Ballooning over Canterbury. © thinboyfatter

Canterbury Plains hot air ballooning


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A still morning is what you want: after all, set yourself aloft at the mercy of the winds when the famous Canterbury nor’wester is due and it's 'next stop, Patagonia'.

On a frosty morning, you’re generally glad of the burner when the big LPG jets are lit up. All hands hold the neck of the envelope away from the flames as they’re directed into its belly. Slowly, almost imperceptibly, with a ball-gown rustle, the envelope inflates and heaves itself off the ground. At a certain point, the basket rocks upright, and then the focus shifts to keeping it in position until the passengers are aboard.

Once everyone’s clambered into the basket – for reasons that are likely to have more to do with style than sheer practicality, wickerwork is still traditional – your captain gives her a few more blasts on the burner and gently, so gently you hardly notice, you’re airborne and rising.

It’s probably the most relaxing form of transport ever devised, like floating down a river on an inner-tube, only in mid-air.

Surprising as it may seem, you can even assert some kind of control over the direction of your drift. Because air moves about in layers, it’s a matter of moving up or down until you find yourself in a favourable airstream.

If this is your first time, you may find yourself gripping the sides of the basket a little more tightly than is strictly necessary. After all, it’s kind of hard to believe that you’re being kept a hundred metres aloft by nothing more than a big hamper, some rope and a few hundred square yards of the stuff they make boxer shorts out of.

But in the end, there’s nothing to do but relax, and admire the view – the Canterbury Plains laid like a tablecloth to the very foot of the Alps in the west, their expanse a patchwork of crop and pasture.

You can help your pilot keep a lookout for power lines and horses. Horses can’t look up, so if the balloon’s shadow falls across them or they’re startled by a staccato blast on the burner, they start doing rapid circuits of their paddocks, which is funny for everyone but the horse.

Landings can be a bit hairy, depending on the skill of your pilot and the strength and consistency of the breeze. But once on the ground, you can round it all off with breakfast, a glass of bubbly and memories of a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

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