For as long as I can remember my bucket list has always been filled with what many would call adrenaline junkie activities, and I’ve been very fortunate to tick off a few of them already including sky diving and bungy jumping (watch my Kawarau bungy here and my Cairns bungy here), twice.
And now thanks to this past weekend I can tick off another bucket list item that I’ve wanted to do for a very long time: hot air ballooning.
Last year for Valentine’s Day I decided to surprise Jordan with a voucher to go hot air ballooning, just over a year later we finally got around to doing it.
What is it about hot air ballooning that makes people, like myself, add it to their bucket list?
What sane person decides to voluntarily hop into a wicker basket, that, let’s be honest, resembles an extra large picnic basket, attached to several pieces of material sewn together to make the ‘balloon’ (which is actually known as the ‘envelope’) filled with hot air?
No seat belt, no steering wheel, no parachute. How does that even seem or sound safe?
Nonetheless year after year, hundreds of people willingly pay a few hundred dollars to experience this once in a lifetime activity, and I am one of them.
To make the most of the experience you’re required to meet the team, who are taking you up and away, before sunrise on the morning of your flight. With this in mind we opted to spend the night before at the Yarra Valley Lodge as this is where the meeting point was.
The day started off early, very early in fact, with a 5:15AM wake up call to be ready to meet in the hotel lobby at 5:45AM and depart promptly at 6AM.
Lucky for us, there were only two other couples booked in for the same day as us and they were a delight to share this experience with.
Given we decided to book this for the beginning of winter we kept all our fingers and toes crossed hoping the weather would cooperate and not hinder the experience; of course though, Melbourne weather is the most unpredictable weather in the world (you can experience all four seasons in one day and that’s completely normal) and the weather forecast indicated thick morning fog – an absolute no go when it comes to hot air ballooning.
Nonetheless, Simon, Dean and Justin (our pilots and crew for the morning) persevered, not letting the weather get the better of us.
After approximately 40 minutes of driving through the Valley trying to find a spot to take off from that wouldn’t be disrupted by fog and a few tester flights of helium balloons with lights attached to them to suss out what the wind was up to, the boys did it; they found the perfect spot, clear of fog and it was go time.
One thing I loved about this experience was that, provided your fit, health and willing of course, you’re encouraged to assist in the set up of the hot air balloon. This entailed dragging the ginormous wicker basket off the trailer, holding the envelope open as the staff sporadically blew hot air into it, and standing by watching as this 40 metre balloon inflated before your eyes.
Once the envelope is fully inflated you’ve got to be quick to jump into the basket in order to help weigh it down. One by one the six of us climbed in, eager to go up, up and away.
Final checks done. Pilots (Simon and Dean) on board. It was show time.
Being, essentially, an extra large balloon Simon and Dean have no control of where it travels, the only thing they control is the vertical up and down movement, this of course means we could land any where. Justin stayed on the ground with the car ready to drive to where ever Mother Nature’s breath (the wind) decided to take us.
The entire experience is so smooth and calm that unless you’re leaning over the side looking down you don’t even realise you’ve taken off.
Prior to this I had no fears or concerns whatsoever. However, as soon as we started to rise, 100ft., 500ft., 1000.ft, etc. the fear hit me.
As I said earlier, there are no seat belts strapping you in safe and sound; no parachute just in case you fall overboard; no foam mattress waiting for you at the bottom in case the former happens to occur. Once I realised all of this, the fear hit me. It took me a good 15 – 20 minutes to embrace the experience and let the fear go.
Gradually we climbed to 4500ft. above sea level, this is as high as they are legally allowed to go, and spent the next hour and a half cruising over the Yarra Valley.
Because the balloon moves with the wind, you don’t feel any wind chill during the flight so for the most part it is reasonably comfortable temperature wise (it helps if you rug up and dress appropriately for the weather though). This also means that the balloon moves at the speed of the wind, whether it be 2km/h or 15km/h either way the entire time it is so smooth it almost feels as though you’re not moving.
The balloon we were in holds up to 10 people, which meant it was relatively spacious on the day we went given there were only 6 of us. This was great as it allowed us to, within reason, freely move around getting all the angles for our photos.
While the weather held off for the first 40 – 60 minutes of the flight, the thick fog eventually started to roll in and suddenly everything below us disappeared into a sea of white.
The fog definitely made for an interesting landing, and some how without being able to see where we were going Simon and Dean did an absolutely wonderful job getting us back to ground level safely and calmly where we were reunited with Justin and the car.
When asked how stressful this particular landing was out of 10 for them, Simon and Dean both laughed and quickly responded with “an 8 out of 10 for sure”, I wouldn’t have guessed it at all given how relaxed they appeared throughout the ordeal.
Just as we helped set everything help, we did our best to assist in packing it all away.
Have you ever packed up a sleeping bag and tried to put it back in the carry bag it comes in? It’s never easy right? There’s a lot of shoving in and trying your best to make it look like it did before. Imagine that but on a ridiculously large scale, that’s what it was like trying to get the envelope back into its respective bag. Now imagine doing that with semi frozen hands because it’s the beginning of winter and bloody cold.
The chance to defrost in the car on the short drive back to the lodge was thoroughly welcomed by all.
Once at the Yarra Valley Lodge we sat down to a buffet breakfast as a group, ending the morning with a glass of bubbles and memories that will never be forgotten.
What an experience.
While I booked our hot air ballooning adventure through Adrenaline, the company that took us was Picture This Ballooning and I can’t recommend them enough.
Everything was very professionally run and organised from booking in to the confirmation call the night before, and while the weather was a bit touch and go to begin with Simon, Dean and Justin did a fantastic job ensuring we would have the opportunity to experience this amazing activity and kept us feeling safe and secure throughout.
Overall it was a bloody brilliant 10 out of 10 day.