The sky’s the limit
Ipswich is reborn as a gourmet getaway
FIRE lights the sky in the pre-dawn of a Queensland day. Soon we are floating gently upwards, borne by a hot-air balloon above the heritage city of Ipswich.
Beyond the balloon gondola, the landscape wakes to the sun. The Great Dividing Range, in shades of grey and blue and green, shrouded in mist, rises in front of us and below us the narrow ribbon of the Bremer River cuts its way through the city. Sunlight catches on the brick and stone buildings of Queensland’s oldest provincial city, dotted with parks and gardens.
Before long we are flying over farmland and vineyards, drinking in the landscape from 550m while Floating Images chief pilot Graeme Day tends the burners and the wind takes us where it will.
On a two-day visit to Ipswich, I find myself in the air almost more often than on the ground, as I sample some of the activities that make the region an easy choice for a Brisbane getaway. Only 30 minutes’ drive from the Queensland capital, Ipswich is undergoing a renaissance that is seeing many of its heritage buildings put to modern use, with the undulating countryside of southeast Queensland’s Scenic Rim just minutes out of town.
In the city centre, the modern Metro Hotel International is the pick-up and drop-off point for ballooning and helicopter tours. Balloon rides finish with a champagne breakfast at the hotel’s Platform 9 restaurant.
At Ironbark Ridge vineyard, a mob of kangaroos, more than a dozen strong, stands stock still beside the driveway, alert but immobile as they watch us pass. We’ve arrived in rock-star style … by limousine transfer from Brisbane and then by helicopter, landing in a mown circle of grass on the edge of the vineyard.
“We also occasionally get a couple of koalas wandering through,” says winemaker Barry Hoffensetz, who planted the first vines on his property in 1983.
Ironbark Ridge is the oldest of about a dozen boutique wineries on the regular drop-in list of Captain Mike Jarvis’ Pterodactyl Helicopters tours. Soon we’re heading to the cellar door, a historic miner’s cottage that served as Hoffensetz’s surgery in Ipswich before he retired as a GP.
Tastings are waiting. Ironbark Ridge has 3.4ha under vine with mainly chardonnay, shiraz and grenache grapes, but smaller plantings of boutique varieties such as marsanne, rousanne, viognier, dolcetto, verdelho and nebioli. All the vines are hand-planted and the grapes are hand-picked.
It has not always been easy. “We had 10 to 12 years of drought, then an abundance of rain at the wrong time in the past four years,” says Hoffensetz.
But he and his wife, Jan, and others in the region, have persevered and the heli-tours have helped. Pterodactyl Helicopters is one of several businesses boosting Ips- wich’s tourism industry beyond its well-known heritage attractions.
At the second of two vineyards on our combo-tour from Pterodactyl’s wine and pub tours, Normanby Wines owner Mick Hall extends a grape-stained hand in welcome to his “best backyard in the world”.
Hall came to Australia five decades ago, from England, and now declares the nearby village of Harrisville “the hub of the universe”. He and his wife Jenny have lived there since 1972 and planted their first vines in 1999. They have seven varieties of grape on 3ha of their 66ha property. I’m intrigued by wine names I’ve never heard before: veraz (a blend of verdelho and shiraz) and durif. Hall says Normanby Wines is one of the few Queensland vineyards to produce durif, a rich dark red wine.
A few minutes’ flight away — and about 30km from Ipswich by road — is the historic Royal Hotel Harrisville, where we tuck into schnitzel for lunch and down a couple of cold beers. Publicans Steve and Monika Patrick bought the pub three years ago, and will soon open their first accommodation, in a restored railway carriage, to complement the free camping they offer to travellers.
In stark contrast to the Royal’s elegant Queenslander-style verandahs, our next pub stop is the Sundowner Saloon at Haigslea, on the busy Warrego Highway. With a front garden of tall cactus, saloon doors and Clint Eastwood gazing down from the restaurant wall, it’s country and western territory.
We finish our tour in town at Ipswich’s new boutique brewery, the Pumpyard Bar. On the ground floor in the heritage-listed former Ipswich Technical College, where blacksmiths and plumbers once learned their trades, the place is all industrial-chic, with a long wooden bar and shiny stainless steel brewing tanks lining the walls.
Award-winning brewer Wade Curtis and co-owner James Long are hopeful their 4 Hearts Brewing venture will attract not only locals but Brisbane-ites looking for new places to drink and dine.
With 10 taps, the brewhouse is offering its own seven beers (with names such as Coalminers Stout to reflect the city’s heritage), “guest” boutique beers and ciders, and organic soft drinks. The beer-focused menu includes a signature beef cheek dish and even beer ice-cream.
Pumpyard is the first tenant in the redevelopment of the sprawling old Technical College, to be known as 88 Limestone, in Ipswich’s Top of Town district. This takes in Ellenborough, Brisbane and Limestone streets, all bustling with renovation and redevelopment projects. Cafes and restaurants are springing up and there are vintage fashion stores, the Daily Planet comic shop and CJ Volger & Son’s model and hobby store. None of it is far from the Ipswich Art Gallery, which lays claim to being the nation’s most visited regional art gallery, and Jamie Oliver’s first Australian Ministry of Food kitchen.
But it’s the Latin phrase emblazoned on the frieze on the front of the Limestone 88 building that catches my eye. Auspicium Melioris Aevi, it reads. The translation, I’m told, is roughly, “the promise of a better age”. Somehow, it seems appropriate.
Lee Mylne was a guest of the Metro Hotel Ipswich International, Floating Images and Pterodactyl Helicopters.