Drifting, floating, higher and higher – deliciously lighter than a cool breeze. Hot air ballooning in the Avon Valley is an enchanting way to spend a sunny day.
Ah, the tranquility – it’s almost surprising, the peaceful state that envelopes a hot air balloon as it glides effortlessly over green pastures. Floating in a wicker basket more than 500m in the air may sound like a scary proposition, but it’s not (not even a teeny bit). It’s simply a blissful contrast between relaxation and adventure.
Windward Balloon Adventures offers daily balloon flights from Northam over the fertile farmland of the Avon Valley. The valley is regarded as one of the best places in the country for hot air ballooning because it’s protected from the wind. Even around-the-world balloonist Steve Fossett rated the Avon as having excellent conditions for take-off.
Lift-off is at dawn, and it’s certainly worth the early start. An invigorating chill in the air and a hot cuppa greets passengers who gather about 20 minutes before sunrise at the Northam airfield, just on the edge of town. A safety run-down follows, as huge fans pump hot air into the balloon. Once it’s ready to go, there’s time for a quick photo as you climb aboard into the basket, then you’re off.
Sunrise casts a magical shawl of colour over the patchwork of ploughed paddocks, green fields, bushland and winding streams. As the sun peaks over the horizon the dark magenta of night lifts, changing the landscape from orange to pink and finally the bright light of day. This special time of day is when you’ll see birds waking from the treetops and kangaroos hopping along riverbanks. Depending on the breeze you’ll drift between five and 15km out of Northam, and you’ll be airborne for up to an hour so there is plenty of time to enjoy the vista.
Landing isn’t quite as hair-raising as you might expect. A two-man ground crew is in touch with the pilot on board to determine the landing spot (most often a cleared, sheep-free field) and then guide the basket onto the back of a trailer.
Even if it is a bumpy landing, the bus ride to the champagne breakfast that follows at the Fitzgerald Hotel will have you back in the comfort zone in no time. After such an exhilarating start to the day, you’ll be in the mood for lashings of hot eggs, bacon, toast, and, of course, a glass or two of bubbly.
Hot air ballooning is suitable for anyone who’s up for a bit of adventure. It makes a perfect gift for a special occasion, or a corporate day-out. Make a weekend of it and stay overnight in one of the Avon Valley’s cosy B&Bs.
Windward Adventures says hot air ballooning is open to anyone over the age of eight, who’s able to climb into the basket and doesn’t mind standing up for an hour. The oldest passenger they’ve carried is a 90-year-old man. If you’re planning on going ballooning in the dead of winter, be sure to rug up with a jacket, scarf and beanie. The only must-haves are sturdy walking shoes.
Windward Adventures offers daily hot air balloon flights between April and November. The hot and windy conditions at other times of the year are unsuitable to ballooning. Call (08) 9621 2000 for bookings and more information.