The alarm sounds at exactly 4:15am, those dreaded chimes ringing in my ear. I roll out of bed, momentarily confused as to why I’m being forced awake at this hour. It’s still dark outside and there’s a chill in this Hunter Valley pre-dawn air. After breaking free of my sleepy haze, I realize I’m about to check off an all-time activity on my bucket list, one that I’ve been looking forward to since I was a child; flying in a hot air balloon!
I booked my flight two days prior through a company called Hunter Valley Ballooning. For $250 AUD, I was confirmed for a sunrise hot air balloon flight along with round-trip transportation and a champagne breakfast post-flight. At 4:40am my friend Rachel and I excitedly met our driver in the pitch black driveway of our hostel, ready to begin our adventure.
We drove over to Peterson House, a local vineyard’s champagne cellar and restaurant. Here we met the rest of our 8-person flight party and our seasoned pilot. After completing brief paperwork and grabbing coffee and biscuits, our group boarded a van and trailered the balloon and basket to our launching field nearby. We waited in an open field while three hot air balloons were inflated simultaneously around us, kangaroos grazing nearby.
Twenty minutes later, and with the sky painting beautiful yellows, pinks, and oranges across the sky, we climbed into our basket, ready for take-off. With a total of 9 of us aboard, we waved goodbye to our ground crew and began to ascend into the calm morning air. As I watched the world shrink beneath me, I felt a slight tinge of nervousness. I have never been a fan of flying and wasn’t this basically the same thing? I wasn’t so confident about this idea in the first few moments of our departure. However, shifting my attention to the bird’s eye view of the valley, my fears quickly melted away.
Floating through the air over the vineyards and along side the neighboring mountain range, I felt at peace. We cruised at an altitude between 1,000 and 1,500 feet in the air for approximately 45 minutes, only noticing the altitude changes when my ears gently popped a few times. Warm blasts of fire propelled us higher into the sky, the pilot influencing our flight pattern and navigating us higher and lower, staying clear of tree tops and power lines. The flight felt effortless, smooth, and relaxing.
I spent our flight time taking in the beautiful views of perfectly plotted vineyards, popular local restaurants, and family homes throughout Hunter Valley. We floated over tree tops spotting an Eagle’s nest, sparing kangaroos, and rabbits running through the fields. As we began our descent, we waved to workers and cyclists photographing us from below as we passed overhead. Watching the shadow of our the balloon crossing over the valley is a memory I will not forget.
Unfortunately, like all good things, our ballooning adventure had come to an end. Our pilot gave us warning before touching down, instructing us to lean back against the side of the basket in preparation for landing. Our basket bumped along the ground, lightly hitting down and back up again, bumping along a few times until we came to a stop. Our flight was over and I was filled with awe and gratitude. Taking a few final photos with the now deflating balloon, we said farewell to our early morning transportation and boarded our van back to our awaiting champagne and breakfast. It was a beautiful morning and a wonderful start to my day; a memory I will cherish forever and continue to encourage others to experience the same.