You haven’t ballooned until you’ve ballooned in the Red Centre
I wasn’t the least bit stroppy when my alarm sounded at four am – I was in Alice Springs and very soon would be embarking on my maiden voyage in a hot air balloon. This was to be no ordinary ride – I was about to witness a superb sunrise over some of the most beautiful scenery in the world.
On our bus journey to the take-off strip, witty commentary from our driver, a real character, kept me wide awake and heightened my excitement for the flight. Within half an hour we were unpacking the huge basket and balloon itself from the custom-built trailer with the stars still shining in the pre-dawn desert sky.
Nothing I had heard prepared me for the size of the balloon. It was unravelled onto the red earth and looked to be about 100 metres long. A huge fan was wheeled in to fill the fabric with air. The sight of this massive length of material being inflated was surreal against the first shards of purplish light heralding a Central Australian sunrise.
Then the time was nigh and I, along with nine other thrill seekers, scrambled into the compartmentalised basket. I remember thinking I never knew these things were so big and could carry so many passengers. Our pilot fired up the gas and we were set for takeoff.
Bright orange and blue flames set the balloon aloft as we glided over the sandy earth. I’ve never experienced such a unique feeling of weightlessness and it’s one I’ll never forget.
What struck me most was the peacefulness of the flight. No engine noise or hostess broke into my thoughts, just the purr of the gas and the breeze in my ears. Over to the east, an orange hue was mounting over the East MacDonnell Ranges and then, in one dazzling moment, a magnificent sunrise peeked over the rocky Ranges. It was the most amazing sunrise I’ve ever witnessed. It really was breathtaking.
We floated 500 feet above the desert floor and all around me was quiet as the sun’s bright orange rays crept further over the landscape. The white clouds above were streaked pink and red and the sun on the rich rock of the Ranges was more beautiful than any postcard I’ve ever seen.
Coasting toward the range was so intoxicating and I was disappointed when it was time for our flight to end. Our pilot expertly bought us down on the landing pad and we all helped pack the huge balloon and basket back on the trailer.
The experience was far from over. Waiting for us was a delicious breakfast of chilled champagne with marinated chicken drumsticks, ham and cheese croissants, outback damper with honey and jam, fresh fruit, cheese and yummy chocolate cake. A leisurely chat with my fellow passengers revealed a general consensus – you can ride in a hot-air balloon anywhere in the world, but there’s no experience that rivals seeing the sunrise over Central Australia’s most awesome scenery from a hot-air balloon.
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