Like thieves in the night we walk through the moist, high grass while heavy jeeps rush past us. About 100 meters further, the first jeep stops and another 100 meters further the second. Sails and baskets are carefully placed in position. In the glare of the blinding headlights, dozens of warm breath clouds rise in the cold darkness. Not much later, the meadow is lit up by a giant orange flame. The heat radiates on my face and defrosts my morning mood: let the sunshine come!
We get into the basket with a dozen people. It is subdivided into 4 smaller sections to evenly distribute the weight of the passengers. The balloon's sail flaps back and forth while it continues to fill with warm air. With each flash we slowly rise and then land softly on the ground again. In the distance we see how the grand landscapes are slowly but surely revealed. That is the signal to leave and soon we are hanging 50 meters in the air above Yarra Valley, a region northeast of Melbourne that is known for its vineyards and beautiful nature.
Patterns of vines shine through the morning mist while the rolling hills show on the horizon. The pastel blue sky blends seamlessly into a soft orange glow that becomes brighter as the sun rises higher behind the hills. The landscape looks like a colorful patchwork where green plains of grass meadows and vineyards alternate with golden yellow straw fields.
We fly further away from civilization and now we mainly see arid plains surrounded by forests. As we descend, we see kangaroos enjoying their breakfast. They are shocked by the sound of the powerful burner and quickly jump away to seek shelter in the woods. The herd of sheep is also not so keen on that large fire-breathing balloon and flees.
We start rising again as the sun comes out any moment. The bright rays betray her arrival, but the spectacle is short-lived. Clouds ruin the picture and it looks like the sun has disappeared even before it was well and truly there. A bit disappointed, we watch how a dark mass of clouds envelops everything in shadow.
Assuming that this is the end of the balloon flight, I am surprised how our driver ignites one flame after the other. We rise at a rapid pace and go so high that we are surrounded by clouds. I hold out my hand to catch a piece of cloud, I always wanted to do that as a child. An illusion poorer I notice that we are still going further up.
Not much later we arrive above the cloud cover and a beautiful scene awaits us: a carpet of fluffy clouds that turn pink due to the newly awakened sun. If there is a heaven, it will certainly look like this. It feels a bit surreal to literally sit above the clouds in a basket that simply hangs on a large balloon. But the view is so beautiful, so magical.
When everyone seems to have enough photos, we start the decline. Cars and houses are visible again and there is strikingly more life than an hour ago. A few passengers firmly grasp the handles of the basket, but the landing is surprisingly soft. We help the driver fold up the sail and are taken back to the assembly point by minibus. At the end of an eventful morning we receive a personalized certificate and a glass of champagne, made from the grapes in Yarra Valley of course. Cheers!