Ballooning was never on my agenda when it came to New Zealand. Nevertheless, this idea sort of ballooned (pun intended!) and took root when I first visited Christchurch and came across a brochure for Ballooning Canterbury, a local ballooning company there. The idea of being stuck up high in the sky in just a basket and a balloon was a little bit daunting but I thought to challenge myself to something different and gave it a try anyway.
Cue the morning alarm at 3.30am. That’s right, ballooning apparently begins way before the sun is up, bright and early to catch the sunrise. Trying not to disturb my dorm mates, I sneaked my way out of the hostel to wait for my ride out.
My bus driver, Geoff, hustled all of us to a location about an hour away from Christchurch to Darfield. It was really hard to make out anything outside the windows as it was pitch black everywhere with no street lamps in sight. Once there, Geoff wasted no time testing out different sites for the wind direction and velocity before finally unrolling the big balloon.
Since there’s only Geoff and one other staff member, everyone got to help with the balloon, closing the gaps together so that the wind could inflate it. I was grateful for the hard work as the air was really cold in the early morning so it was a good distraction. With the help of fans and the occasional spouts of fire, the balloon slowly filled out with hot air and became inflated.
Once it was ready, we all awkwardly climbed into the balloon (there’s no graceful way in, at least not for me!) and waited till everyone was in. And then with the flames ablaze, we slowly lifted off! It was apparently their first flight for the new year so it was even more special.
Up and up away we went!!
Just as I was getting into the mood, though, I realised I was seeing more of the ground than the sky as we started to sink back down. Geoff was ever ready and pumped out more flames to feed the balloon and we slowly made our way back up again.
Sunrise. Balloon. Sky. Mountains.
Such romantic setting for a single person to enjoy alone, right? Anyway, it was a really beautiful sight to enjoy from above with the sunrise in the far distance. Geoff pointed out the Southern Alps mountains in the distance (but it was quite cloudy to see much of it that day) and explained about the crops in the fields below as we passed by them. The animals below brought us laughter as they sometimes tried to run away from the shadow of the balloon whenever we dropped low enough to have one. Seeing a mass movement of animals from above was really interesting.
The most interesting part was the landing as they apparently do not have a fixed landing area. So they usually end up landing in different fields depending on the wind direction of that day. We happened to land on a plot of long grasses so it was not exactly the best place to be walking around either as we still needed to deflate and put away the balloon.
Geoff dropped off a bottle of wine at the owners’ house as a complimentary gesture for letting us land on their field and then we moved on to another field for some light breakfast in the form of fruits, muffins and wine. I entertained myself with the cows in the field though as I could never get this close to one before.
-Wear layers (even in summer) as it gets really cold in the early morning. I had my fleece and wind jacket on and I was still struggling to keep warm then.
-Wear sturdy shoes and pants too as you have to climb in and out of the basket. You will also not know where you end up landing so better to be careful!
-Make sure you don’t bring along any items that is not attached when you are in the basket as you don’t want to have it drop all the way down. You can always leave them in the bus instead.
-Take lots of photos and enjoy being up in the sky!
For those interested, please visit their website here. I paid around NZ$395 for the trip in January 2017 which I felt was a little bit pricey. However, I thought that it was justifiable, considering they are a small local business with limited resources. I was rewarded with their vast experience in ballooning, extensive knowledge of the surroundings and got to indulge in being high up in the sky. So it’s a winner for me. 🙂
Have you ever tried ballooning? Do you think you would ever want to try one? Please do share! 🙂