As part of a milestone birthday celebration for one of the Curious Campers team, we had the chance to go hot air ballooning over the Barossa Valley. It was a magic morning floating over century old wineries and vines.
Ballooning is unlike anything we have done before, and we highly recommend it if this is an experience on your bucket list. Here are a few tips and pics if you are thinking of taking to the air in the Barossa.
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If you are not a morning person, you might have one small problem with hot air ballooning – it is an early start. For the best weather, not to mention getting a bird’s eye view of sunrise, hot air balloon flights are first thing in the morning and that mean being ready to go an hour or two before dawn.
For our flight in summer, we had our alarm set for 4.15am. If you fly in winter, you can sleep in a little longer as the sun comes up a bit later.
Because of the early start, unless you live near the Barossa Valley, it is worth staying in the Barossa the night before. One tour picks up from the Novotel Barossa Valley Resort, the other from their office in Nuriootpa so staying nearby is a good idea.
We stayed in Lyndoch at the Barossa Country Cottages and loved it there. Not only was the accommodation comfortable, but they were extremely considerate when we had to make a few last minute changes to our plans which is not uncommon when it comes to hot air ballooning.
For a hot air balloon to take to the air, conditions need to be perfect and the weather is not always what it seems. The weather in the Barossa Valley can be quite different to Adelaide and the wind 300m in the air can be quite different to what it is at the surface.
We experienced 3 cancellations before we were able to take off. None of these were the fault of the operator, ballooning is very much at the mercy of the weather.
(And the lovely folks at Barossa Country Cottages carried our booking forward after one of our cancellations and let us have a late check out so we could come back to our room to collect our gear after the flight – excellent service and very understanding!)
Depending on which tour you go on, you will either get a call or need to make a call the afternoon before your flight to confirm it is on.
Wind, rain, storms (as we personally experienced) and even unusually warm mornings can all cause flights to stay on the ground.
So, when you make a booking, it pays to be flexible. If you are travelling from interstate, maybe have two days in a row available just in case your first morning does not work out.
That is how we finally got in the air. After wind foiled our third attempt, we were able to book in on the following day when we were finally able to take to the air.
When is the Best time to Book?
You can’t predict the weather. We had flights cancelled in spring, autumn and summer. Obviously, winter brings a greater risk of rain, but you can also get stunning still, crisp mornings which are ideal for ballooning.
Weather aside, each season has its pros and cons, so it depends on what you want to see. In autumn the vines look spectacular as they change colour. In summer the vineyards are lush green. Winter brings mists that sit in the valley and make for great views.
What to Take & Wear
These days, I don’t know why we say you should take a camera. Everyone has a camera on them all the time. And you will use it here. From watching the burner inflate the balloon in the pre-dawn darkness to the sunrise views and the site of the balloon deflated on a remote paddock after landing, it is one memorable, beautiful moment after another.
You will need closed in shoes as it is likely you will be landing in the middle of a paddock. A hat is a good idea too, especially if you are tall. When the burners fire up the heat is intense, and a hat provides a layer of insulation.
What to Expect on the day of your Hot Air Balloon Flight
Once your group has got together you are driven to your take off point. Exactly where that is will depend on the conditions. Both operators have one take off point in the Barossa and another closer to the River Murray.
Our convoy of cars and trailers containing the balloon and basket arrived at a small reserve 15 minutes from the Novotel. There was one final weather check. A helium balloon is released, we watched the flashing red LED light attached to it disappear into the dark sky and it was announced we were good to go.
With the massive balloon unrolled on the ground in front of, the morning chorus of laughing kookaburras was soon drowned out by the roar of the burner inflating the balloon. It was a spectacular thing to watch.
In just a few minutes, the balloon was standing tall, and we were invited into the basket for take-off.
The basket is divided into sections, so when asked to board, we climb into our compartment. The walls of the basket are surprisingly tall, there is a foot hold to use to swing yourself up and over. Once you are in, the basket is at waist height, so if you are a nervous flyer don’t worry, it certainly doesn’t feel like you could topple out.
Leaving the earth in a hot air balloon is the exact opposite of taking off in a plane. It is silent, smooth, and vertical. We were 10m in the air before I realised that we had left the ground. Our groups nervous, excited chatter stopped as we slowly and peacefully lifted above the trees.
That awe inspired silence continued as we drifted across Barossa Valley’s vines and wineries. Because of the conditions we stayed a little lower than other flights might go but we drifted between 100m and 300m in the air. Just as we thought a hill top or trees were getting a bit close the burner would fire up and the balloon drifted higher.
We watched the sunrise over the hills as we slowly floated north of the Barossa. Every flight is different as you never know where the breeze might take you. We floated straight over the over the top Seppeltsfield Estate and their historic family mausoleum.
Our flight path had us headed for Kapunda but with just over 60 minutes in the air we made our way down into a paddock.
The landing is a bit of fun. You need to take up a squatting position with your back facing in the direction the balloon is drifting. This not only braces you for the landing but also the possibility that the basket could finish on its side.
Landing happens with a couple of awkward gentle bumps before the balloon and basket settle. For us it looked like the basket would finish on its side but at the last moment it sat up straight.
The trailer convoy, which had been following the balloon throughout its journey via radio, was there at the paddock ready to collect everything. It takes about 30 minutes to deflate the balloon and pack everything away.
Because your day starts so early, by the time you are back on the ground it is still only around 7.30am – breakfast time! Both operators provide a fantastic breakfast after your flight.
We went back to the Novotel for their buffet breakfast, and it was sensational – we certainly didn’t need lunch! Friends have had the other breakfast and said it was delicious too.
Either way, it is the perfect end to what was a magic adventure. Hot Air Ballooning is not cheap, but it is a great experience and one we would do again over a different landscape.
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