#TravelTuesday: Take to the skies in a hot air balloon
I once heard someone say you are never too old to fly in a hot air balloon. A magical ride in what appears to be a giant patchwork balloon made to ascend into the sky with nothing but a roaring flame where it’s guided by the whims of the wind and an experienced pilot is the perfect way to celebrate an important date or simply experience a little joie de vivre.
Prepare to be taken aback by the size of the vessel and watch the crew inflate the balloon before your eyes before hopping in the basket and being lifted into the air with a 360 degree view of the sunrise.
With landscapes that have long had people falling in love with South Africa and no shortage of hot air balloon companies across the country, it might be time to plan your own hot air balloon once-in-a-lifetime experience if it’s something you’ve never done.
Best time to go
While you can take a hot air balloon trip any time of the year, the best time to do so in South Africa is during the winter. Hot air balloons get their lift from the change in temperatures between the air in the balloon and the air outside of the balloon. Because of the chilly winter mornings we experience, this is easier to achieve during the winter.
Where to go
Most hot air balloon companies can be found in the Magaliesburg and Cradle of Humankind World Heritage site region which has some of the safest hot air ballooning weather in the world.
1. Bill Harrop’s Original Balloon Safaris offers flights in the Magalies River Valley. These packages include a hot drink and snacks before take-off, sparkling wine or orange juice during the flight or upon landing and a scrumptious, full “champagne breakfast” after the flight. They also offer game viewing flights in Mabula Game Reserve and Entabeni Safari Conservancy in Limpopo. If you have a special request for a flight in another area, they will research the feasibility of the flight and quote you individually.
2. Sun Fun Africa Safaris offers flights in the Magalies River Valley and Pilansberg National Park. They also organise special hot air balloon rides for engagements, anniversaries or birthdays. If you’re in search for a more exclusive experience, book one of their ivory packages that include a hot air balloon ride, elephant experience, game drive and accommodation – depending on the package you choose.
3. Hot Air Ballooning SA offers hot air balloon flights from all over South Africa, including the Cradle of Humankind, Dinokeng, Parys, Sabie, Clarens, Bloemfontein, Drakensberg, the Midlands, Tula, Augrabies, Riebeek Valley and Graaff Reinet. The price includes a hot drink while the balloons inflate, a glass of sparkling wine after landing and breakfast.
4. Air Ventures Hot Air Ballooning offers hot air balloon flights in both the Magalies River Valley and the Cradle of Humankind. Their special Balloon Safaris take place over several game reserves within the Cradle of Humankind and allow for game viewing from the vantage point of the hot air balloon. They provide refreshments before take-off, sparkling wine and orange juice afterwards and complete the experience with a five-star breakfast.
They will also launch from any lodge that is more convenient to you, provided the lodge has adequate space for launching the balloons. If you fancy a trip across the border, opt for a hot air balloon safari over the Okavango Delta in Botswana.
Things to consider before booking your trip
It is recommend that passengers should be able to climb into and out of the hot air balloon unassisted, be able to jump unassisted from a height of 60 cm and be able to stand for the duration of the flight (usually an hour long).
Children under 16 years of age should usually be accompanied by their parents. Children need to be over 1.2 metres tall to see over the basket and it is advisable to check the minimum age of children allowed to fly in a hot air balloon – usually children under seven aren’t allowed to fly.
Dress warmly for the chilly early mornings but dress in layers so that you can shed some layers as the morning heats up.
Hot air balloon rides take place early in the morning, usually just before sunrise, so be prepared to get up before the crack of dawn and plan your trip accordingly. Taking a weekend getaway close to the launch site can be a fun, more relaxing experience.