I was fortunate enough late last year to be awarded a prize in our company for outstanding work, which resulted in lots of congratulations from fellow employees including the CEO as well as a Red Balloon voucher! Ever since I can remember I have had a fascination with hot air ballooning so I knew instantly this was what I wanted to use the voucher for.
Even though we needed to set the alarm for 4am on a Sunday morning, I knew we were going to be in for something special. All week I had been hopeful for beautiful weather, and furiously checking weather details hour by hour. I know they can postpone if the weather was too dangerous, but we honestly couldn’t have had a better day!
The perfect part of the experience was that we were doing it in the Hunter Valley, and arriving back at Peterson’s Champagne House for a delicious champagne breakfast! Now, this also worked out perfectly as my parents only live a 20min drive from our meeting point which certainly made the early morning alarm less intrusive as we weren’t too far away.
On arrival at the meeting destination, we were given a few forms to read and sign before settling in for a cup of tea and coffee while the pilots tested the wind direction and scouted a taking off point. I wasn’t too sure what to expect, but that day there were a large number of us and 4 balloons heading up!
Once they had chosen a take off destination, we were all loaded in to vans and buses to drive us about 15mins down the road to a paddock in which we were going to be departing from. By this stage, the sun was just starting to peek over the horizon, so it was all hands on deck to get the basket and balloon ready for take off.
It was so interesting watching the team at work, preparing the balloon and basket for our departure. First the balloon is laid out flat on the ground with the basket taken off the trailer and tipped on it’s side. From here, the balloon is filled with cold air from huge fans on the ground. This took roughly around 10mins to do, before the hot air is started to be pumped inside.
We were instructed to stand near the basket at this point, as once the balloon has enough hot air inside it will begin to tip up the basket and it is at this point we all needed to scramble inside the basket before it took off!
The basket itself was much larger than I imagined. We shared a quarter of the basket with another couple, and in total there were 16 of us plus the pilot in the middle. I have never experienced heat like I did when the first burst of hot air filled the inside of the balloon while we were in the basket. It certainly warmed us up on a brisk morning!
Our pilot talked us through what to expect once we were in the air, as we all got comfortable inside the basket. Honestly, the height of the basket had me a little worried, it appeared to be too low for my liking! Before then I had absolutely no fear of hopping inside, or in the days leading up have any worrying thoughts of what might happen in the air.
As we started our ascent, I started to get quite nervous, something I wasn’t expecting at all. I had a few minutes of panic and unable to look directly down to the ground. I think the experience is so different to flying in a plane and I wasn’t quite ready for that sensation. Once we reached a certain height I seemed comfortable enough to look down and take in all the sights of the ground below.
We were the first balloon to take off, so it was magical looking down and seeing the other balloons preparing for their own journeys. Everything looked so tiny and toy like, even though we had just been on the ground with them mere minutes before.
I have never experienced anything so serene and beautiful before. Even though we were surrounded by 16 others, it felt like we were in a world of our own. High above the ground, floating so silently and gently in the early morning light. We would see the occasional car driving on the roads below, but beyond that most people were oblivious to our presence overhead as they slept peacefully in their beds on an early Sunday morning.
We stayed high in the air for just over an hour, taking in all the sights that the Hunter Valley had to offer. Our pilot also mentioned that he hadn’t flown in such picture perfect weather before so we were very lucky to have been there that morning to witness it. An almost cloudless sky allowed us to see as far as Port Stephens along the coast, with the sun reflecting off the ocean. It was magical.
As we began our descent, I again began to get a little nervous. The pilot had chosen a paddock close to Hope Estate vineyard. The cars on the ground have radios and speak with the pilots to find a suitable location for the landing and follow them there by road. We asked the pilot how the people of the Hunter Valley feel about them using their property as landing and take off areas, but he said that everyone is very open to the idea knowing that it is things like this that bring more tourists to the area, so everyone benefits in the end anyway!
Once we landed safely on the ground, it was time to get to work on deflating the ballooning and returning the basket to the trailer. Before we started to wrap the balloon back up, we were allowed inside as it started to deflate. It was here that you really started to appreciate the sheer size of the balloon. It was still quite warm inside as we walked around, with the hot air slowly dispersing.
Then it was all hands on deck as we started to squash and lift the balloon back in to it’s place on the trailer. We needed to make sure all of the air was taken out of the balloon, before it could start to be placed away. It kind of reminded me of rolling up a sleeping bag when camping except on a much larger scale!
After a magical morning, we sat down and enjoyed a beautiful breakfast on the deck of Peterson’s Champagne House with a glass of bubbles overlooking the magnificent Hunter Valley. We all chatted with our fellow basket companions on how amazing it was to be floating so high above the vineyards and homes on such a glorious morning. It certainly was a once in a lifetime experience and one that I will treasure forever!
Have you ever been lucky enough to go hot air ballooning?