High on Hunter
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.