We weren’t sure if it was going to happen, but if it did it would be the highlight of the human brochure weekend in Canberra.
4:20am wake-up calls are never fun… that is unless the person waking you up tells you that you are going up in a hot air balloon over Canberra!
Struggling out of the comfortable bed at the Diamant Hotel with just minutes left before we were to be picked up showering became a second thought as I donned my thickest winter clothes, despite it being late spring.
Meeting with the rest of the group – a mix of Human Brochure participants and regular visitors to Canberra – at the Grand Hyatt Canberra, we signed our lives away, ran through the safety cards and learnt what would be happening over the next three-hours.
With average wind weather overnight we were driven out of the city to test if we would be able to go up that morning, determined by the most scientific of tests – an inflated helium balloon being sent up to the wind gods.
With strong winds we changed takeoff spots and headed back into the city centre to Reconciliation Place – the perfect fit since we would be taking out the front of the Questacon building in a Questicon balloon just as the sun began to rise warming the earth, and thankfully us as well.
Setting up the balloon takes time. First, the basket needs to be unloaded; secondly, the balloon needs to be laid out, and thirdly, two huge steel fans need to begin separate and raise the balloon before, before finally the fire can be applied and it finally began to build to it’s real size – close to seven stories high! – and we were able to clamber into the basket for take-off.
Taking off from Reconciliation Place was beautiful as the sun began to creep higher int he sky and another balloon got ready to take-off. Creeping higher into the sky, the Questacon building shrunk as we rose higher and the Australian War Memorial came into view.
It is from this height that you begin to appreciate Canberra and it’s beauty. It is a city that was purpose-built to be Australia’s capital after the long feud between Melbourne and Sydney over whom should have the right. Walter Burley Griffin’s design was to create a wheel-and-spoke design, rather than a grid, with the Australian Parliament House and Australian War Memorial situated in a straight-line between the peaks of the cities tallest mountains.
But Canberra isn’t all about geometric patterns and central layout. It is the city where many countries embassies are, each architecturally reflecting their country - the Chinese with gardens and ponds and the American with their large imposing red brick and tall columns design; and of course the Aboriginal Tent Embassy – an unofficial embassy made up of Aboriginal rights activists.
But it’s not just the embassies which offer interesting viewing for us as we drifted across Canberra’s landscape. The National Museum of Australia‘s interesting build design – something that we explored in-depth later that morning – was a highlight, as was the Black Mountain Tower in the distance – a viewing platform and telecommunication tower.
Seeing Australia’s Parliament House from above was also quite a sight. Something continually heard or seen through Media, but to experience it and understand that, unlike other countries, if I wanted to have a picnic on top of it I merely had to climb the hill and perch myself beneath the great flag.
Riding in a hot air balloon always looks so peaceful, but it’s really quite a loud and hot affair as the bursts of flame control the height that the balloon flies at. After about 15-minutes I was toasty and warm, ready to strip down to a t-shirt though just minutes before on the ground I was freezing and contemplating how crazy I was to be out in the morning cold.
It’s also LOUD! Over the noise of the burner, the wind and being on the outside of the basket I could barely hear what our balloon guide and driver was telling us about the city.
It appeared that it wasn’t just us that were excited to see a hot air balloon skimming the rooftops as a woman came out on her balcony in her dressing gown, and another family got the binoculars out to see us waving eagerly at them.
Of course, all good things had to come to an end and after a very smooth landing in Canberra Universities field, the top was open and the process of collecting and rolling up the balloon began, ready for the next group to experience the sights of Canberra at sunrise.
Have you ever flown or want to fly in a hot air balloon?
Huge thank you to the team at Balloon Aloft for arranging our VIP hot air balloon ride over Canberra!
Phone: (02) 4990 9242 or if overseas: +61 2 4990 9242
Balloon aloft also runs tours on the Gold Coast, Hunter Valley and Camden Valley and can include a champagne breakfast!