15 March 2019

On cloud nine in Canberra's very own hot air balloon

| Lachlan Roberts
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Define Canberra in one picture. Photos and Video by George Tsotsos.

The Balloon Spectacular has always been a family event for me. I remember as a kid being woken up by mother, jumping in the car half-asleep, watching the balloons blow up through my bleary eyes and enjoying a bacon and egg sandwich as we watch them float away.

I have never been in a hot air balloon myself, so when I was offered the chance by Visit Canberra, I obviously seized the opportunity to tick it off my bucket list.

Waking up at 5 am on the first morning of the Festival last Saturday (9 March), I hear the drops of rain outside the window. Show cancelled, dreams shattered. I’ll have to reschedule for Tuesday morning.

Tuesday morning (12 March) looked more like a winner. I was greeted to beautiful weather and barely a cloud in the sky. Surely our chances of flying were 100 per cent. Watching the small black helium balloon with a red tracer light attached released into the sky to test the strengths of the wind, I thought me joining it up in the sky within the hour was a foregone conclusion.

But sadly, the wind was too strong and was blowing northeasterly, which meant that in 30 minutes we would be floating past a plane which would be attempting to land at Canberra Airport.

“You can imagine how the airport would like that,” my pilot Ewan chuckles.

Third time lucky perhaps?

Waking up Wednesday morning to cloudy skies, the weather looked worse than the previous day but with my fingers crossed, I head to the lawns of Questacon to see if I would finally be floating through the skies, or if it’ll be failure to launch, third time in a row.

Moments before lift-off.

A public service announcement tells us to hop in the minibus and head to the lawns of Campbell High School where we will once again test the conditions in the skies above. As the little black balloon drifts off into the clouds above, I am filled with a sense of relief as it blows towards the southwest. Success! We will soon be airborne after all.

With the help of my fellow flyers, we assist pilot Ewan and his two right-hand men to set up by removing the heavy basket off the trailer and unfurling the balloon. Lying flaccid on the ground in a long yellow stream, it was bigger than I remembered as a child.

Lucky for me and my 15 fellow flyers, we were going to ride in the yellow CBR balloon, the ACT Government’s new $143,000 acquisition. It had previously taken to the skies only twice, but a long life expectancy of 600 flights before it can be laid to rest allayed concerns of a premature malfunction.

The CBR Balloon has a life expectancy of 600 flights.

After an hour of setting up, our pilot directs us to hop into the basket, signalling that our journey is about to begin.

As we slowly touch off the earth, my stomach does a somersault. I have always thought I was untouched by vertigo but as we slowly ascend, I start to have second thoughts. Imagine me, the journalist, throwing up out of the basket? That is surely one way for people to remember the RiotACT and its staff.

But thankfully my stomach settles and I relax as we glide through the skies. Taking over 100 pictures and videos, waving to construction workers on top of buildings and kids peering off the side of their balcony, we float through clouds and across the lake and over well-known Canberra sites.

It was an incredibly relaxing and calming way to start the day, and the hour glides by as we head toward the Arboretum.

As we touch back down behind the Arboretum, you couldn’t have picked a more perfect view to end the flight. Perched on a hill overlooking the lake and the Telstra Tower to the left, the onerous job of packing the balloon and basket back into the trailer is made reasonably better thanks to the picturesque backdrop.

Afterwards, we head back to the lawns in front of Old Parliament House to feast like royalty, with bacon, eggs, sausages, beans and toast with the crew and the happy flyers, toasting our champagne glasses to a memorable morning.

Too bad I have to head back to reality and start a day at work.

Don’t miss the last weekend of the Balloon Spectacular on Saturday and Sunday morning. To book a flight with Balloon Aloft, click here.

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