Don’t ask me to describe the moment the basket left the ground on my inaugural hot air balloon flight. There was no fanfare, no G-forces and definitely no announcement to proclaim the event. In fact, in the time it took me to finish a five-word text message and press send we had lifted off the earth and started drifting to the clouds. The feeling of weightlessness surprised me and the peace and quiet was surreal. As an ex-flight attendant, the contrast between this take-off and the many I‘ve endured throughout my career was stark. In my previous experience, air travel was busy, noisy and slightly manic — nothing like flying the Global Ballooning Australia way.
The Global Ballooning experience starts at pick up. On this particular morning a very awake, chatty and charismatic Bambi made up for the effects that sleep deprivation had on the rest of us. With years of experience and Yarra Valley ‘nice to knows’ under his belt, he warmed the crowd with Dad jokes, history lessons and safety instructions. To say he received the same enthusiasm and excitement in return would be far from the truth. A 4.30am pickup (from designated points around Melbourne) for some had meant that the atmosphere on the mini-bus almost mirrored the 4°C outside. However, Bambi was persistent and eventually, the 17 passengers awoke from their sleep haze and began to enjoy the transit entertainment.
Cleared for Take-off:
I was never into cow-tipping as a teenager, so wandering through a paddock in darkness, avoiding cow dung and pot holes was new for me and brought to mind the requirement of ‘appropriate footwear’.
With 70 take-off areas to choose from it is rare that the wind gets the better of the team at Global. The choice of the ‘Pumpkin Patch’ was a popular one, with another operator joining us as we set up. This made my life easier as now I had another balloon to photograph. My expectations of a clear blue sky filled with balloons were not going to be fulfilled on this particular morning. With the long weekend having just ended, the balloon festival that I‘d seen in my mind‘s eye was not to be, and while the cloud cover kept us warmer, it was less dramatic than I had anticipated. So it was time to put away the Yarra Valley Life Blogger hat and put on the passenger hat (oh – a hat is always a good idea to ensure the intensity of the heat from the burners on your head will be kept to a minimum).
Once I had decided to just take it all in and enjoy it, I realised this was an experience for the entire being. All the senses came into play:
The view was spectacular! Paddocks bursting with lush green grass after days of rain; low-lying bands of fog resembling waves rolling across the land, and rows of Brussel sprouts giving the impression of corduroy patchwork. Many of the properties I have visited were laid out below me like a board game. All topped off by the sun bursting through the thick cloud for a moment, as if saying, ‘here is your moment, Tennille, capture this!’
Like most mornings, the birds welcomed the sun with their songs. The burner gushed sporadically – sometimes followed by a sigh of relief as the balloon began to lift once again into the stillness of the morning. Often the hot air balloons would dance with each burst of fire, drifting past one another and allowing each to have a view from the top. The most surprising sound of the morning was one many of us have forgotten … the sound of silence. In this I relaxed and stared out over the Yarra Valley, taking in the beauty of the region we call home with awe and wonder.
I would have loved to run my fingers along the ridges of the strawberry patches like I played with corrugated fencing as a child, or to scoop up the cotton-like clouds and arrange the cows like the plastic toys my boys play with — but sometimes imagination cannot cross over into reality. Instead, as if to comfort my creative mind, the burner would play its song, transporting me to an open fire where I was warm as long as I was in range of the flame. Even though the air was ice-cold on this particular winter‘s morning, I did not feel it. Only once we had landed and the flame was extinguished would the chill set in. Then it was all systems go to pack up the massive Zonzo Estate sleeve that had kept us bouncing through the valley. Like rolling up a sleeping bag, we ‘bashed’ the air from the balloon and folded it into a worm of fabric slithering along the marshy ground. Heave, ho … we walked the miles of fabric into the bag from which it came.
This sense came into play once back at Balgownie. After a well-deserved glass of Balgownie sparkling, it was time to sample the buffet. Think all things brunch washed down with a cup of Nespresso. The perfect end to a morning of serenity.
It is safe to say that with Global Ballooning Australia, your safety is paramount. With a pre-flight briefing covering all the ins and outs of the flight from disembarking to landing positions, you are confident that the ride will be smooth and controlled. It is an experience not to miss. Even if you have a slight fear of heights I truly feel you will enjoy this experience. In fact, our pilot Brian had a fear of heights and has now been flying balloons for over ten years. It feels like flying around in an armchair.
Oh, and the landing? Faultless.