Up, up and away …

(another old post from my previous sore feet blog. still moving some old texts while i’m trying to get my creative juices flowing. hopefully i’ll be inspired by jack nicholson and shelley duvall this weekend. i plan to blog while watching the shining on tvone. by the way, this was written in january 2009.)

After almost two years, I have finally crossed out one more item in my things-I-want-to-do-before-I-die list (or, simply put, my Bucket List). Actually, I really don’t have a list-LIST. I just make it up as I go along. Hehehehe.

Hamilton’s Balloon being deflated

Anyway, I woke up at the crack of dawn this White Rabbit Day of February (NZ Time, I have yet to figure out how to adjust the time and date settings on webs) because my much anticipated Balloon Ride was finally going to push through. I had to be at the Innes Commons at about 6:00 am because, according to Andrew (who we shall refer to as The Pilot), the best time to fly would be early morning when the breeze is not that strong yet and the wind speed is relatively stable. So, I had to drag my carcass out of the sofa (slept over at mum’s because she said she’ll take pictures of me going up in the air) at half past 5 and was driving to the Lake with mum at a bit before 6:00.

We got to the lake justa few minutes past 6:00 and they have not yet set the balloon up. I’m not entirely sure what they were waiting for – I hope they weren’t waiting for late-comer me. Anyway, when everything was according to The Pilot’s standards, they laid the balloon out, brought out an industrial sized fan and started blowing air into the flat balloon. When the balloon had fully inflated, The Pilot then cranked up the furnace and started blowing hot air into the balloon.

Inflating the balloon using regular air

It didn’t take long before the big multi-coloured balloon was upright and ready to go. We were all asked to climb in so The Pilot could give us landing instructions and more importantly, so we could finally be on our way. According to The Pilot, the weather (which was obviously not that flash – it was drizzling and a wee bit cloudy) is expected to turn and he wanted to make the most out of that little window of opportunity before things turned for the worst.

Filling the balloon with HOT AIR

Lift off was surprisingly quick. The wind  picked up the balloon and before we knew it, we were airborne. The ground was suddenly moving away from us and soon enough, we could see the lovely little city of Hamilton from the sky.

Hamilton City & the Mighty Waikato River

Since the path of the balloon is entirely dependent on the direction of the wind, we flew South. We flew over Hamilton East, the University, Ruakura, and later on, flew over Strawberry farms, paddocks, and lots of cornfields. The Pilot said that our speed was about 23 kph which was good because we covered a lot of ground in a span of 1 hour. He said that the past weeks, they had absolutely no wind whatsoever that some of his flights hardly went out of the city limits. One time, he said they landed at Claudelands and another time, they landed at Innes Commons! Bah! How corny was that?!

After about an hour of flying, The Pilot told us that he would land his ‘aircraft’ as soon as he finds a good-sized paddock that is free from livestock and free from plantings. When he found a suitable landing field, he told us to go into our landing position (feet together, knees slightly bent, back against the wall of the basket, hands on designated handles – pulling the rope towards us) and prepare for landing.

We landed about 18-20 kms South of Hamilton, in a little town called Tauwhiri (I think, I have to check the map). We covered a sizeable distance considering his past flights barely got out of the city. Landing was not as smooth as take-off, but that’s expected. It was a tad bit bumpy – not because our Pilot lacked the skill to maneouver such a big contraption, but primarily because the ground we landed on was uneven, and he had to avoid hitting a tree which stood out like a sore thumb. We were asked not to leave the balloon just yet as the wind might pick it up if there was a change in weight so we stayed there until he gave us permission to disembark.

When we were all settled on the ground, and he had coordinated our location with his ground team, our Pilot, together with some blokes started to pack the balloon up. They deflated the balloon, then rolled it up, then put it in a big bag. The basket was disassembled next and then – when everything was stored safely in the back of his trailer, we went off back to town. We stopped off at Cook’s cafe for some drinks and nibbles, and – after exchanging some stories on ballooning, we all parted ways. The whole experience lasted about 4 hours and it was wonderful!

And that’s that! I wanted to ride the balloon at Queenstown, but it was so darn expensive! It cost a whole lot more than what I paid for here. It didn’t come cheap, but it’s worth the experience. I hope to be able to paraglide next time, or maybe skydive. Hah! As if I have the guts to do those. I’m all bark, no bite.

So there, that’s the end of my weekend adventure.

Special thanks to Andrew of Kiwiballoon Company for being an excellent Pilot.

Tags: Weekend Snapshot; Ruby Tuesday

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