What an incredible morning I had, even it involved the unspeakable wake up time of 4.15am.
Who gets up that early by choice?
Me. As it turns out. And why would I do such a fool thing? The clue is rather in the title.
I’ve never been hot air ballooning before and I joined ten other people to head out of town with Brett, the driver from Outback Ballooning for an hour’s flight.
Of all of the modes of transport I’ve used on this trip, I think this one might be up there with toboganning down the Great Wall of China.
The two Danish guys I bumped into outside the hostel told me that yesterday’s trip had been cancelled because of the wind, so it was Fincher’s crossed for today’s flight.
We also chatted about the bushfires as the Danish government had advised its people not to travel to Eastern Australia (Sydney, Melbourne et al in New South Wales and Victoria because of the bushfires). The UK had not issued a similar warning – I find the differences in risk thresholds interesting.
Brett arrived, we boarded the bus and the flight was going ahead.
After a stop at Big Ben to explain how the pilots decide whether and where to fly – releasing helium balloons and watching what they do – we headed off to meet Jason, the pilot and the balloon.
We watched the team inflate the balloon and then scrambled aboard. More heat from the burner was applied and the balloon began to lift.
Brett had told us that jackets and jumpers would not be needed once the balloon was flying and with the heat from the burner, it was hot, like standing by a bonfire.
The sky had been lightening for some time…
…and as we climbed, sometimes only at 30 feet above ground and sometimes up to almost a 1000 feet, the views shifted dramatically, from very red desert…
… to more yellow sand and what I had thought were roads turned out to be dry creeks.
The balloon flew over cattle – some of whom were startled while others calmly took the sight in their stride.
In the distance we could see the McDonnell Ranges and directly below us we saw a mob of kangaroos bouncing away into the bush.
They were well camouflaged against the red dirt so it was only when they started moving that they were really visible.
The balloon headed towards the Alice Springs airport where, balloons take ‘right of way’ in the sky – planes being that bit easier to manoeuvre.
Jason had been raising and lowering the balloon as this is the only way to change direction.
We skirted the airport and flew over the town’s original airport, built in the 1940s. The officers’ mess is still there and signed.
After flying over a factory constructing cyclone-proof houses and waving at the workers, Jason brought the balloon down to the ground and, after the slightest of bumpy landings, the balloon was deflated.
Once the balloon was safely on the ground, with further deflation to go, the passengers were given the all clear to scramble out of the basket.
And with the incentive of bubbly and snacks we helped pack up the balloon into a bag that seemed far too small to hold it.
An astonishing way to start the day.
It was a superb way to take in the stunning Outback scenery. The views were stunning and, apart from when Jason fired the burner to take us higher, it was an almost silent mode of transport.
Passengers barely spoke. Everyone seemed reluctant to disturb the peace as we flew over the desert.
I paid 395AUD for an hour’s balloon flight. This fee included transport to and from my hostel and several glasses of bubbly.
*Featured Photo: ‘Sunburst’ seen from the sky.