven’t done it, maybe you can add it to your bucket list.

travel nq fast facts:


  • Be aware it is an early start. If you self-drive to Mareeba you can meet the crew at 4.45am outside the Mareeba Heritage Museum and Information Centre. Otherwise Raging Thunder can transport you to and from Cairns departing Cairns at 4.00am and arriving back in Cairns at 10.15am
  • There is also a 30 Minute Express Return hot air balloon flight available with transport departing Cairns at 4.00am for the first hot air balloon flight of the morning and then an express return to Cairns for 8.30am
  • All hot air balloon pilots are actually qualified ‘pilots’
  • Every day the launch and landing sites change depending on the wind so they rarely take off or land in the same spot from day-to-day
  • Don’t put off a hot air balloon flight if you are scared of heights, I can vouch that you won’t feel scared at all while up in the hot air balloon
  • The minimum age is 4 years old and anyone under 18 years must be accompanied by an adult
  • For more information contact Raging Thunder on (07) 4030-7990 or visit
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