Up, up and away

There is nothing quite so satisfying as contentedly crossing a long-standing item off one’s bucket list:
memories made √
photos taken √
dream fulfilled √
… and so it was after our amazing hot air balloon flight last week.

Phinias Fogg eat your heart out!
Phinias Fogg eat your heart out!

Thanks to an extremely generous retirement gift from Chris’ company (thanks Jane and all at Softworx), last week we found ourselves floating 2 000 feet over the Magalies River Valley in what closely resembles a giant picnic hamper! Okay, so I’m exaggerating … slightly. We were actually safely ensconced in an 18 person wicker basket attached to one of the world’s biggest hot air balloons soaring silently, except for the intermittent blast of the gas burners, alongside the oldest mountain range in the world and the Cradle of Humankind.

Up, up and away we go!
Up, up and away we go!

The morning had begun early with the sleep-shattering 4 am alarm needed for us to arrive at Bill Harrop’s Original Balloon Safaris before dawn. Bleary eyed but enthusiastic, we gratefully accepted life-saving cups of coffee as we watched the preparations and then the sun and the still tethered balloons rise in unison into the African sky. It was a truly magical sight.

Giant picnic basket to the ready!
Giant picnic basket to the ready!

Soon, it was time to join our pilot Tracy and clamber into the basket – a less than graceful entrance for some of us! With my dignity somewhat restored and the safety briefing completed, a short blast from the burners lifted us effortlessly into the clear blue ether, much to the surprise of a small herd of zebra grazing nearby.

I have always been (more than) a little nervous of heights but I can honestly say that I didn’t experience even a moment’s trepidation. The non-existent wind meant that we seemed to travel very slowly and I must confess to being more than a little envious of Bill Harrop’s own smaller balloon that ventured to greater heights and covered a much larger distance.

Proof that hot air rises!
Proof that hot air rises!

Nonetheless, the 50 minutes we were airborne passed quickly and too soon we were gently wafting down towards the ground.
“I bet you can’t land it on the trailer”, Chris challenged our pilot, who merely smiled serenely before floating the basket gently down onto it. The joke certainly was on him!
And now for the hard part began! If climbing into the balloon was a little strenuous, alighting from its resting place atop the trailer was a challenge worthy of Houdini! (As you can guess, I’m not very athletic!) They do, however, know how to motivate one and the sight of champagne and orange juice being liberally dispensed nearby proved an invaluable motivation.
A short bus ride back to Harrop HQ was followed by a magnificent buffet breakfast accompanied by more champagne. After a brief certification ceremony proclaiming us all “intrepid Aeronaut explorers”, we were on our way back to our delightful country manor (more about that next time), happy and well satisfied with our adventure and with The 5th Dimension’s hit song “Up, up and Away” looping continuously in our heads.

This was an experience that will live in our hearts forever!
I hope this has inspired you to tick something off your bucket list. Please leave a comment here to hopefully inspire others to jump up off the couch and reach for their dreams!

9 Comments Add yours

  1. What a great idea. I will have to think about this one

  2. Emma says:

    That’s sounds like one thing that needs to go on my bucket list most definitely….

    1. Absolutely! An unforgettable experience!

  3. Sounds absolutely wonderful, what an amazing retirement gift!

    1. It was! Thanks so much 🙂

  4. Daphne says:

    So happy to see a new blog from you ,Cathy ! What an awesome experience !!
    Love the bit about getting in and out of basket . We are going to have so much fun in Thailand !

  5. We are indeed! Can’t wait!!!!!!!!!!!!! 🙂

  6. Camilla Smith says:

    I never would have remembered that 5th Dimension sung “Up Up and Away” but do remember the song! The Balloon ride has been on my bucket list for years, and each time it is planned, the weather – twice, and the duplicate charge on a credit card in Europe resulting in the temporary suspension of said card for security reasons – once, have stymied us. It will happen. On the one occasion the alternative was a ride on elephants was substituted! magical. For our silver wedding anniversary my darling husband booked both (depending on the weather 🙂 in Hoedspruit. Actually it was our 26th anniversary, but he never was very good with dates …. I did somewhat wonder why he was making such a big fuss when he had missed the year before, but hey what is a year?
    When I was five and living in Beit Bridge my dad read us adventure books of the Indian jungle and working elephants. With the abundance of wild ellie herds we saw around then I figured it was an easy thing to catch one and wide one. Uh no, my dad assured me that you could not ride African elephants! Since then I have had the desire to ride on an ellie. Sorry Dad, but four decades later I proved you wrong! I rode a beautiful tusker – Fittingly also from Zimbabwe and called Shogwedzi!. (Damn husband had already ridden one at the London zoo, and a working one in India as a kid. Magic for him). If you love the bush, the only way to see it is from the back of an ellie – balloons excepted! It is so quiet. they walk silently, but swish through the grass, and you can hear their tummies rumbling, and the grass as they tear it up to eat. The wildlife is unafraid, and you can see for miles being so high up. A memory for life..
    … now for the balloons!!
    Happy bucketing Cath & Chris!

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