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!

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!

Light to Light Walk.

The Light to Light walk is a 30 km (one way) route that hugs the coast in Ben Boyd National Park. The Park is on the very far south coast of NSW and near the town of Eden. Being less than 100km to the Victorian border, Eden is a “bubble town”, that is in these times of COVID, special rules apply because people in the area do business with both states. I was back in Eden unexpectedly as my Great Southern Road Trip plans were disrupted because of a COVID lockdown in Victoria. This meant I needed to scurry very quickly back to NSW or risk not being able to get into Tasmania.

Remnants of burnt trees at the Tower end

Start either end.

The walk can be tackled from either end. The NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service recommend it as a multi-day walk and there are several campsites along the route. They also offer a shuttle service so you can park at one end and start from the other. You can see their website for information about this.

A few days ago I did a 16 km there and back walk from the Green Cape Lighthouse to Bittangabee (Bit-tan-ga-bee) Camp Ground and today because of the change in circumstances, namely Victoria being in a 5 day snap lock down,  I did the a 20 km there and back walk from Boyds Tower. I have therefore done the two ends but not the middle sections in a pincer movement of sorts!

The walk is rated as a Grade 4 because of its length. The track is well made, mostly loose sandy soil but also some harder rocky sections. 

Green Cape Lighthouse

From Green Cape to Bitangabee

It was a cloudy, cool start to the day which was perfect for a longish walk. The goal was to get to Bitangabee and back before lunch time. With frequent photo stops, the return walk took me around 3½ hours.

Open Heathland near the Green Cape lighthouse

There are frequent waymarkers and the track map is also available on AllTrails,  although I could not find it on ViewRanger. 

From this end the track runs through coastal heath land with lots of twittering birds. I saw flashes of a greenish parrots which disappeared into the ground cover and I presume these were the vulnerable eastern ground parrot. Aside from this I also saw a small marsupial perhaps a potteroo, a wallaby, some lyrebirds, black cockatoos, bugs of various sorts and plenty of wildflowers. 

The track was a fair distance from the ocean and although there were a few ups and downs it was more or less level.

Boyds Tower to (just past) Mowarry Beach. 

On this leg, which came as an unexpected treat due to enforced changes to my holiday plans, I decided to do ten kilometres (or 3 hours whichever came first) out and then return. I was not really sure where this would get me but I thought 20 km was enough for one day. It was a much hotter day and the sky was mostly clear. 

Boyd’s Tower

Boyds Tower, built in 1847,  is a rather elegant sandstone structure that was never actually a lighthouse. Although built with the intention of being a lighthouse,  permission was never granted  and it ended up being a whale spotting tower instead. I guess Light to Light sounds much more poetic than Light to Whale Spotter! 

The track  is still relatively flat and sandy  but this area was devasted by the January 2020 fires and the ecology of the bush land, greatly changed. Catherdrals of tea-tree are burnt out remnants, weeds have taken over and there is very little shade for the first five kilometres. However on the bright side, if there could ever be a bright side to these climate change induced fires, is that the reduced vegetation has opened up expansive views of the ocean and the rocky foreshore. 

Haven for Geology Lovers

And oh what a foreshore! Geology nerds get down there! There are massive, varied colored layers of sedimentary rocks with easy-to-see folding,faulting and tilting. The base layer (or rather the lowest layer you can see) is a rich rust red with a lighter grey-green layer over it. The red is more friable than the greenish layer and there are deep cut outs where the waves have eroded the material. 

As part of the walk you cross several rocky beaches and a striking beach aptly called Red Sands Beach has small smooth red pebbles rather than sand. Mowarry Beach on the other hand has soft, squeaky white sand. The water by contrast is clear and either deep sapphire blue or ultramarine in areas where it has a white sandy bottom.

Mowarry Beach

I saw and heard fewer birds in this section of the walk but did see three large goannas and lots of locusts and dragonflies. 

There was a small asymmetrical daisy-like flower which was a haven for bees and butterflies and it seemed to be benefitting from the lack of tree cover. 

As this section had been so fire affected many of the waymarkers were missing or badly burnt and I needed to refer to the AllTrails map a few times to confirm the direction as there were some other criss crossing paths. 

Fees, toilets and that sort of stuff

Unless you already have an Annual NSW National Parks and Wildlife Park Pass, you will need to pay the park use fee of about $9 per day. If you intend on camping there are also fees for this and bookings are essential.

On the northern walk there were toilets at the Tower but no others along the route. From the south end there were toilets at the Lighthouse and then again at the campground at Bittangabee. You might want to think about carrying waste bags with you. 

You can stay at the Lighthouse (like I did) which is lovely for prices ranging from $125 – $400 per night.

There is no fresh water available for day use or campers so make sure you carry plenty. The National Park website is a good source of information.

If I had known I was going to have some extra time in this area I would have planned to do the whole walk. 

The views are certainly worth the effort!