I woke up at 3:00 AM and looked at my phone. ‘Not yet’ I thought and went back to sleep.
At 4:30 AM my alarm went off, followed quickly by a text stating ‘Balloon ride is on … yay! See you in an hour at Hyatt’.
It had been almost 12 months since this flight had been planned, and seven tries later I was getting up in darkness to meet my friends and experience what birds get to do everyday.
The meeting point was the Hyatt foyer, where, along with at least another 20 strangers we were handed forms to read and fill out. I must be honest though, in my caffeine deprived state I may have skimmed through it.
We received a short briefing and then separated into our predetermined groups and vehicles and drove towards our launch site, the Royal Australian Mint grounds.
There, they unpacked the balloon, hooked it to the basket (which was on its side), and begun filling it with cold air. The anticipation you have for those 10 or so minutes, when the balloon is steadily inflating, is a mixture of giddy excitement and anxious fear.
Hot air is then used to raise the balloon and basket into an upright position. This was probably my favourite part before we launched as the warm air felt calming and my feet were feeling very chilled from the morning’s cool start.
Then, it’s time. We jump into the basket (or rather fall in, because there is no proper way of getting in or out without looking totally uncoordinated and clumsy), and additional hot air is pumped into the balloon. Slowly, but surely, we begin to lift and glide with the wind. The other balloons are still on the ground, having started inflating a little later.
I am not scared. In fact, the excitement I feel makes me forget that we are kilometres up in the air and that what is keeping us there is just some hot air trapped inside a 92 kg balloon.
The view; is breathtaking.
I have explored Canberra from the ground and I have my favourite spots for sunrises and sunsets, for foggy mornings, and for crisp afternoons. This new perspective though makes me see the city differently. The lakes are glossy against the rising sun, the varying green shades of our parks are dotted with yellow and red, and the streets create abstract mathematical artworks that could hang at the National Gallery.
This; is our city.
Before I know it, we are searching for a spot to land. There are no seat belts in a basket, just a cushioned back rest and some thick rope in front to hold onto to make the landing more comfortable.
We do a couple of skips before we come to a halt, and then we wait. It is important to follow the instructions of your pilot, despite the urge to get out (which could cause the balloon to rise again as its load gets lighter). When the balloon has deflated enough to safely disembark, we do so; as clumsily as when we got in.
On the ground, we help pack the balloon. Before we do that though, the pilot takes us inside to see and feel the warm air brush your face, and to explain the mechanics of balloon flying.
After the balloon has been packed we make our way back to the Hyatt, where Champagne (or orange juice if you so desire) is waiting for us.
Things to keep in mind
- If you can decide where you are located in the balloon basket make sure that you don’t have poles in front of you – this will make taking pictures a whole lot easier
- Be prepared not to fly, after all, ballooning is weather dependent
- Wear appropriate foot wear, you will be launching and landing from a grassy area which means wet morning grass
- We flew with Balloon Aloft Canberra