There aren’t many experiences in life you can be truly thrilled you got up at 3 am for. Hot air ballooning in Alice Springs is one of them.
HOT AIR BALLOONING IN ALICE SPRINGS
While staying in Alice Springs, I arranged to take a flight over the bush with the company Outback Ballooning. They’re a well-established organisation with very experienced pilots. Each of them completes over 100 hours of training before they’re even qualified to run the tours.
Outback Ballooning only does flights at dawn, due to the intense temperatures and increased winds that occur by late morning. This means a 4 am or earlier pick up from your accommodation in Alice Springs. The benefit of this is that you will be free by around 8 am to go off and explore more of the Northern Territory – if you have the energy for it. If you have a flight later the same day, the Outback Ballooning staff are also kind enough to do airport drop offs.
As soon as you hop on the bus, you’re given a card with safety instructions, complete with adorable stick men diagrams of how to climb into the basket and how to position yourself when landing. By far my favourite piece of advice was on remaining within the basket when we’d landed. ‘If you get out before we say, the balloon will take off again and you’ll be left stranded!’, our guide Jason warned us.
On the drive out to the ‘airfield’, the guides release small inflated helium balloons containing red LED lights into the night’s sky and use them to judge the wind speed and direction. They also take the time to talk you through some of the constellations, and we even saw a satellite moving quickly in an arc among the stars.
The ‘airfield’ turned out to be a baron patch of outback. Our bus pulled over, and the guys unloaded the balloon from the trailer. To prevent the balloon from floating away prematurely as it was inflated, they attached it to the bus using ropes. We remained within a designated ‘safe area’ until it was time to embark.
We each climbed into the basket using the footholds. There were six of us plus our pilot and it didn’t feel like there’d be much room for many more. Jason told us that some of the European balloons carried up to 30 passengers! He fired up the burner and I felt my scalp tingle the way it does when I sit too close to a campfire.
I’m not exaggerating when I say that I didn’t even realise we’d taken off until I noticed the ground was several metres below, and the whole journey was equally as smooth.
We soared higher and higher and watched the sun appear over the horizon and bathe the outback plains in an orange glow. For some minutes, we came low again and swooped over the treetops, spotting kangaroos bounding through the scrubland.
Our guide told us that they would land the balloon in a different spot each day, depending on the strength and direction of the wind. He had very little control over it and he joked that, if we’d flown the day before, when flights had been cancelled because of the wind, we might have finished up in Darwin within half an hour!
COMING IN TO LAND
Eventually, Jason pointed out the shadow of our own balloon below and told us it was our landing spot. As our driver expertly pulled up into the same field, Jason lowered us gently over a bush and placed us on level ground.
We bumped along gently as the momentum of the balloon carried us an extra metre or so, but the basket remained upright.
It was then our task to help the crew load the balloon back onto the trailer. First, we climbed out of the basket one by one and leaned on the edge to keep it grounded. ‘If you feel your feet leave the floor, let go with your hands and stay behind on the ground’, Jason warned us! With only him remaining in the basket, he added a little heat to the envelope of the balloon and we used ropes on the outside of the basket to guide it onto the trailer.
Next, we rolled the balloon out like a giant sleeping bag and worked our way along forcing it to deflate and carefully packing away the fabric in a big canvas bag.
With the hard work done, it was time to toast to a successful and beautiful flight with a few glasses of bubbly and some cheese, biscuits, fruit and muffins.
Having spent my entire life believing I would be petrified of riding in a hot air balloon, I was surprised and relieved to find it to be one of the most enjoyable and easygoing adventurous experiences I’ve had. I can’t imagine there’s a person out there who wouldn’t love it and I’m sure as hell going to do it again one day.
BOOK YOUR OUTBACK ADVENTURE TODAY…
…AND HAVE NO REGRETS
This balloon ride was an optional extra as part of my CONTIKI OUTBACK ADVENTURE in the Northern Territory of Australia. While Outback Ballooning kindly sponsored my experience, any opinions expressed in this post are my own. As someone who is scared of heights but never lets it get in the way of trying new things I would encourage anyone to give hot air ballooning a go. I was amazed by how gentle the ride was and how safe I felt. It’s just the right mix of adventure and relaxation.