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BALLOONING: Bucket List Experience, or a lot of hot air?

March 11, 2019

Have you ever been hot air ballooning?

It might be a yes-or-no scenario, but there are typically three responses to that question:

  1. OMG, yes. It was incredible!
  2. Not yet. But I'd love to.
  3. Are you crazy? Thousands of feet above the ground, at the whim of the wind in a basket made of sticks, beneath a giant fire and a flammable bag? Not on your nelly! Fancy floating in a hot air balloon?

If the popularity of hot air ballooning is anything to go by, the Are you crazy? response is a rarity. Something spouted, no doubt, by the never-skydiving, never-bungee-ing, never hang-gliding crowd.

But we digress.
 
For many, hot air ballooning is something typically done away, on holiday—a breath-taking experience that elevates a holiday to the never-be-forgotten level. Ballooning connects us to the very earliest days of human flight, reminding us of the astonishing transport progress humankind has made since the Montgolfier brothers invention took to the skies above France in 1783.

Balloon flight is raw, elegant, and requires a deft hand and perhaps a pilot's sixth-sense to navigate the weather conditions and landform below. Perhaps it's the we're in the hands of the Gods edge that makes ballooning such a powerful experience.

 Image: Ascent of a Montgolfier Balloon at Aranjuez by Antonio Carnicero, Museo del PradoImage: Ascent of a Montgolfier Balloon at Aranjuez by Antonio Carnicero, Museo del Prado

The Montgolfiers may have got there first, but only by the skin of their teeth. Just 10 days after their hot air balloon completed the world's first untethered, free flight with human passengers, the Robert brothers successfully launched—from the Jardin des Tuileries in Paris to huge crowds and fanfare—their own contraption, a manned, hydrogen filled balloon.

The Roberts' flight was a triumph—a journey of just over two hours covering some 36 kilometres. Fortunately, its conclusion was better than an earlier unmanned test balloon that returned to earth in a village where terrified local peasants attacked it with pitchforks and knives, and destroyed it.

Image: Hot Air Ballooning over Parliament House, Canberra. Credit Canberra Tourist CommissionImage: Hot Air Ballooning over Parliament House, Canberra. Credit Canberra Tourist Commission

These days, surprised villagers are unlikely to do much more than look up quizzically at slow moving orb quietly (for the most part) casting an unexpected morning shadow or coming down in the nearest paddock. Up in the air, contemporary hot air ballooners get a taste of what those earliest flights must have been like, drifting above the earth at a slow pace possible by no other form of transport. For many, there's no better way to watch the world slide by all over the planet.
 
See for yourself with these ballooning hot spots.

CANBERRA BALLOON SPECTACULAR AT ENLIGHTEN FESTIVAL

When: The first two weeks of March

Each March as part of Canberra's Enlighten Festival, the Balloon Spectacular takes to the air above Australia's capital. Launching from the lawns of Old Parliament House, dozens of balloons from all around the world inflate in the pre-dawn darkness before rising unhurriedly with the morning sun.

It's quite a sight and, along with Floriade, one of Canberra's landmark annual events. Be sure to consult an ATAS-accredited travel agent if planning a trip to Canberra for or during the Enlighten Festival.

ALBUQUERQUE INTERNATIONAL BALLOON FIESTA

When: The first week of October
 
Perhaps not surprisingly, Albuquerque's Balloon Fiesta is an absolute whopper compared to Canberra's affair, and arguably the largest balloon festival in the world.

Why Albuquerque? Well, Albuquerque sits in the high desert of New Mexico and benefits from mild October temperatures and predictable wind patterns that allows pilots to land close to their launch sites. Good thing, too, as a mass ascent of more than 500 balloons takes place each year at the Fiesta’s launch field — an area the size of more than 50 football fields.

Midway between the major US gateway cities of Los Angeles and Dallas—both serviced by airlines from Australia—Albuquerque sits on the famed Route 66, the Main Street of America. If a road trip along Route 66 is on your bucket list, isn't it high time you firmed up some plans with an ATAS accredited travel agent?

Albuquerque's Balloon Fiesta

BRISTOL INTERNATIONAL BALLOON FIESTA

When: The second week of August
 
Held over four days at Ashton Court Estate, Bristol International Balloon Fiesta is Europe’s largest annual hot air balloon festival. First held in 1979 with a handful of balloons, the event now attracts more than 120 from around the world.

It's not uncommon for crowds of over 100,000 to attend on each day, particularly drawn by the twice-daily mass launches.

Bristol absolutely heaves during the Fiesta, so it's important to plan ahead. Be sure to discuss you plans with an ATAS-accredited travel agent and take advantage of all the tools as his or her disposal to craft your perfect Bristol itinerary.

Image: Bristol International Balloon Fiesta. Credit: Karen Roe via FlickrImage: Bristol International Balloon Fiesta. Credit: Karen Roe via Flickr

SAGA INTERNATIONAL BALLOON FESTIVAL

When: First week of November
 
Some 100 balloons hit the sky from the Kase Riverside at the annual Saga International Balloon Fiesta in the northwest of the island of Kyushu, Japan.
Uniquely, the Saga festival includes a Hot Air Balloon School where pilots explain the basics of ballooning.

Image: Saga Festival. Credit: Saga International Balloon Festival

Image: Saga Festival. Credit: Saga International Balloon Festival 

Whether or not you attend a festival, no matter where your travels may take you, there's very likely a ballooning experience nearby. You'll find unforgettable opportunities in places like Cappadocia in Turkey, Tanzania’s Serengeti National Park, over the temples of Bagan in Myanmar, Egypt's Luxor, Mexico, and fabulous foodie regions like Tuscany, California's Napa Valley and our very own Barossa.

Image: Balloons over Bagan, Myanmar.Image: Balloons over Bagan, Myanmar.

Your ATAS-accredited travel agent will be connected to the most reputable ballooning operators offering the finest experiences available anywhere.
There's simply no better way to work on that bucket list.

Your ATAS travel agent can get you all set prior to heading off on your ballooning adventure, but here are a few travel warnings and useful tips to keep in mind.

ATAS travel agents recommend that Australia passport holders register for travel alerts before they travel.

ATAS accredited travel agents, experience you can trust.

Looking for more insights from ATAS-accredited travel agents? Click on the following links to read about Sustainable Tourism, Cruising with Kids, and the World’s Best Airports.

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