There’s a reason balloon flights are a little on the pricey side. When your alarm goes off at 3:45am, your first impulse is to roll over and go back to sleep. But there’s nothing like a non-refundable 300-or-so bucks to get you out of bed on a dark, weekday morning.
The great thing is, it turns out to be totally worth it.
Balloons are sneaky like that
OK, so here’s how a sunrise balloon flight in Melbourne works. It’s 5am, it’s freezing cold and you’re in the middle of a school oval somewhere in a Melbourne suburb you’d never visit unless your aunt lived there. Your shoes are soggy, and you’re wondering what on earth you’ve got yourself into.
You stand around for 20 minutes or so, pretending you’re not scared, while they pump air into this great big balloon attached to a tiny little basket. And before you know it you’re standing in that selfsame tiny little basket getting safety instructions about how to stand when you hit the ground and – woah, wait a second – you’re floating up into the air.
Hang on! Where was my warning!?
Balloons are sneaky like that. It doesn’t seem possible that a bit of fabric filled with hot air could lift you 2,000ft up in the air. The basket, seriously, is tiny. The whole thing seems entirely implausible. But before you know it, there you are.
There’s downtown Melbourne outlined against a blue-grey sky, and there are the Dandenongs, glowing pink with the sunrise behind them. And there’s you, floating a couple of thousand feet up in the sky in a tiny little basket. The best thing, as with most forms of air travel, is not to think too hard about it: just enjoy. Because really, it’s not as scary as you think it’s going to be, and it’s also a great deal more interesting.
Loud, hot & illuminating in all senses
Flying in a balloon is a great way to check out the social fabric of Melbourne. You can see where the train lines go, and who misses out on them (and, perhaps not entirely coincidentally, where people have two, three and even four cars parked in the driveway). You can see which suburbs have one tennis court per house, and where a pool is absolutely de rigeur. You can find out that farming happens right in the city (who knew?), and that Chadstone shopping mall is freakin’ enormous. Oh sure, you can do all that on Google Maps, but it’s really not the same (it really isn’t – I just checked).
But don’t believe those people who tell you ballooning is sublimely quiet and calm. It isn’t. That thing that sends jets of burning gas up into the air is LOUD, and it’s HOT.
If I have one tip for prospective balloon-goers it’s this: wear a hat. Your head will feel scorchy every time the pilot fires that thing up. But then, in between the blasts of hot air, there is a silence that we no longer associate with travel. Cars are never this silent, nor planes or trains. It’s an odd feeling.
And yes, it is frequently broken by your fellow travellers exclaiming, ‘Isn’t it quiet?!’.
Back on terra firma
Of course, it’s over all too soon, though the close-up views you get of the ground as you’re coming in to land are some of the best bits. As we all took up the safe landing position, many of my fellow travellers began chanting ‘tip! Tip! Tip!’.
Unfortunately they were disappointed, and our basket remained upright as we hit the ground. Then it was out on to another grassy field, more soggy shoes, and lots of exhilarated cooperation as we packed the balloon up into a great big bag and jumped into the mini bus for the drive back to the city. I believe I wasn’t the only one who had a bit of a nap on the way home.