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Complete Guide to the Hot Air Balloon Experience from Cairns

Complete Guide to the Hot Air Balloon Experience from Cairns

Olly Gaspar

By Olly Gaspar, full-time traveler for 6 years. I visit every place I write about & share real tips, photos, & advice from my trips.

A detailed guide outlining everything you need to know about the Hot Air Balloon trip from Cairns.

Many don’t know this, but The warm climate and pristine, clear skies make the Cairns and Tablelands region perfectly suited to hot air ballooning. So, if you’re visiting or a local who’s always wanted to tick a ballooning trip off the bucket list, Cairns and the Tropical North is the perfect place to do it.

After going hot air ballooning in Cappadocia and in Luxor, I have to say, the Far North Queensland ballooning experience is just as great! In this guide, I’ll detail everything you need to know about planning, booking and going on a hot air balloon trip in the Atherton Tablelands from Cairns and Port Douglas.

About the Cairns Hot Air Balloon Experience

The first thing you need to know about hot air ballooning from Cairns or Port Douglas is that all trips start from Mareeba in the Atherton Tablelands. This is approximately an hour's drive from Cairns and 1 hour 10 minutes from Port Douglas.

Mareeba is an elevated, flat farmland region just above Cairns and Port Douglas. The reason why trips depart from here is that it is perfectly suited to ballooning, with flat, elevated land mostly consisting of farmland– meaning plenty of spots to land (and no ocean to worry about).

All trips are run by Hot Air, the only company offering these experiences in Far North Queensland which has the largest fleet of balloons in Australia. You can book the experience using GetYourGuide to receive free cancellation and an e-ticket.

How to Book a Hot Air Balloon Trip From Cairns Or Port Douglas

Booking a hot air balloon experience from Cairns and Port Douglas is very easy to do online. To help you out, I've included links to the most cost-effective trips from both Cairns and Port Douglas below.

Remember that the hot air balloon experience departs from Mareeba, which is approximately an hour's drive from Cairns.

This means a sunrise trip calls for an early wake-up! Luckily, Hot Air provides complimentary shuttle bus transfers from your accommodation in Cairns, The Northern Beaches, Kuranda and Port Douglas.

Book Hot Air: Trip from Port Douglas
Book Hot Air: Trip from Cairns/Northern Beaches

What's Included in the Hot Air Experience?

Trips are surprisingly affordable, which is a big reason why this experience is so popular in Far North Queensland! You'll also get a lot of bang for your buck with a sunrise ballooning trip including:

  • Hotel pickup and drop off
  • 60-minute hot air balloon flight
  • Post-flight champagne
  • Free digital photo package from your flight
  • All insurance levies (you don't pay a cent more)
  • Professional commentary from your world-class pilot
Cairns hot air balloon trip
Cairns hot air balloon experience

Things to Know Before Booking A Hot Air Balloon Trip From Cairns

Below is a quick summary of some important things to know about the experience before you depart. If you continue reading, I've also included a detailed breakdown of my experience (with photos) to get a better idea of what to expect.

  • Hotel pickup is usually around 4:00-4:30 am
  • Transit time to Mareeba takes 1-1.5 hours
  • Hot Air has several balloons, the largest accommodates 24 people (the largest in Australia)
  • Flight times are usually 60 minutes but times can vary slightly depending on landing spots
  • Balloons often land on farmland properties, meaning you'll get a trailer trip back to the road
  • Expect to be back in Cairns or Port Douglas at around 9:30 - 10 am
Hot air balloon cairns, 4wd

Private Trip Options

The Cairns hot air balloon experience featured in this post is a "shared" trip. This means that you'll enjoy the ride with other passengers. This is often what you will find everywhere else in the world and why you are able to get this incredible experience for such an affordable price.

However, if you would like a private hot air balloon experience from Cairns or Port Douglas, then you can contact Hot Air directly to arrange one.

Hot air balloon cairns
Cairns helicopter tour over the great barrier reef

Alternative: Combine a GBR Cruise & Helicopter Flight

Prefer a helicopter tour? Combine a full-day GBR cruise with a 10-minute helicopter flight directly from the reef pontoon. This Get High package is cheaper than a 30-minute flight from Cairns City.

Read my guide for more information or book directly below.

My Hot Air Ballooning Experience From Cairns

Our Cairns hot air balloon journey began at 4:30 am, when we were picked up by the dedicated shuttle bus at the Skyrail car park in Smithfield. This is because we were currently staying on the Northern Beaches and had our own transport.

We were the last to be picked up as the majority of the other people going ballooning with us were picked up from their Cairns hotels.

Overall, it was a very comfortable shuttle transfer to Mareeba. Due to the early departure, most of us took the opportunity to get some extra shut-eye before the sunrise balloon trip.

Pre-Flight at Mareeba

We arrived at a private rural property in Mareeba before the sun had risen. There, our pilots and the Hot Air support staff greeted us and quickly got us organised into groups according to weight distribution and numbers.

We were really getting excited at this stage. We watched the pros fan up the balloons and periodically blast the balloons with hot air until they eventually began lifting off the ground. If you've never watched a hot air balloon rise, let me tell you that it's a really fascinating experience!

Sunrise hot air balloon trip
Hot air cairns, ballooning in mareeba, qld
Hot air balloon cairns, 4wd

Lift Off!

After getting everybody organised and boarded onto the hot air balloon, our pilot Frank gave the jets a final few blasts and we were up! This was actually my first hot air ballooning flight and it was incredibly satisfying and surprisingly calming to be gently lifted off the ground in a giant basket!

Frank, the pilot was incredibly informative and a great guide throughout the entire experience. He was really knowledgeable about the area and gave us some interesting insights into the function and history of hot air ballooning.

Ballooning pilot
Hot air ballooning in mareeba, qld

The View of Mareeba from the Balloon

We were incredibly excited about the fact that the Cairns air ballooning trips all depart at sunrise. Luckily, the weather conditions were absolutely perfect and watching the sun rise from way beyond the Coral Sea was absolutely magical.

Sunrise on the great dividing range near cairns
Hot air balloon sunrise view of the great dividing range, qld

A band of golden clouds hovered over the Great Dividing Range in the distance. The all-important Barron River was more prominent than ever from above. As we floated above it, we saw it from a completely new perspective as it carved through the countryside towards Lake Tinaroo.

Barron river in the tablelands

Also, something that Frank was very excited about pointing out was that the distant cloud conditions on our trip meant we were very lucky to witness a glory. This is an atmospheric phenomenon that causes a circular rainbow to appear around the shadow of the hot air balloon.

The glory, hot air balloon rainbow phenomenon
The "glory" in all its glory

Our First Hot Air Balloon Landing

After an incredible sunrise hot air balloon ride we slowly began our descent. Something I was surprised to learn was that it's actually very difficult to control the hot air balloon flight path. In fact, as our pilot Frank told us, it's very much up to the wind direction.

Luckily, he's had a lifetime of experience and knew exactly how to read the wind and elements to land us safely down beside a Mareeba lemon orchard.

The landing went very smoothly and was remarkably uneventful. I was expecting at least a few bounces but the basket touched down as gently as a feather.

Mareeba and the tablelands from above

Wrapping Up The Cairns Hot Air Balloon Experience

To wrap up the experience, our shuttle bus driver and additional Hot Air staff greeted us and showed us how to quickly help out packing away the balloon. While helping out was optional, it was all done and dusted in less than 10 minutes with everybody's help.

Helping to pack up the hot air balloon

After dusting off, the crew treated us to a post-flight celebratory champagne toast! Additionally, our pilot also issued us a congratulatory hot air balloon certificate!

Due to the fact that we had touched down on a remote rural property, we were driven out via a 4WD passenger trailer to the road where the bus was waiting.

Post flight champagne

More Photos from My Trip

As you can tell from this blog post and photos, I had an absolute blast on my first Cairns hot air balloon trip!

Below you'll see some additional photos I captured during the flight. I hope you enjoy them and that they inspire you to book this bucket list activity in Far North Queensland!

Hot air balloon experience in cairns
Hot air balloon over the tablelands, far north queensland
Hot air balloon over the tablelands, far north queensland
Hot air balloon over the tablelands, far north queensland
Hot air balloon over the tablelands, far north queensland
Cairns hot air balloon trip
Hot air ballooning in mareeba, qld
Cairns hot air balloon experience
Cairns hot air balloon experience
Hot air balloon cairns
Hot air ballooning from cairns and port douglas
Hot air balloon cairns
Hot air balloon experience in cairns

More Cairns Travel and Adventure Articles

I hope you've enjoyed this quick guide/trip report from the Cairns hot air balloon experience in Mareeba (Tablelands). Before you head off, make sure to check out some of my other adventure articles and travel ideas for Cairns and the Tropical North.

I've spent a great deal of time exploring many hidden gems in the area to share with you– below is a good start!

Hot air balloon cairns
Thanks for Reading

I'm Olly Gaspar, adventure traveler from Australia. I’ve spent the last six years traveling the world full-time, sharing my first-hand experiences & photography in over 700 travel guides on We Seek Travel. I visit every destination I write about to bring you unique travel itineraries, epic hiking routes, fun tour ideas, travel & photography gear ideas, & interesting places to stay.

I only make genuine, worthwhile recommendations based on my experience, expertise, & research. If you buy through my links, I may get a commission, supporting this website at no extra cost to you. Read my Publishing Ethics Statement.