There is an annual hot-air balloon festival held in Clark Field, Pampanga. The only time I was able to make it there was the one time the balloons didn’t come, and was replaced instead by an aerosport show. I find myself looking wistfully at pictures taken from the festival, always wondering when I’ll be able to see hot-air balloons on flight. So for my 27th birthday, I wished for a hot-air balloon ride. I must have been a good girl, because my wish came true this morning!
There are three or so companies offering balloon rides over Melbourne and the surrounding countryside in Victoria. My brother-in-law picked Global Ballooning. The starting and ending point of the balloon ride was at the Hilton Hotel (Hilton on the Park). We met up at the foyer around 4:30 in the morning. Passengers were asked to fill in a form and sign a waiver. Afterwards, we were broken into groups, and assigned to a pilot. We boarded an SUV, towing the basket, balloon and propane tanks.
We drove to a field 15-minutes away from the Hilton. We were told that the take off and landing fields change every flight, as it is dependent on the direction of the wind. As stated in their website, hot-air ballooning is a hands-on activity. Passengers are asked to help with setting up the balloons for flight and packing it up afterwards.
There were six balloons in the field that morning, three of which are from Global Balloons. It was amazing to watch as the balloons inflate, and eventually lift off the ground. Nick, our pilot, said that ballooning is all about the landing. Landing requires concentration and precision in managing the hot and cold air to get the balloon to land in the target landing field. Taking off, on the other hand, was so gentle, we hardly noticed that we were already off the ground.
Once you get over the initial excitement of being several hundred feet above the ground (and several hundred pictures), you find yourself just taking it all in: the view, the experience and just drifting wherever the wind takes you. Unless you have a terrible fear of height (why go on a hot-air balloon ride if you’re scared of heights?), ballooning is quite relaxing when you’re up in the air.
We flew high and we flew low. On the highest ascent, we reached about 4,000 feet (I would guess what’s when my ears started hurting a bit). We dropped altitude a couple of times, low enough to shout greetings to people on the ground, and hear their response.
After one-hour, we were instructed to go into our landing position. The landing position kept us balanced, preventing us from toppling all over the basket. The basket absorbed most of the impact, but you still feel it as the basket touches the ground. Once we have scrambled out of the basket, we were given new directions on how we can help pack up the balloon. First, the basket was lifted unto the trailer while there was still enough hot air inside. Then the pilot opens a flap to release all the air inside, deflating the balloon. We take up position along the lenght of the balloon, squeezing out the air and folding it in. Once the air is all out, we line up again, carrying the balloon and stuffing it back to its bag. Once everything was packed up, we head back to the Hilton for breakfast and champagne.
The balloon ride costs AU$350 for adults and AU$245 for children ages 6-12 years. It includes the ride and the champagne breakfast. It’s pricey, yes, but it well worth it.
More pictures after the jump, or if you can’t get enough, head on to my flickr.
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