Byron Bay Ballooning
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Ballooning requires cool stable winds an early morning pickup is arranged for 5:25am sharp. The bonus of this early hour is we will see the sunrise. Our driver lets us know that it is going to be a 10 minute drive to Tyagarah air field where we will meet the rest of our group, receive our instructions and then drive to the morning's takeoff location. Takeoff can be from a number of locations dependent on the day’s winds.
Thomas, our pilot, welcomes the group and gives us a full safety brief including our landing instructions. It seems everyone is marking a celebration with a ballooning experience; a married couple’s wedding anniversary present, a 60th birthday and son, another couple celebrating a birthday, twins who were gifted the flight for a 'significant' birthday, a solo Japanese female traveller and myself. We drive to a field close to Billinudgel, a small town around 20 minutes north of Byron, and the twins enthusiastically offer to help with inflating the balloon. The mild morning with clear blue skies has everyone talking excitedly.
An older man required help into the basket and the professional crew assisted graciously and with a minimum of fuss. All aboard and with a signal from Thomas and a blast from the burner, we are gently climbing up and over the tree tops. I can hear gasps of delight from other passengers as we continue drifting and surveying the picturesque landscape. At times we climbed up to 2000 feet giving a vast panoramic view of the ancient volcanic Caldera Range and Mt Warning (Wollumbin) in the distance passing high above the rolling hills, cane fields, rivers and waterways.
Drifting along in a balloon is an incredibly serene experience with an occasional blast from the burners to maintain height. The ride is much smoother than I'd imagined and it is quite surreal floating high in the open air looking down. Sailing through different scenery, we are all constantly in awe as everything has such a different perspective, and moving at approximately 30 km per hour the vista is constantly changing. Another surprise is we don’t feel any wind because we are moving with the wind! Time seems to literally fly and after almost an hour, we are heading for our landing.
Dutifully following our safety instructions, we land seamlessly in a paddock near Tyagarah airfield. I ask Thomas if he has an arrangement with local landowners and his response is 'this is a bottle of French champagne in the letterbox landing'. We help to deflate the balloon and pack it up. As we drive away, one of the twins points out that Thomas wasn’t joking about leaving champagne in the letterbox.
Back at the airfield, over a sumptuous champagne breakfast, it’s a collective warm and glowing debrief. The twins agree that they need to thank their friend who bought their flight, 'an experience is such a great gift' she adds. I can only agree. The finale is the presentation of our certificates. We all go home with a spring in our step feeling pleased with our day’s experience and I am wondering to whom I might gift a balloon flight.
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