Floating Above Cloud Nine

Life is good!

How good is it when something you have been dreaming about for a long time, actually comes off? That is exactly what happened to me recently when I fulfilled a long-held dream to sail across the skies in a hot air balloon.

On the ‘adventure scale’, this activity is probably not rated very highly, but I have been surprised by the number of people who turn up their noses or roll their eyes at the thought of lifting off terra firma and rising above the clouds.

Not me!

Late last year, Christmas was looming, and yet again, I was pondering what to buy my parents as a gift. Don’t get me wrong, I like buying and giving gifts, it’s just that I always strive to buy something both useful and appealing. It is getting harder and harder to achieve that as we age. How much stuff do we really need?

So, it dawned on me that an ‘experience’ would be a lot more fun than yet more stuff.

A couple of years ago we celebrated Dad’s 80th birthday with a brilliant weekend at the

Colourful balloons at the Canowindra International Balloon Challenge

Canowindra International Balloon Challenge, but we had left it too late to book a balloon ride. Here was my perfect opportunity to make good on that Bucket List item and give a gift to remember. After some consideration, my parents embraced the opportunity and decided to make my Christmas gift a balloon ride too! Yippee for me!

Balloon Aloft operate in Mudgee once a month, and it was a very dark and very early morning in March when a group of bleary-eyed thrill-seekers assembled expectantly at Blue Wren Winery. We were a rag-tag mix of 14 locals and visitors, all in desperate need of more sleep and coffee, but at least we were united by our excitement of starting this new day with something special.

Clay and Deano, from Balloon Aloft, greeted us warmly and quickly allayed any nerves that may have been bubbling under the surface. Deano sent up a tiny, helium-filled balloon with a blinking red light suspended below to check the wind direction and speed. That little balloon, tracked through special night-vision binoculars, told us we must drive 20km east of Mudgee to be able to accurately float back across the Mudgee valley.

The day turned out to be a bus and a balloon adventure as we puttered eastwards, and turned into a farmer’s bare paddock in the early morning dark.

The balloon awakes!

As the sun started to wake up, so did our group and so did the balloon. A few willing hands were volunteered to get the basket off the trailer, and the balloon was laid out, ready for action.

It only seemed to take minutes before the balloon blossomed into life. There was a mad scramble as the group had to board quickly. Picture – arms and legs and other body parts awkwardly flung into the basket as it ebbed and bobbed centimetres above the ground.

Dad checked with Deano, “are you coming with us, too?”. Deano quipped back, “not on your life, I wouldn’t be seen dead in one of those things!”. As Deano stepped back and released the rope anchoring the basket, he turned and we read “Australian Balloon Team” on the back of his t-shirt, so obviously he was joking.

Good bye mini bus. Good bye terra firma.

Within seconds, we seemed to be hundreds of metres above the ground, and the bus and cars morphed into matchboxes. I was surprised and dazzled by the speed we were moving, and the pure, blissful silence.

Is this what birds experience?

I think we were all in awe of all that we were seeing and feeling, as we stood silently and observed the waking countryside and the rising sun.

The quiet enveloped us as we tried to process what we were experiencing. The cool breeze, the sensation of a delicate mist tickling our cheeks, and the perspective of being ABOVE the landscape, not in it.

We were brought back to the here and now quickly with each blast of the burner, with a roaring noise and the licks of searing heat. Such a contrast to the sounds of silence.

On top of the world with rain showers in the distance.

Clay shot us above the clouds so we could appreciate the fluffy carpet that edged the basket. It was tempting to step out and stroll towards the sunrise, but that first step would have been a doozy!

The period of stunned silence soon evaporated and we excitedly chattered away, as we pointed out fleeing kangaroos, wallaroos, and goats. A million questions later, Clay was happy to share his expertise and we were all fascinated by the technicalities of manoeuvring a balloon.

Balloon Aloft
The patchwork Mudgee valley. Photo: Balloon Aloft

The sun eventually rose through the layers of cloud, showcasing Mudgee and the patchwork valley. Such a different perspective of my home town, I simply couldn’t drink it in fast enough as we floated westwards. The camera was working overtime, but the photos never seem to do it justice.

Fifty minutes later we were aiming for our landing paddock on the south-western side of Mudgee, only to overshoot it by about a kilometre. We all assumed the landing position – knees bent and hands grasping the rope handles – and then bump, bump and the basket flipped on its side! It sounds inelegant, and it was, but it was also very funny to be upright one moment and horizontal the next. All part of the morning’s excitement.

Oops! Landing and laughing!

Everyone pitched in, we had the balloon packed up in minutes, and we were on our way back to Blue Wren for a sumptuous champagne breakfast. It wasn’t that we had earned it but we certainly wanted to celebrate what we had just done!

It was only during the breakfast that Mum and Dad shared that they had been a wee bit nervous about the whole balloon-ride thing, but were so pleased they had done it! Phew!

Is this the role of children? To talk their parents into doing weird and wonderful activities they normally wouldn’t dream of?

03 March 2017

The Basics

Happy hot air balloonists above the Mudgee valley. Photo: Balloon Aloft

What: A ticket to ride costs $299 per person. This includes all shuttle bus transport, a 50-60 minute balloon ride and a delicious champagne breakfast post flight.

Where: Meeting and breakfast point is at Blue Wren Wines, but the actual lift off point depends on the direction of the wind/breeze.

When: Balloons take off in/near Mudgee on the first Saturday of each month.

Why: Who needs a reason to start the day with exhilaration and champagne? And for an opportunity to tick an item of the Bucket List?

How: You will need a car or taxi to get to/from the rendezvous point at Blue Wren Wines.

Who: You are never too old to go ballooning. The only stipulation is that you must be fairly mobile so you can quickly scramble into the basket when given the word. Children are also welcome and it is recommended that they are tall enough to see over the edge of the basket.

Related Posts: For other ballooning adventures, have a look at my post about the fabulous weekend we enjoyed in Canowindra at the International Balloon Challenge.

Related Blogs: Abi was also spell bound by her hot air ballooning experience in Spain. Have a look at her blog post for some gorgeous photos.

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