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.

____________________

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!

The Tarkine Drive – NW Tasmania

The “Tarkine” refers to the remote north-western corner of Tasmania. The drive from Strahan to Arthur River goes through the heart of the Tarkine and is part of the signposted route called the Tarkine Drive. You will only pass through a few very small settlements and Zeehan, an old mining town, well past its heyday. 

Zeehan – long forgotten prosperity

This area is the wild Wild West. Remote, largely unpopulated and full of nature. The road is winding, hilly and narrow. Some long sections of white gravel will slow you down but that’s good because then you can see the little critters that run out before you actually hit them. The tee trees come right down to the road and I am sure there are rolling hills but the dense forest blocks your view.

Corinna, a very small town 50 kilometres from Zeehan, is a little hub of activity. Corinna was also a mining town and was first inhabited by white settlers in 1881. The road to Corrina from Zeehan is mostly sealed except for a short section. To cross the Pieman River you will need to summon the Fatman Barge. Press the button once to call down the operator. It will take a few minutes and then you’ll see the him pull up in his ute on the other side. I guess he was probably having a cup of tea and getting his boots back on before you pressed that buzzer! The Operator, a friendly chap, says he does about 40 – 50 crossings a day. It’s strictly one car at a time with a load limit of 6.5 tons. The barge’s deck can accommodate a car with caravan/trailer if you’re pulling one. The price varies depending on how big your vehicle is. I paid $28 for my Subaru Forester.

The pub is also the General Store

ONCE! Press it once and wait!

The crossing itself is short and soothing. The chugging of the engine drowning out the chirps of the tiny birds. The drizzling rain adds to the ambiance. On the other bank the Tarkine Hotel is a welcome spot to stop for lunch or coffee. Well, it’s the ONLY spot to stop for lunch and coffee unless you’ve brought your own!  Lunch does not start till 12 so if you arrive before then, opt for coffee and muffins. I had to wait a while for the homemade Butter Chicken pie. Firstly 20 minutes for the kitchen to open and another 20 while the pie warmed up.  In the meantime I chatted with the young fellow behind the bar and had a coffee. The pub has some cabin accommodation which looks cozy and rustic.  A few of the original town buildings are still standing and being used as staff housing. There is no internet in Corinna. The computer and EFTPOS at the pub runs off a satellite connection. So if you’re looking for an off-grid holiday this could be it.

Apart from going to the pub, you can hire kayaks, take a river cruise or set off on a hike to explore the local area. There are lots of day walks of varying lengths including one with a suggested time of 8 hours!

Once you leave Corrina, it’s dirt all the way to Arthur River except for a few sections on steep hills. The terrain through here is much more open. The road can be used by two-wheel drive vehicles, but be prepared for a bumpy ride! There are plenty of corrugations and potholes.

A little misty!

I really enjoy this sort of technical driving with horseshoe bends, tight corners and twisty hills. I passed less than a dozen cars the whole 200 km. The misty weather added lots of appeal to the drive and I took some good photographs. 

This drive has lots to offer. Make sure you have a spare tyre and drop in at the pub.

Don’t come to Flinders Island!

Flinders Island is the largest in the Furneaux group of islands in Bass Strait. It is on the north-east side of Tasmania and is governed by Tasmania. It’s less than 70km from end to end and 37 km at its widest point. The population is less than 1000. You can get there by a car ferry that leaves once a week from Bridport or fly. 

Like a beach to yourself?

Before you come to Flinders Island you need to have a good hard think.

Don’t come to Flinders Island if

  • Your ideal holiday involves shopping. There is only one gift/craft store and a few other shops (supermarket, butchers, baker, couple of cafes and a swanky new development on the dock at Whitemark which has a distillery.)

  • Your ideal holiday must be fueled by designer coffee in a different new cafe every day.

  • Ditto for Michelin rated restaurant experiences. Having said that the crumbed lamb cutlets at the pub were pretty good!

  • Your holiday must include cultural pursuits like the theatre, galleries and the like. There is a pub and a tavern and a public library.

  • You plan to mix it with the glamourous jet set. The people here are mostly in hiking or farming clothes with big dusty boots and very broad brimmed hats. 

  • If you think bird watching, geotrails, beachcombing along long sandy beaches, kayaking and hiking are boring. (Definitely don’t come under these circumstances)

  • In fact don’t come to Flinders if you don’t enjoy the “great outdoors” because that’s what the island excels at.

ONLY come to Flinders Island if you:

  • Like being outdoors

  • Like walking generally and particularly hiking up hills and mountains

  • Like having the beach to yourself for a quick skinny dip

  • Love scrambling over huge granite boulders covered in bright orange lichen

  • Love counting how many different types of seaweed are in the one rockpool

  • Are a bit partial to driving on corrugated dirt roads at the “right” speed

  • Like following a geotrail and and can tell your pegmatites from ordinary crystals. 

  • Love chatting to friendly strangers you encounter on the trail or in the pub

  • Have plenty of sunscreen and the aforementioned broad brimmed hat to manage the ferocious southern Sun

  • Like wallabies, wombats and pademelons

  • Are not worried about tiny little aeroplanes!

I love Geotrails!!

Pegmatites at Killiekrankie

Flinders Island Interstate Hotel

You must come to Flinders if you are a keen landscape photographer!

Castle Rock


I stayed on Flinders Island for 4 days which for me was plenty to get around and see the sights and relax as well. I flew over with Sharp Airlines from Launceston. It’s only a 25 minute flight. I stayed at the Flinders Bay Cabin Park and also hired an all-wheel drive car (RAV 4) from them.  The studio cabin was very comfy and had all I needed to cook some basic meals.

Sharp Airlines 19 seater Metroliner

Before you go check out the website and make sure you pick up a map and an “Essential Information for Visitors” brochure at the airport. Check out what times things are open because not much is open after dark or on Sundays. This is not the BIG SMOKE and the remote community will not have everything you need 24/7. If that’s the sort of holiday you’d like, have a stay-cation! Basic provisions and petrol are more expensive than elsewhere because everything must be shipped in so expect to pay a bit  extra at the supermarket. A real treat for those into Park Runs! There is a Park Run every Saturday starting at 9AM at the Whitemark Wharf. It’s on a wide flat track so a good opportunity to improve your time!

Walkers Supermarket through the Pub window

There is a developing “foodie-trail” happening with the distillery, and some interesting cafes opening. There is an olive oil plantation and three wineries. The gift shop has some lovely locally made items if you’re looking for a souvenir of your trip. 

Also make sure you go to Wybalenna, a settlement developed to isolate the indigenous Tasmanians in the 1830s. Another dark and sad time in our nation’s history. Go and pay your respects.

The Chapel at Wybalenna

And make sure you take a camera and your cossies, the water is surprisingly warm!