When we visited Cappadocia, Turkey on 29 Apr 2015, ‘Hot Air Ballooning’ was on top of the agenda. Unfortunately we were unable to do it due to bad weather and over booking. We returned very disappointed. Since then HAB has been on top of our ‘Must Do Before You xxx’ list. So during our NZ trip we had explored all possible locations – Auckland, Methven and Queenstown. Bad weather prevented us from going up in Auckland and we did not want to miss the opportunity in Methven. So when we rang up the ‘Aoraki Ballooning Safari’ a HAB Company, they said the weather was fine and booked us for an early morning flight on 28 Apr.
French paper manufacturers Joseph-Michel and Jacques-Etienne Montgolfier were the first documented persons to inflate and send a balloon up in flight from their home town of Annonay in the south of France. On the 25th April 1783 they decided to test their theory. Since then it’s come a long way as a very thrilling adventure sport.
Leaving Kaikoura and the whales behind, we travelled west and reached Methven after 4 hours of driving through 270 Km of outstanding country side. South Island is a visual treat and offers much more to the tourist. Surprisingly we did not see a single policeman in NZ, which speaks volumes about their discipline and law abiding citizens. We came across one police vehicle which was rushing towards an accident site. There are no animals on the road.
We checked into Ski Time Hotel very close to the town.
|Jai returning after a short walk|
Methven is a small town in the Canterbury region of the South Island. Crouched at the base of the Southern Alps, Methven is a welcoming town for visitors looking for adventure. In winter, it’s a base for snow sport enthusiasts who come to conquer the slopes of nearby Mount Hutt. At other times of the year, activities such as jet boating, hot air ballooning and mountain biking are popular.
1326 is the population of Methven.
After a bit of Zzzzzz we went out to explore the one horse town and eventually settled in Blue Pub. After a very satisfying meal we retired for the night. The weather was very nippy and we had to use electric blankets to keep warm.
|Beer chips pasta and salad|
|Well earned beer|
|Dinosaur in a park|
We got up at 5 AM and went for HAB. Captain Martyn EX RAF was our pilot for the flight. The exercise starts with the pilot letting go a survey balloon to assess the wind speed and direction etc. Thereafter we proceeded to an empty farm field for the launch. 8 of us passengers helped the pilot and his assistant cum chauffer cum steward in unpacking the HAB and spreading it on the ground. A blower then pumps air through a flame thrower and in the process the balloon is filled with hot air, helping it rise from the ground and become vertical. The immense size of the balloon becomes evident only when it’s fully filled. It is really very very huge.
|The ballooning truck|
|The passenger basket|
|Martyn the pilot now tilts the cradle on its side|
|Jai feeling extra cold - protected by the pilots jacket|
|Balloon fully stretched length wise|
|Now on all sides|
|Balloon being filled with air|
|Now with hot air|
|Ready for boarding|
After a brief introduction to the HAB, safety procedures, emergency drill, dos and don’ts we all climbed into the basket. The lift off is very gradual and smooth. Thereafter the wind takes charge of the balloon. The pilot controls the altitude by regulating the flow of hot air.
With the rising sun in the back drop the balloon makes its way up, as cows on the meadow look up in wonderment at this huge floating monster. As we started to move with the air current the farm land below appeared to shrink, the roads become small lines and houses just tiny dots on the surface. The wind was not much but it did not take away the fun and adventure behind ballooning.
|Farm land below|
|Cows in amazement|
|A lovely shadow of the balloon|
|Kats and Naveen in the basket|
|Master of ceremonies with Champagne|
|Jai relishing early morning Champagne|
|Naveen turn for the bubbly|
We helped the pilot to secure the kit and load it on to the truck. As per the traditions of HAB we were given a certificate by the pilot and thereafter treated to a glass of champagne and breakfast.
Martyn told us that in the early days local farmers were understandably frightened and skeptical about balloons and often mistook them for otherworldly beings. Many a time balloonists were met with hostilities in the form of pitchforks when they landed. This is where the tradition of offering the landowner a bottle of champagne evolved from - it not only gave the farmers thanks for letting them land on their property, it also proved the balloon was in fact French.
I think HAB is addictive and all four of wished to do it again.