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Ballooning over Canberra – A review

By johnboy - 5 January 2009 35

[First filed: January 02, 2009 @ 13:03]

Santa threw a bit of a curve ball this Christmas morn with vouchers for a boxing day balloon ride for not just me but also for my brother (visiting from Japan), and both our girlfriends. (The gift was with Balloon Aloft, this article is in no way a judgment on other balloon providers in Canberra)

While immensely appreciative of this parental largesse it did mean our Christmas night was tempered with the knowledge we’d have to be up, about, and at the Hyatt by 5am the next day.

Worse still one of the party would have to be up at 4.15am to confirm the flight and check it had not become a victim of the weather.

(more and a slideshow below)

The Hyatt is a slightly surreal place at 5am. The bellhops in flat caps and knee breeches are busy stuffing bags into the cars of early departers, the front desk is staffed, and yet it’s still eerily quiet.

In the foyer the men from Balloon Aloft checked our names off their list and gave us paperwork.

When that was done they suggested it would be a good idea to use the Hyatt’s toilets; as hot air balloons are yet to sport such amenity.

After all the passengers (10 on our flight) were assembled they crammed us like sardines into the back of a 4WD with trooper seating. (“There are some f***ing big sardines” said one of our fellow travellers)

The 4WD was towing a trailer with both basket and envelope and we all set off into the dark.

Once we arrived at Commonwealth Place (between Old Parliament House and the lake) a test hydrogen balloon carried a red LED up into the dark sky to give the pilot a feel for what the higher level winds were doing.

We were then invited to help out with setting up the balloon. Mostly this was good fun and the activity a shield against the cold.

After half an hour’s messing around the balloon was assembled, inflated, and the sardines loaded themselves into the basket for some training on how to brace ourselves for landing.

With dawn breaking we cast off the surly bonds of earth and set off into the sky, drifting towards Black Mountain.

Now let me say that balloon travel is weird.

Floating at the same speed of the wind makes for a famously gentle ride. But with no sensation of movement looking down to see the world zipping past can bring on motion sickness, not helped by vertigo.

And if you think those burners are loud when they pass over your head, try standing directly under one.

Which brings me to a little discussed inconvenience of balloon travel. The drips.

Most former high school chemistry students will be aware that water is a byproduct of burning hydrocarbons. But normally you think that water is in the form of vapour. Not so.

Hot (but not burning hot) drips of water falling occasionally upon the head and hands can be more than a little disconcerting if you’re not expecting it.

If you’re last into the basket then you won’t be under the burners so I recommend holding back when everyone’s loading up for this reason alone.

If, like me, you’re aware of the deadly history of ballooning it’s best to try and put that knowledge from your mind. I’d also strongly advise against sharing your knowledge with your fellow aviators. They will not thank you.

But, when not feeling mildly nauseous, or thinking about the abstract physical principals by which I was suspended in the air, I was as caught up in the magic of the morning as anyone.

We flew out over the lake by the National Museum and then up to catch a wind going the other way before hovering over Barton for some time while our pilot lined up a perfect return to exactly the spot we’d taken off from.

Somewhere over the lake one of the passengers earned the ire of the single men in the basket by proposing marriage to his girlfriend. Fearing a very awkward return trip the other passengers held their breathe before she said “yes”. (On the ground later the pilot told us a story about a flight which had two proposals, only one of the girls had said “no”. Just think about how awkward that would have been for a second)

Looking into the backyards of some of the larger houses in the Inner South is worth the price of admission alone. And the more prestigious government departments have some interesting courtyards we common people wouldn’t normally see.

Realising the Department of Finance has a line graph at the bottom of its fountain was but one of many pleasant surprises.

We were up for a couple of hours.

On landing we helped pack up the equipment before a short drive to the Hyatt for champagne in the gardens, the conferring of certificates, and the chance to purchase Balloon Aloft branded merchandise with which to remember the experience.

An ingenious remote control camera hanging from the side of the envelope had also taken a photograph which looked so perfect I’d have thought it a studio fake if I hadn’t been there when it was taken. Copies of the photo were selling for $15.

At ~$350 a pop this is not a cheap way to spend a morning. As a result it’s as often as not a gift, or a vehicle for marriage proposals.

But it’s certainly an unforgettable experience.


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35 Responses to
Ballooning over Canberra – A review
Thumper 9:22 am 03 Jan 09

Superb photos of a lovely, lovely city.

Spam Box 9:14 am 03 Jan 09

That was great Johnboy – thanks much, really

Holden Caulfield 11:45 pm 02 Jan 09

Oops, apologies, didn’t see Tempestas’ post above about the Libs bldg.

Holden Caulfield 11:44 pm 02 Jan 09

Pic #93 is the Liberal Party HQ.

Gobbo 10:56 pm 02 Jan 09

barking toad said :

“…Jump, you f***er, jump…”

Jump into this ‘ere blanket; wot we are ‘olding,
And you will be alright!
He jumped,
Hit the deck,
Broke ‘is f@cking neck,
There wa-a-as no blanket.

We nearly shat ….

Ahh bless. I love that song. It’s one of the few I can remember all the words too.

Thumper 9:09 pm 02 Jan 09

Derek and Clive?

The great Peter Cook, and the reasonable Dudley Moore….

Thumper 9:08 pm 02 Jan 09

Ah, ballooning. Hopefully the RAAF will give me a freebie one day. I’ve been offerd plenty of free rides through SES but have never been able to take up the offer.

I spend lots of time in small fixws wing and choppers but a balloon has escaped me as of yet. Sounds pretty awesome, hope you enjoyed it JB, I know I would.

Swaggie 6:14 pm 02 Jan 09

She should have said “No” 🙂 Any guy worth his salt would have shown some panache and flair when proposing and organised a basket for 2 instead of having to share…..

Holden Caulfield 5:40 pm 02 Jan 09

I have a balloon ride voucher that I need to use.

I’ve been a couple of times, both in winter, so I’m saving up for an autumn treat.

Tempestas 3:00 pm 02 Jan 09

Image 93 titled “Any Ideas” is RG Menzies House, the headquarters of the Liberal Party. The apparent “house” in the courtyard is the infamous covered BBQ in Robert Garran Offices.

Oh and the curious shade structures are at the ABC Childcare centre at the back of 50 Blackall St.

Great photo’s

barking toad 2:49 pm 02 Jan 09

Quite possible deye

But the more I picture the scene, I can’t help but think of the song by Derek & Clive:

“…Jump, you f***er, jump…”

deye 2:38 pm 02 Jan 09

barking toad said :

– ….thinking (…might be a chance here – she’ll need a lift)

She might have driven in which case he might need a lift.

Hmm wonder how many women have proposed while on a balloon flight.

poptop 2:33 pm 02 Jan 09

A while back I accompanied a friend on a balloon ride the day after her divorce became final – the symbolism of it all was apparent to her at any rate.

We stuck around the Hyatt for breakfast and then stayed for extra champagne and then extra, extra champagne.

The afternoon comprised of a nap.

Canberra is very pretty at that time of the morning and altitude.

barking toad 2:02 pm 02 Jan 09

I’d be tempted to pay double for a flight where the the lass drops a resounding “NO” when the question is popped.

– “Seeing as you’re so devastatingly embarrassed and will be wanting to do a bolt when when we hit the deck, can I have your free glass of plonk?”

– “Before you jump, can I have your camera?”

– “That, err, ring you held out – accepting offers at discount?”

– “Think of the money you’ll save on the reception – the Hyatt might be pissed though”

– ….thinking (…might be a chance here – she’ll need a lift)

PM 1:41 pm 02 Jan 09

Thanks JB – quite informative.

My cousin was proposed to in a balloon – I didn’t know others would have to be in the basket – I’d be too nervous to do that myself.

Sometimes the odd balloon appears to go off course. I was once trudging down my driveway half asleep and then heard a noise above me. I looked up, and no joke there was a hot air balloon 20 metres above me! It was trying to get to the lake but had dropped a little too early… It recovered, though, and made it to its final destination.

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