There are few reasons why anyone would agree to wake hours before the sun. A sunrise hot air balloon flight over the Magalies River Valley in the Cradle of Humankind World Heritage Site, well, that’s reason enough.
Silence. This is the place of morning calm, where I imagine the day that is to be, comes to collect its thoughts. Hundreds of metres above the treetops, the hot air balloon glides on the tail of the technicolour wind, at 14 knots an hour. A genteel mist lingers over the river meander that is hugged by autumnal hues and leads towards a patchwork of agricultural farms. The sun shows off its reflection in Hartbeespoort Dam on the horizon and once it rises high enough, I trace the balloon’s shadow across the rocky hill below. And to think that I am only 45 minutes away from Johannesburg’s northern suburbs.
Brad, our commercial pilot for the hour-long flight, skilfully manoeuvres low enough for us to spot a hare on a boulder. A metre or two lower and I could easily jump out, if I wanted to. Zebras, Springbok and Blue Wildebeest weave their way across the landscape. They are unfazed by our presence, probably because they can’t hear our camera shutters. With a few controlled bursts of the burners the hot air balloon rises again, over the hill to our soft landing within Segwati Ranch.
As the team bundles the envelope of the hot air balloon – it involves quite a bit of stomping, compressing and deflating, similar to that of packing a sleeping bag – guests clink their champagne glasses. ‘Tis only the appetiser for the champagne buffet breakfast that is to follow.
After we’re satiated, Brad presents us with citations for braving the African skies during a ceremony. But with 33 years of experience as a fully licensed airline and hot air balloons made by the world’s largest manufacturer – Cameron Balloons in England – you simply can’t go wrong with Bill Harrop’s “Original” Balloon Safaris. By mid-morning I’m off on my next adventure.
Bill Harrop’s “Original” Balloon Safaris