If it flies, speeds, falls or rolls, then there is a good chance Raffles, my mini man of action, is going to want to try it, which is a little problematic given his mother is something of a coward. When he leaps, jumps and slides his way into mischief he assures me “Danger” is his middle name, though I am inclined to tell him it’s actually “Please-stop-doing-that-right-now-or-you’ll-die” whilst flapping about in a panic. But he ignores me and does it anyway.
But there is one thing that, until now, has remained unchecked on my little adventurer’s must do list, mostly due to his mother’s irrational fear of flying, and that is taking to the sky in a hot air balloon. I mean, not only does this require actual flying. In the air. Without a seat belt. In a giant picnic basket. With strangers. It requires a 5am start, without the aid of caffeine.
Regardless, I find myself in a huge Hunter Valley paddock at the crack of dawn, swallowing a teaspoon of cement. Here Raffles and I watch on as industrial fans and fierce flames inflate our vessel, the brand spanking new Oaks Cypress Lakes Resort Hot Air Balloon, operated in partnership with the experts at Balloon Aloft, launched to celebrate the resort’s 25th anniversary.
Before I know it, the beautiful blue Oaks Cypress Lakes Resort Balloon is fully inflated and I am clambering inelegantly into the picnic basket (though they like to call it a gondola) and waving goodbye to my husband and Sugarpuff (who has run off with her lovely new friends, Emmie from Mumpack Travel and Tiah from A Little at Large, and could care less that her mother is flying away to her inevitable death).
“We’re doing it. We’re really doing it” shouts Raffles who hugs me with excitement as the ground slowly retreats into the distance and we head several thousand metres up into the atmosphere. His joy is so infectious and our ascent to a higher altitude so surprisingly gentle that it takes just seconds for me to swing from terrified to euphoric. Once more my boy’s fearlessness is pushing me to be braver and bolder than I’ve ever been.
It is the smoothest ride of my life. We are suspended in air, almost like we are on a floating balcony, the only sound the reassuring roar of the propane burners intermittently shooting flames into the balloon to keep us afloat. And I am no longer even a tiny bit afraid.
Together, my beautiful boy and I soak up the magical sunrise panoramas of the Hunter Valley from above, the extraordinary green landscape of vineyards and wilderness areas below randomly illuminated with splashes of sunlight. An hour passes in what seems like a moment and all too soon it is time to land.
One must use the winds to steer a balloon, so one’s final destination is never really known. A ground crew follow from below and the pilot just seeks a suitable piece of land that looks safe for landing and hopes the land owners don’t mind.
This morning it turns out to be a huge paddock inhabited by hundreds of kangaroos who skitter off as the air vents on top of the balloon are opened to release the hot air and we descend to earth with a gentle thud.
There’s a few minutes wait until we get the all clear, and we hop out of the balloon in the same ungainly and inelegant fashion that we hopped in, the promise of a glass of waiting champagne and a hot breakfast adding a little energy to our efforts.
But it is not all serenity and champagne just yet. There’s still work to do. We are all required to put our backs into pushing the air out of the balloon and rolling it up to fit back in its trailer. As we get down on our knees to do our bit Raffles also manages to knock the wind out of me, when he announces with utter conviction that he’ll be asking Santa for his own hot air balloon for Christmas.
Yeah son, about that…
Disclosure: Raffles and I flew as guests of Oaks Cypress Lakes Resort but all opinions, abject terror and eventual euphoria are our own.