“With the current wind conditions, we are not sure if we can run the hot air balloon trip tomorrow morning. We will have the hotel give you a wake up call at 4:30 am if it is going ahead, and we will pick you up from the lobby at 5:10 am.”
How can anyone sleep after getting a piece of information like that? I nervously tossed and turned, waking up about every hour to check the clock. Is it 4:30 yet? Will I get the call?!?
I did get the call!
I have never been so awake at 4:30 am in my life! And with the time difference in Canberra from where I live in Brisbane – it was actually more like 3:30 am for me as well. But I was alert and awake, as I layered on as many items of clothing as I could in an effort to stay warm in the brisk Canberra morning air.
I was getting to take part in this once in a life time opportunity as part of the Human Brochure campaign, put on by the ACT tourism board. Canberra has a reputation for being boring, but nothing could be further from the truth. To prove their point, the ACT tourism board invited 500 of Australia’s most influential people on the web so come and discover Canberra for themselves. I was one of the lucky participants who was selected to be a part of the exclusive media VIP team, and the main perk of this title was the early morning hot air balloon ride with Balloon Aloft Canberra.
Before we could get started we needed to read over the scariest/ funniest safety information card I have ever seen in my life and sign all sorts of waivers. Then we needed to test the wind. A small test balloon was released into the air to determine the wind speed and direction. After standing there with out necks craned, watching where the small black balloon would end up, and changing our location a few times, we were ready to go.
Setting up the balloon was no easy task. The balloon itself is several stories tall and before we got started we needed to pump it full of cold air. Luckily there was no shortage of cold air around. When it was time to go, we all quickly hopped in and warmed our hands and faces in the direction of the fire which would make us fly. In fact, the warming sensation was so pleasant, and our balloon so gentle and stable that I did not even notice the moment we lifted from the ground.
Canberra is Australia’s finest example of a planned city. When it was decided in 1908 that they would build a new capital city, an urban planning competition was held with entrants around the world submitting their designs and sketches for how they thought the new capital should be built. The winning design was from Walter Burley Griffin and his wife Marion, whose vision for Canberra included parks, geometric shapes, and water features.
The best way to experience the Griffin’s design is from the air, of course.
Seeing the city and all it’s important buildings and embassies from above reminded me of being at lego land, or of looking at tilt shift photography – it felt more like everything was in miniature, than it felt that I was looking at it from a dizzying height.
My favourite landmark to see from above was the parliament house. Last time I was in Canberra, I visited the parliament house the same way that most people do – from the ground. I was struck with just how different it was from the Canadian parliament house. The Canadian parliament is a grand neo gothic design, modelled in the same style as the British one. The Australian one however, is completely different. It was built in the 80’s, and you can tell.
From above though, my perspective on it completely changed. From above you could barely make out of man made elements of the parliament house at all – instead all you could see was a well landscaped and maintained mound of earth. It looked as if the parliament was built into this hill side, integrating itself with it’s surroundings and becoming just another element of the landscape.
It was also fascinating to see all the embassies from the air as well. The Chinese embassy in particular was a real sight, with its glittering roof tiles and its intricately laid out gardens. From the air it was almost like looking down on a display of miniatures I did not once feel any anxiety about being so high up in the air – I was so preoccupied by how toy like the life below looked. It almost resembled some examples of tilt shift photography that I have seen.
Landing the hot air balloon was a whole new adventure. Our pilot kept in constant communication with the ground team, and even with his many years of experiences, he had to change his predicted landing spot several times. The wind kept shifting, so we kept needing to find new spots with large open grassy spaces for our landing.
Eventually we were blown over the stadiums and the university, to a perfect large grassy field. We began our descent. I was a little bit nervous after seeing that safety information card. I really didn’t want to land sideways and have to brace myself inside the balloon, especially while holding onto all my camera gear. Luckily we floated down gracefully, bounced once, and then settled down on the ground in a nice and stable upright position.
I survived my first hot air balloon flight!