It might be the middle of winter, but getting up early and rugging up for a hot air balloon flight has its rewards as my son and I found out this morning on a flight over the Hawkesbury Valley with Cloud 9 Balloons. Fog misted the darkness and frost crunched under foot at our launch site next to the Hawkesbury River in North Richmond.
As dawn broke we huddled around the burner as the 265,000 cubic foot balloon slowly filled and gracefully sat upright. Once inside the basket our liftoff was so gentle we scarcely realised we’d kissed the ground goodbye. As our quilt of yellow, blue and green fabric took flight a landscape carpeted in mist spread out beneath us.
Curls of dense fog, thick as cotton wool, snaked along the Hawkesbury River, like the plume of a steam train. The Blue Mountains basked in the golden morning light as the sun rose, lengthening shadows and sharpening silhouettes.
Slowly, a patchwork of green emerged through the mist – turf farms, horse studs, polo farms, race tracks, sports fields and airfields, divided by hedgerows and glistening dams scattered like shards of broken glass. City skyscrapers twinkled in the distance (visibility is much better in the cool of winter than the heat of summer) while the moon determined to remain in a rapidly blueing sky.
Our landing was magical too, drifting into a mist-shrouded paddock of horses that pranced around us inquisitively. We played inside the deflating balloon, which felt as high as a two-storey building, before helping pack it away. Our reward – champagne served in silver goblets and non-stop humorous banter from our pilot and ground crew, before being whisked back to our meeting point, the Hawkesbury Sebel Resort & Spa, for a well-deserved breakfast in their sun-filled dining room.
It might have taken us three attempts to get airborne (our first two bookings cancelled by recent foul weather) but we were rewarded in the end with a winter wonderland rarely appreciated from the air. The Hawkesbury truly is a magical destination, only 50kms from Sydney. So why not make a weekend of it by booking a combined Sebel stay and Cloud 9 Balloon flight. See their website for current mid-winter specials.