It feels incredibly fragile. An insubstantial glass bubble, a giant’s toy. Surely, incapable of carrying humans up into the sky or touching down gently on the earth without shattering into a thousand shards? But, take off it does, and gradually my fists unclench and my stomach unties itself and I open my eyes to look down with awe at a landscape so familiar yet, from up here so strangely different. Captain Mike Jarvis of Pterodactyl Helicopters has been doing this for a reassuringly long time, although the food tours (and a beer pub crawl) he offers are relatively new.
The region of Ipswich encompasses the city itself as well as 1000 or so square kilometres of rural townships and farmlands, including Rosewood, Marburg, Grandchester and Peak Crossing. It’s a place I know well, having grown up here, moving away in my early 20s, desperate for brighter lights and more sophistication than Ipswich could offer. Things have changed though, I discover as we lunch at The Cottage, a city-smart fine diner housed in an historic former home dating from the 1860s. Our dishes of duck breast with du Puy lentils and a 48 hours butter-soft pork belly quickly disprove my long held belief that Ipswich is a culinary backwater.
There’s an impressive cellar, and some newly planted vines in the grounds of Woodlands of Marburg, our next stop. It’s a grand property, designed by architect George Brockwell Gill and used over the past two centuries as a private home and seminary. We have tea and scones under a shady jacaranda on the lawn then explore the property, that includes a grotto (open-air chapel cave) and a cemetery from its days as a seminary during World War II. The most recent addition to the property is a small vineyard with its own label of boutique wines, as well as the relocation and restoration of the local townships’ 19th century chapel.
As well as grapes, Ipswich grows olives. We land in a clearing on the property and climb into Bernard Mahon’s 4 wheel drive to drive up to the farmhouse. Watercress Creek began life as a dairy, but 130 years later, Bernard, a fourth generation farmer, along with wife Lorraine Mahon transformed it into an olive and lime grove with over 1,200 olive trees and 400 Tahitian Lime trees. We taste both green and black, manzanillos and kalamatas, as well as an excellent tapenade. The couple also make olive oil, lime cordial, chutneys and jams and host an annual ‘Watercress Creek Olive Festival.’
We climb back into the helicopter and fly over gently undulating hills and herds of grazing cattle, lakes, waterholes and green fields of crops and within minutes, we’re dropped, literally at the door of our accommodation for the night, the country-luxe cottages at Spicer’s Hidden Vale where staff wait for us with a bottle of prosecco. Later we explore the grounds, that include a kitchen garden and smoking and fermenting sheds, have a dip in the outdoor spa and watch the sun set over the hills with a drink. Then it’s dinner at Spicer’s own hatted restaurant, with it’s hyperlocal produce menu, before strolling back to our cottage under the brilliant star-scattered night sky.
The next morning dawns beautifully clear with wide blue skies- ideal for flying. Unfortunately, our ride has returned to base, in it’s place our car has been delivered. Not nearly as evocative, but it does give us more time to take in the lovely rural landscape albeit at much slower pace.
More Ipswich Food & Drink
If you’re in the city, you should also make a point of visiting the Pumpyard Bar and Brewery, in the beautifully restored former technical college, dating 1901 and home to Ipswich’s own ‘4 Hearts’ craft beer.
Book a farm tour at Naughty Little Kids at Peak Crossing. The goats, including incredibly cute babies, are adorable and the gelato made from the milk is delicious (the espresso is a favourite).
Ipswich has some lovely historic pubs. In the city, Harvest at the Metro Hotel showcases local produce on it’s gastro-pub menu.
As well as food and wine tours, Pterodactyl Helictopters can pick you up from Brisbane and deposit you at Spicers Hidden Vale for Effervescence Champagne Festival, even delivering your car. Contact them for prices.
Natascha Mirosch was a guest of Discover Ipswich.