The golden hour
When the tour guide assembled us all for our Hunter Valley Balloon Flight and said no chit-chat on board, for a moment my curiosity was sparked even more; would it be too loud, too shaky, too windy to hear? But half an hour aloft and riding effortlessly across the breeze I understood why; taken in by the expansive Hunter Valley skyline and gentleness of hot air ballooning, there is simply little to say. Except perhaps “excuse me” to the passenger across from you, so you too can click the ultimate landscape shot or selfie. Against a backdrop of balloons bobbing on a crest of wind, who wouldn’t be clambering for the best photo-op. With a swag of happy adventurers soaking up the experience, it was best appreciated in silence.
Catching the breeze
There are plenty of cheesy words though to describe the serenity and exhilaration of ballooning, but the thrill of the flight is best felt in the quietness that comes from breathing in the air at 3,000 feet. Strands of mist lay carpeted through the valley, settling like thin clouds on the floor below. Weaving beneath and through the Eucalypts, rising just enough to let the light in.
To one side, facing into the sun, four or five balloons yo-yoed in the pale orange light. On the other, a clear blue sky stretching to the horizon with familiar towns, like small blocks, packed neatly below. Farmyards and empty paddocks, vineyards lined with clusters of trees, thin charcoal roads bending over the hills, and us, taking it all in. Sometimes the balloon dips so low, you feel you could touch the tree tops.
Sunrises, for all the effort they take to see, never fail to reward. And ballooning at dawn takes some effort. The convoy of tourist vans, loaded trailers and balloon baskets peel into the assembly point. The crew busily check the weather conditions and agree on the field of departure. A weather balloon is released and when it’s course is chartered, the trucks and trailers scatter in response and it’s all go. I don’t know that I’d given any thought to how big a hot air balloon might be: certainly not from the ground while its being inflated.
I’m sure I’d never thought about what a 55,000 cubic litres of air, 30 metre high balloon of colourful nylon might look like, as the hot blasts of propane give it shape. Now I know, the scale is overwhelming. Standing in the middle of a field where 6 or 8 balloons are being inflated is like a dress rehearsal for an opening night show. Bolts of bright fabric twisting and turning as the air shoots in, crew with ropes and trailers and an audience, like paparazzi, clicking every moment. Curtains raised, balloons aloft!
Time to fly
There are plenty of times throughout the year to enjoy the experience of a Hunter Valley Ballon Flight; September to November when the wild flowers are in bloom, February to April with cooler breezes and low lying mist and some say that the even winter sunrises are still spectacular. Pokolbin in the Hunter is 2.5 hours north of Sydney and heart of wine country, with over 150 vineyards spread across the regions countryside. Thanks to the wonderful crew at Balloon Aloft for a truly memorable morning.
How to reach the Hunter Valley from Sydney, see here.
Like to read more about exploring the Hunter Valley? Check out our Tour Guide Tips here.
“On some days the haze that settles low across the city, blurs even the outlines of Delhi’s iconic monuments. The familiar shape of India Gate with its etched sandstone bricks is hardly visible in the grey-brown smog. The Green Clean Delhi signs posted along main roads belie the incentive to breathe in clean fresh air every day. And yet, in the jumbled hub of central Old Delhi, is the newest addition to the cities’ green clean inspired movement, Sunder Nursery.”
Tall, lithe and toned, adorned in gold and glitter, parading like a Demi God in slow deliberate steps, he stretched his long limbs through the crowd. Expressionless and yet full of statement, everyone stopped and turned.
There is little to say about this statuesque, impressive icon of Mardi Gras. I’m still a little lost for words, except to say that this man embodied sheer perfection in stardust. I’m sure people were praying. It is possible he could have sparked a revolution. And isn’t that the point? Mardi Gras is an inspiration, and an invitation really, for everybody to live their most flamboyant lives. Certainly their best ones. And here was the beacon; in the words of lady liberty, “Give me your tired, your weary…yearning to breathe free.”
From behind the scenes, some of the impromptu and surprise moments best capture the spirit of the Sydney Mardi Gras 2019.
Let the parade begin!
As widely loved as it is, Bondi is not Sydney’s favourite beach. Most famous yes, but not the favourite. Locals often escape the cities’ fringe beaches and zip north or south to the wider coastal retreats. But for backpackers, tourists and day-trippers alike, Bondi is it. And with good reason.
Lined deep with organic juice bars, beachside beer cafes and burger joints, Bondi Beach is tagged as much as a foodie precinct as a beach hangout. But the real zeal of Bondi is in the snapshots of freedom and expression. The drawcard is less for the sea and more for what you can see in the crowds of travellers and revellers.
With iconic Icebergs (the original winter swimmers club) perched on the peak overlooking sweeping views of the beach, it marks the beginning of the Bondi to Bronte walk. Taking in Tamarama Beach, McKenzies Bay and Waverly Cemetery, this stretch of coast makes it Sydney’s most spectacular walk. Or, with time on your side, you can simply people watch.
Bondi’s anything goes attitude gives it a bold look and quirky energy. In the Art Deco architecture you can see Bondi’s post war flair; on the boulevard the pep of party-goers, and between the flags, memories made for a lifetime. I can’t think of a tourist who wouldn’t make Bondi their first stop, but as a local, if you haven’t let Bondi’s breezy style brush over you in a while, maybe its time to see what keeps people coming back.
Read more about Sydney’s favourite beach hideaways.
Why do we sweat the small stuff? We grumble and complain our way through the list of things we don’t agree with, capriciously casting opinions and rationalising the let downs. We are fierce protectors of our sensitivities and sometimes I wonder if harmony comes naturally at all. But time waters it all down and I for one, hardly remember the detail of many a life changing moment. When we’re all going to one day lay silent in the ground, why do not laugh through life and take it all a little less seriously? The first of many thoughts I kept mulling over as we wandered through the scattered headstones at Rookwood Cemetery. An entire life, every word, every touch, every wild moment, etched in the few letters of a name and surrendered to stone.
It’s good to visit the dead. Unless you’ve had the heartache of burying someone, there’s probably little reason to spend an afternoon walking through a cemetery. And yet, the cemetery at Rookwood in Sydney, is somewhat of an incredible experience, for the eyes and the spirit. From the glazed charcoal ornate Russian Orthodox headstones embedded with portraits and carefully placed beer bottles, to the old small crested headstones popping out of the grassy slopes, every cluster of graves is the story of generations. Thick granite blocks with Chinese family names in magenta, black and grey line the curve of the road opposite the names of those lost in war. Different lives, different deaths, living under the same sun and now laying under the same earth.
In death there is quiet, a light hush in the breezy air and a sober respect. I wonder at how terrible we are at respecting life and often the people who create our world, and yet we step foot in a cemetery and we feel an ethereal sort of grace for all who have passed. And I think that’s beautiful; it makes the passing of life something honorable and pure. We have come from energy and like a whisper, we disappear, falling back into the energy of the universe. Stopping to read the inscriptions on mottled stone and standing in the middle of a stranger’s family history, I think that maybe life could be honored the same way.
Rookwood Cemetery is the world’s largest operating cemetery from the Victorian era and the largest in the southern hemisphere. Right on the brink of Sydney’s western suburbs, 314 hectares of expansive garden grounds are the resting place for almost 1 million souls from all denominations. That in itself makes for moments of reflection and wonder. It was just over 200 years ago that the first burial ground in Sydney was established that would evolve into Rookwood Cemetery. Who could have imagined then, when Governor Macquarie set aside some land near the Colonial brickworks that prayers would one day be whispered for the Armenians, the Indochinese and Italians together? It’s hopeful and uplifting.
One patch of Victorian headstones, weathered by time and perhaps with no one left to care for them, have overgrown with tall grass and dandelions. Loose soil and wind have let them collapse against each other. With the smell of eucalypts all around and branches falling across the gravestones, I saw a small stone arch and though the date was hard to read, I saw the words “beloved” carved at the centre. Nothing may be known today about the woman laid to rest there, where she was born or how she died, but someone simply wanted her to be remembered forever for what she was most; loved. Seems to me that’s the last prayer for us all.