Set sail in the vertical and see, hear, and experience the Cape winelands like never before.
For the first ten minutes or so, I couldn’t put my finger on it. What was it that made this so completely different from any flying experience I’d ever had before? Then came the revelation: it was dead quiet. Helicopters, commercial airliners, six-seater prop planes, and microlights are a terribly noisy way to take to the sky. But, aside from the periodic blast from the hot air balloon’s gas canister, it was utterly serene, and the gentle floating sensation that accompanied it would have lulled me to sleep were I not absolutely enthralled to be several hundred feet in the air with a view of the Cape that only a privileged few get to experience.
An exhilarating experience
The package offered by GoBallooning includes welcome coffee, an hour-long balloon ride, sparkling wine, and a hot breakfast. Their pilot, the charming and chucklesome Conrad van Wyk, has 30 years’ flying experience in 19 different countries, so we approached the day’s adventure relieved to be in such capable hands.
The experience begins with a cup of hot coffee in an enormous, dew-kissed field at Klein Joostenberg Farm in Stellenbosch, while Conrad and the strong and silent Johan Nieuwoudt, the owner and operator, set about inflating the balloon. Witnessing the set-up is an essential part of the adventure, I believe, because it provides you with an appreciation of the work and expertise that goes into operating a hot air balloon. Also, it’s just plain fascinating watching a flaccid stretch of fabric transform into a towering behemoth.
Once the balloon is fully inflated and vertical, guests – eight in total – are invited to climb into the oversized laundry hamper and get comfortable. It’s then a matter of minutes before you gently ascend into the sky.
View from the top
The hot air balloon sails silently through the air, allowing the early morning melody of the Cape farmlands to reach our ears: the moos and bleats of farm animals in their pens, the rattle of our national bird, the blue crane, and the cacophony of dawn bird calls originating from the fields, trees, reed beds, thickets, and river banks. Pilot Conrad carefully and expertly controlled our altitude, taking us high enough to afford us views that stretched for tens of kilometres in every direction, and then bringing us close enough to the treetops to swipe a souvenir pine cone.
The straw yellows and soft greens of agriculture were punctuated by Cape Dutch homesteads, quaint settlements, and darker patches of vineyards, handsome in their full summer dress of leaves. It’s little wonder that hot air balloons are popular for marriage proposals!
After a blissful hour in the air, we made an exhilarating and slightly bumpy landing in a farmer’s field, where we assisted Conrad in deflating and folding up the balloon. Johan then arrived in his bakkie with sparkling wine for all to celebrate a successful (and safe) adventure. By 8 am, with enormous grins smacked on our faces, we were seated around the breakfast table at Klein Joostenberg Bistro for a well-deserved hot breakfast.
Adventure of a lifetime
Whether you’re celebrating something special or just looking for new perspectives on this gorgeous area we live in, hot air ballooning is a fantastic way to inject a little (okay, a lot of) joie de vivre into your veins.