A detailed guide outlining everything you need to know about the Hot Air Balloon Cairns experience. Experience the world’s oldest form of aviation in Tropical North Queensland.
Cairns is one of the most popular places in Australia to experience the thrill of a hot air balloon trip. The warm climate and pristine, clear skies make this 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.
In this quick guide, I’ll detail everything you need to know about planning, booking and going on a hot air balloon trip from Cairns and Port Douglas. I’ll also make some recommendations for how to make the most out of the trip and include some photos from mine that I hope will inspire you to try this incredible experience.
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About the Cairns Hot Air Balloon Experience
Hot Air is an excellent company running ballooning experiences out of Cairns and Port Douglas. They are a very reputable company with the largest fleet of hot air balloons in Australia. They’ve been operating for over 22 years and this experience definitely showed from my trip.
All hot air balloon experiences depart from Mareeba, in the Atherton Tablelands. This 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. Here, the land is flat and mostly consists of farmland– meaning plenty of spots to land!
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
Best price for the trip: Sunrise Balloon With Hotel Transfers
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Booking a Hot Air Balloon Trip From Cairns & Port Douglas
I’m a big fan of booking tours and experiences online. This way, I always guarantee that I’ll get the best rates and lock in my spot for the dates I’m after.
Booking a hot air balloon experience from Cairns and Port Douglas is no different. 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 wakeup! 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
Quick Things to Know About A Hot Air Balloon Trip With HOt Air
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 4:00-4:30am
- Transit time to Mareeba takes 1-1.5 hours
- Hot Air have several balloons, the largest accommodates 24 people (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 around 9:30 – 10am
Related: Best Things to do in Port Douglas
Private Hot Air Balloon Trip
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.
Alternative: Combine a GBR Cruise & Helicopter Flight
Prefer a helicopter tour? It’s possible to combine a full-day GBR cruise with a 10-minute helicopter flight directly from the reef pontoon. This Get High package is actually cheaper than a 30-minute flight from Cairns City
Read my guide for more information or book directly below.
If this is the first time reading my blog, then you might not know that I’ve documented hundreds of epic things to see and do in Cairns. After checking out this Cairns hot air ballooning experience, why not explore some epic Cairns waterfalls or hiking trails, or check out these essential lists for where to stay and what to pack.
My Experience With Hot Air Balloon Cairns
Our Cairns hot air balloon journey began at 4:30am, when we were picked up by the dedicated shuttle bus at the Skyrail carpark 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 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!
RELATED POST: Where to Stay in Cairns
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.
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The View from the Hot Air 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.
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.
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.
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 actually remarkably uneventful. I was expecting at least a few bounces but the basket touched down as gently as a feather.
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.
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 face 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.
More Photos from My Trip
As you can tell from this article, 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 from Cairns or Port Douglas!
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!
Read more Hot Air Balloon experiences:
MY CAMERA AND PHOTOGRAPHY EQUIPMENT
- Mirrorless Camera: Canon R5
- Drone: DJI Mavic Pro 2
- 360 Action Camera: Insta360 One X2
- Landscape Lens: Canon RF 15-35mm f/2.8L
- All-Round Lens: Canon RF 24-105mm f/4L
- Telephoto Lens: Canon RF 100-500mm f/f/4.5-7.1 L
- Long Action Pole: Insta360 Invisible Pole (BulletTime)
- Landscape Lens Filter: Hoya Circular Polarizer
- Camera Backpack: F-Stop Tilopa
- Favorite Photography Accessory: Peak Design Capture Clip
For a list of all my recommended photography gear (including what I use and why) check out my guide to camera gear for travel.