Stories from the Great Southern Road Trip: A Hot Air Balloon Ride

Soaring gracefully above the verdant countryside dangling under the colourful orb of a hot air balloon with a light breeze ruffling your hair. Perhaps looking forward to a champagne breakfast when you return to terra firma. Sounds magic!

Photo Credit: Hot Air Balloon Tasmania

I wonder how many people have that experience on their bucket list? It was on my 60 for 60 list and on my recent Great Southern Road Trip it was marked off with a big tick! DONE! DUSTED and I survived!

A balloon ride is one of those things that feels tantalizingly, but acceptably risky. Up there with bungy jumping and parachuting. Catastrophic consequences if the very unlikely mishap actually ever occurs. In Australia, these types of  industries are highly regulated and frequently audited. The risk is there, but it’s in the same order of magnitude as being taken by a shark at my home beach. Close to zero but not zero. Miniscule but not impossible. Compared to driving a car it is extremely safe! 

So those butterflies in my stomach are just nervous anticipation of the fun ahead. Right? Right! The image of the balloon plummeting to the ground in a ball of burning, melting nylon with 16 screaming passengers in the basket is an over dramatisation from an over active imagination! Right?  

Photo Credit: Ground Crew Hot Air Balloon Tasmania

The pilot (John) and his team are experienced and have an excellent track record. They give us a thorough safety briefing. John shows us the brace position in case we have to make a “fast” landing or the basket tips over. 

Hold the handles tight, back against the basket side and bend the knees a little bit. Just a little bit, like you’re skiing.

The wind is perfect, the weather is as good as it will get and the location is captivating. 

Standing here in a paddock by the side of the Bass Highway just outside of Launceston, I feel a teeny-tiny bit uneasy. Just a little bit.  Despite the fact that I understand the physics of flight and my own mental safety assessment rules out a crash, I am still feeling anxious. My self talk is in hyperdrive! It will be fine! And no you don’t need to go to the toilet again that’s just nerves!

Thankfully, as the balloon is unfurled and fills with hot air, the anxious feeling flips to excitement. This is going to be good!

The balloon glides silently through the whispering air at an altitude between 1000 and 2000 feet (300 – 600 m). The pilot has clearance up to 3000 ft but says there is no point because you’re too high up to see the view clearly.

The silence is punctuated frequently by the roaring gas burners used to keep the air hot and the balloon aloft. The skillful deployment of various vents allows the pilot to turn the balloon. 

The view is undoubtedly spectacular although in these days of drone cameras, it may not be as unique as it once was. It’s now common for us to see a bird’s eye view. Seeing it with your own eyes, and having a ‘live’ view has got to be a superior experience. 

As anticipated we are treated to the  patchwork of green and brown fields, lego size buildings and tiny little cars on the roads. The glorious skyscape is an added bonus. No pink, but a glittering patch of rays breaking through the patchy cloud. The reaction of the creatures below is a surprise. The horses skitter away, the sheep head for cover and the cows go on munching the grass. A large eagle gets out of the way and roosts in another tree. Dogs bark and people wave. Since this is the usual launch area for Hot Air Balloon Tasmania, folks around here must be used to the brightly coloured balloon floating overhead. 

The landing site is a minute by minute proposition and (obviously) determined largely by the wind. We drift over the site the pilot was hoping to land at and end up in a fallow field a few blocks over. The basket stays upright and we all climb out.

The farmer who owns the plot has come out in his tractor to watch and is quite excited we chose to land in his paddock! He said he’d seen the balloon lots of times, and was hoping one day, it would touch down on his patch. 

We spend the next half hour helping to deflate, then fold up the balloon before returning to the muster site at Entally Lodge for a hearty breakfast. No champagne but excellent coffee. I take out my phone open my list and tick the check box! I’ve completed a little more than half of the things on my 60 for 60 list. I might not meet the deadline but I’ll have a good time trying!

Beautiful table at Entally Lodge.

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My balloon experience was with Hot Air Balloons Tasmania. It’s a family affair and runs out of Launceston in Tasmania’s north. The pilot and crew were very proficient and excellent hosts. We met at Entally Lodge which was about 20 minutes drive from Launceston but I understand you can arrange to be picked up from the city centre if you prefer. We then transferred to their transport to be taken to the launch site near Carrick another 10 km down the road. In the days leading up to my flight I was sent texts to confirm that the launch was able to go ahead, the muster location and time. There is a maximum group size of 16 people. While in the air, John will take a few photos using a camera suspended on a rig attached to the balloon.

For this flight we were asked to be on site at 6:30 AM but it can be earlier depending on the weather forecast. The flight itself was about 50 minutes. We returned to Entally House for breakfast and I was back on the road a little after 10 AM. The photos were in my email by 2 pm that same day. 

All in all a 5 star experience!

60 for 60 remix

A sepia photo showing a small lighthouse
The Little Lighthouse – Wollongong

A few weeks ago (60 for 60) I posted a list of activities that I intended on completing between now and my 60th birthday in May 2021. It was free ranging list and included little things like making a souffle right up to travelling to Scotland or Iceland.

I have been transferring the items to index cards which I intend to move from the to do to the done pile as they get done. I also thought it might be a good idea to work out  a rough schedule of when I would do the activity so I could make efficient use of time and money. For instance, I want to see an active volcano and go to Iceland. It would be sensible to see a volcano in Iceland.

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It was here at this point,  that I saw the flaws in my list. I knew the list was ambitious. I knew it would be expensive. As I tried to fit things loosely into a calendar, I simply ran out of time.  Let’s not even talk about how much I would have to spend! Of course, if I do end up winning the lottery (see this post) it will be fine! I can quit the day job and concentrate on the list full time. Unfortunately, though,  I do have to work full time to pay for my fun.

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I need to regig, remix and reassess the list.  I need more small items that I can do without having to go anywhere or spend a lot on while still giving me a sense of accomplishment. I could replace all the travel with writing, but that takes time too. I want to succeed. I don’t want to set myself up for failure before I start by having unrealistic expectations and at the same time I don’t want to make it too easy either.

So here is the new list. The changes are subtle but they will make a difference.

  • Pay off extra on my current mortgage.
  • Sell some of my writing
  • Make a profit through Old Chook Enterprises
  • Sell some of my photos
  • Hit at least 1000 followers on WordPress (help me out here guys!!)
  • Hit at least 500 followers on Instagram (help needed here too!!) @robynlang3
  • Go to the UK, more specifically, Scotland
  • Go on a another cruise (6 – 10 days)
  • Make a 15-minute documentary that gets some success (define success!)
  • Finish the Buttons story (a sci-fi themed novella I am writing. Four out of 9 chapters done)
  • Write a screenplay
  • Finish the Anca story (another short story/novel idea.)
  • Finish the family history story about Sarah Anne Usher
  • Publish a blog post every week
  • Not to drink alone.
  • Do a woodworking course
  • Spend the weekend in Melbourne for my birthday again (I went in 2013)
  • Use frequent flyer points to pay for an entire international flight.
  • Photograph the Milky Way
  • Will do the southernmost extremity of the Australian mainland when I do a Melbourne road trip for my birthday
  • Paint the interior of my home
  • Get new carpet/floor covering
  • Re-read and do the steps in the Side Hustle Book.
  • Enter works into a photography exhibition – the Scarborough Art Show (October 2019)
  • Go six months without added sugar – I’ve started this one!
  • Road trip to Broken Hill, NSW
  • Fly in a hot air balloon in Australia
  • Write up the interview I did with Tracey and Sue about the Bibbulmun Track
  • Visit at least 15 more lighthouses in Australia. (I like lighthouses and want to see as many Australian ones as I can – there are more than 2000 so it might be a stretch to see them all!) There are 15 close to home (within 300 km) that I haven’t seen yet so this should be do-able.
  • “Day in the life” photography series for at least 4 people – follow 4 people in different occupations and photograph their day
  • Do an “extraordinary man” photographic series. An environmental portrait project.
  • Make a soufflé
  • Donate blood for the first time
  • Do a big >2500 piece jigsaw puzzle
  • Sell most my 2019 calendars (help me out here too!!)
  • Publish a 2020 calendar
  • Do another year of no new things in 2020.
  • Stop dying my hair and embrace the grey!
  • Finish a short course in food photography – Daylesford Victoria
  • Publish a cookbook of family favourites with my own photography
  • Do a short online graphics design course
  • Do some more light painting
  • Do an interview on radio/TV about something to do with Old Chook Enterprises
  • Modify the design and remake the running belt you made. A lycra belt to wear while running that holds my phone/keys and tissues etc. I have already made one but it needs some modifications.
  • Enter at least 10 writing competitions
  • Enter at least 10 photography competitions
  • Go on a writing retreat in 2019 (perhaps as a cruise?)
  • Do another cheese making course
  • Design some fabric to make some cushions for my home and to sell at markets
  • Have a 60th birthday celebration
  • Cut my time for 10km run to less than 56 minutes
  • Learn how to use eyeliner properly
  • Hold a market stall at least twice
  • Learn how to swim properly by getting swimming lessons.
  • Read at least 4 novels a year form the list of “good books”
  • Maintain weight at less than 60kg.
  • Learn how to do boxing style rope jumping and sustain for  at least 5 minutes.

Already done!

  • Buy a dymo labeller
  • Set up a saving fund for my grandson
  • Set up a worm farm
  • Pitch an article to a real magazine/publication (see point 49)
  • Create a passwords spreadsheet
  • Get a new phone
  • Make a will

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Whats gone?

  • Learn enough Italian to have a short conversation
  • Enter some photos in the Royal Easter Show (a big fair in Sydney, Australia)
  • Try being an AirBnB host
  • Write a children’s picture book
  • See an active volcano (I could do this in Iceland)
  • Go to Broome, Western Australia.
  • Get my first paid article published. I had this twice.
  • Tidy my garage -hmmm not really a life goal.
  • Get a new job – to get everything done I think I need stability in my day job!
  • Go on a really long walk like the Bibbulmun Track in Western Australia
  • Meet someone very famous.

 

Wish me luck! I will publish updates at 6 monthly intervals. I’d love to hear what you would have in your list. Please add your ideas in the comments below.

You light up my life.

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According to Wikipedia, the font of all knowledge, there are 350 lighthouses and lightvessels dotted around the 25,760 km of the Australian coastline. I have been to only a few. One of my bucket list items is to photograph them all. They make lovely photographic subjects, a reminder of man’s battle against the elements set in a majestic ocean landscape.

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Wollongong’s big lighthouse – the Wollongong Head Lighthouse

All the lighthouses in Australia are now automatic. The romantic idea of the lonely lighthouse keeper vanished completely when the Maatsuyker Island Lighthouse on the southern coast of Tasmania was automated in 1996.

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The Wollongong Breakwater Lighthouse in the early morning light.

My home town has two, known to locals as the Little Lighthouse and the Big Lighthouse, because, well because, one is big and the other one is little.

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Wollongong’s Lighthouses – the Breakwater Lighthouse and the Wollongong Head Lighthouse.

This photo essay includes some of the lighthouses I have been to. I know I have visited more in my life time, but I have not always taken photos.

Cape Leeuwin Lighthouse Western Australia
Point Perpendicular, NSW.
Hornby Lighthouse – Watson’s Bay
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Warden Head Lighthouse. Ulladulla NSW

 

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Macquarie Lighthouse – Vaucluse, NSW

I estimate I have more than 300 to visit! I had better get cracking if I am going to tick off that bucket list item!