Haydn Radford -A freelance writer born in Adelaide, who loves living here. I write about movies, theatre, entertainment, literary and art events. I am happy to promote & review your events. www.weekendnotes.com/profile/121822
Our hot air balloon adventure began when my friend, Disey added this objective to her growing bucket-list of things she wants to do before any unexpected life changes. Some people want to sky-dive, bungy jump and/or ride a Harley, but she was bent on a hot-air balloon flight. Keeping her wish in mind, I gave her a gift voucher as a Christmas present. She was over the moon, not necessarily in a balloon.
I arranged her flight with Balloon Adventures in the Barossa Valley after a recommendation from two friends. Due to recent back surgery, I was advised not to fly, as sometimes the landing may be rough with 2-3 bounces on the hard ground. As it turned out, the landing was very smooth, but this cannot be guaranteed as weather conditions vary so much from one ride to the next.
Our day began with us getting up at 3.30am, so we could meet our Chief Pilot, Justin Stein of Balloon Adventures, and his two crew members along with the other eleven passengers at Peter Lehmann's Winery at Para Road, Tanunda.
We formed a convoy of three vehicles; the passengers in a small bus, the balloon and gear on the back of a 4 wheel drive vehicle and myself driving Disey's car. At a location in Tanunda, a helium balloon was sent up to check the wind speed and direction. It proved unsatisfactory so we headed off to two other locations on the seemingly endless saltbush plains, before a suitable launching site was selected.
The driving in the dark with the continuous saltbush and scrub distributed around us, created an unexpected sense of surprise and wonder for me as I realised I had forgotten just how beautiful early mornings sunrises can be, with their blending of pink and golden tones of the new morning creeping over the horizon with the crisp cool air. It is one of those locations where you turn 360 degrees to see what appears to be the same flat landscape; the only difference is the sunlight glimmering in the east.
The South Australian scrub and saltbush has a strong resemblance to the Serengeti in Africa. "Calling David Attenborough," was the comment from one bright spark. Another passenger remarked later of expecting a lion or giraffe to appear at any moment. Not so surprising really, as I am reminded of hearing how Monarto was considered ideal for establishing a zoo for African wildlife, as the landscape is so similar to what we are experiencing.
Once at our launch site, the crew and passengers laid out the balloon, which was inflated with cold air. When the balloon was adequately inflated, the air was heated and the balloon rose above us. When the balloon was upright the passengers and the Chief Pilot, Justin Stein got in the basket and it was simply up, up and away (I kept hearing that Jimmy Webb song coming on).
For anyone who suffered a fear of heights, Justin offered them the option of rising to a predetermined height, and if they did not wish to continue he would lower the balloon and they could alight. However, Justin said the majority of people remained on-board and discovered to their amazement how relaxing, yet exciting the balloon flight was.
Meanwhile the two Ground Crew and myself in three vehicles followed the balloon in a single file across country, but stopped occasionally to take photos. For me there was a real air of excitement, not only as a viewer of this beautifully coloured balloon floating gently over the Barossa Vineyards, drifting with the breeze, but there is pure joy in seeing the new day light up the varying landscape of saltbush, scrub vegetation and the meandering River Murray and its lush greenery, various gum trees in varying stages of health and decay, and the wild birdlife.
The flight time was approximately an hour and the reports I heard afterwards reflected how much everyone thoroughly enjoyed the experience. Some passengers initially just wanted to fly over the various Barossa vineyards, but Justin suggested that they head towards the river so they could see just how enthralling it can be. He was right, because attractive as the many vineyards can be, they can appear to look very much the same after a while.
This is where Justin's skill as a highly experienced Pilot were really appreciated by everyone, as he was able to guide the balloon over some magnificent river scenery by ascending or descending the balloon
Our photos from the balloon and the additional pictures taken from Justin's camera, which he secured to one of the balloon's wires, captured several photos of the passengers and the scenery below and behind. Ironically, they may appear to be photo-shopped to the scenery backdrop, but I assure readers the photos are genuine.
The balloon landed approximately after a one hour flight, very gently on the saltbush plains near Blanchetown. So I need not have worried, but I was reminded that a gentle landing can not be guaranteed. The retrieval team is united with the balloon passengers and together we packed the balloon away.
We drove to a picnic spot by the riverside at Blanchetown for our gourmet 'champagne' breakfast featuring a generous selection of nourishing Barossa foods, some good home cooking and Peter Lehmann Wines. After breakfast, passengers were presented with their Flight Certificate and are declared "Balloonatics" by Justin.
When the goodbyes were done and the others departed, Disey and I adjourned to the Blanchetown Caravan Park cafe for a coffee to reflect on our adventure. During our conversation with Proprietor and Photographer Tim Linder , we had the pleasure of seeing some of his stunning photos of air balloons and local scenery; some of which he approved for me to include here.