Well, this Saturday was indeed a VERY good day! As a combined birthday present for K and me, a friend of ours had given us tickets for a hot air ballon safari. Sheer tardiness along with the fact that we had to report at the launch site at 5:30am, on a cold winter’s morning, had kept me sitting on these tickets for several months. But now, with spring fast approaching in the southern hemisphere, and the days getting substantially warmer, we decided to finally take the plunge this weekend.
Several operators offer hot air balloon flights in Johannesburg. We were booked with Air to Air Africa and early in the week, I contacted them regarding our booking. I received an email confirmation within no time, with detailed directions and safety instructions. We were to meet at the Heia Safari Ranch, a game lodge located near the Cradle of Humankind, at 5:30am on Saturday. Even in the wee hours of the morning, it would take us at least 50mins to get there from our house, and that meant that we needed to be up and about before 4am! Since this was our maiden experience, I was super excited and could hardly sleep all night.
It was pitch dark when we left our house – there is something very exciting about leaving home when it’s still dark. Felt like an adventure! We were the first to reach the lodge where some much needed coffee awaited us. We were soon joined by another couple who told us that it was their third attempt to do the safari! Since hot air ballooning is very highly dependent on the weather and wind conditions, twice in the past the pilot had had to cancel the flight due to adverse conditions. The winds could change even at the last minute and jeopardise the entire expedition. But all we could do was keep our fingers crossed.
Soon the rest of the people booked on the day’s safari arrived – we were 16 in total and were to fly in one of the largest balloons in the area, a 400,000 cubic feet red balloon! After receiving some safety instructions on how to prepare for take off and landing, we were driven to the launch site. Located further inside the reserve, next to a dam, we saw the mammoth balloon being readied for our flight. The sun was not yet up and balloon against the backdrop of the water and the trees, looked stunning.
Cold air was being pumped into it via fans and this air was then heated using a large burner. Once the ballon was completely upright, we were asked to board the basket and soon it was time for lift off! We were to stay in a brace position, crouching inside the basket until the pilot told us it was safe to stand. This was only for a few minutes and soon we were able to enjoy the breath taking scenery below.
Although these balloons are allowed to climb up to a height of 6500ft, the pilot told us that he usually flies to a maximum of 5000ft so as to be able to see things on the ground. Under the pilot’s able maneuvering, the balloon slowly glided over the farms and the surrounding mountains and before we knew it, the one hour flight was over! Despite warning of the basket turning over at the time of landing, the pilot expertly landed us in an upright position. Since the landing spot is not the same as the take off one, the pilot had kept the ground staff informed during the course of the flight. So when we landed, the vehicles were already at the spot, ready and waiting to take us back.
We were driven to a beautiful waterfall for a glass of bubbly to toast the successful experience and then whisked off to the lodge for a hearty breakfast (the bubbly and the breakfast were included in the price of the flight, which was R1800 per person).
I could not have asked for a better day and hence this post is also my entry to this week’s challenge – today was a good day!
For more pictures, please see the slideshow below: