Newest Review: ... standby for the Saturday flight, incase anyone dropped out. I declined and wanted to confirm a booking for the Sunday without being on st... more
Up, Up, Up and Away with Byron Bay Balloning.
Byron Bay Ballooning (Byron Bay, Australia)
Member Name: Kayteehee
Byron Bay Ballooning (Byron Bay, Australia)
Advantages: Fantastic experience, outstanding staff, lovely breakfast!
Disadvantages: None, except for getting up at 5am!
Last year, as some of you will probably know, I went on an epic trip to Australia, after studying there for 5 months I set out on my road trip journey, from Cairns to Adelaide. I was travelling with my girlfriend at the time. As I hadn't seen her for her 21st birthday, I decided I wanted to get her something really special, a hot air balloon ride. I originally booked a package for a balloon ride + hotel stay with Balloon Aloft, but through the hotel, and the company ended up letting me and the hotel down at the very last minute. As I did not want the idea to go to waste, I looked for some other companies, and Byron Bay Ballooning seemed a fantastic option.
Byron Bay Ballooning is, as the name suggests located at Byron Bay, in fact the launch site is located approximately ten minutes drive from the town centre, just off the Pacific Highway. It is a family run business that has been run for a number of years.
I first contacted them using the website, www.byronbayballooning.com.au and received a fast email response from the pilot himself, Thomas. We confirmed everything and as far as I remember I paid via the website using credit card. The cost was $299 each for a one hour flight, a champagne breakfast and a certificate so we could brag to our friends when we got back home. I though this seemed extremely reasonable, especially when comparing costs to similar flights back in England (with less nice views!)
The website features photographs, FAQs, booking details, and the details about your flight and the staff. It also tells you details of the VIP flights it has, which are considerably more expensive, but you get a private flight.
Once our payment was confirmed, Thomas asked me if we would like to go on standby for the Saturday flight, incase anyone dropped out. I declined and wanted to confirm a booking for the Sunday without being on standby. (July 2008) It was nice to have the option though. Thomas rang me the night before to confirm the weather seemed great and that we were all set. (Note - this was all a surprise to my partner, she knew something was going off the next day but couldn't work it out at all)
As we were travelling in our Wicked Campervan (See my other review!! - Shameless plug!), I took charge and parked us at an overnight rest stop right near to the airfield, just off the Pacific Highway, but still far enough away so she couldn't tell where we were. The worst part of the balloon flight is having to be on-site for around 5 or 5.30am. Yes kids, this time actually exists. (In my books, it only existed after a night out and before sleep!!) The great part with being in a campervan was we woke up, dressed and I drove around the corner to the airfield. As we pulled in, a car in front got out and turned on the light on the sign, it was a perfect way to inform her of her surprise, as there up in lights was the company's logo :)
We were given a quick talk and anticipation was high. There were to be 10 other people flying with us, including the man himself, Thomas. We watched him let off a helium balloon with something glowing attached to it so we could tell the wind direction and speed. This balloon got swept right out to sea, so we had to drive further inland to make sure that didn't happen to us! The basket and balloon was attached by a trailer and we were in a comfortable bus. On arrival we could help to set the balloon up, and then we all got inside it using the foot holds. We had to be in a compartment in the basket in threes, so this could work out not so good if you're going there with your sweetheart and want to lovingly wrap your arms around them.
**Setting off + The flight itself**
The balloon glided calmly into the sky, it was the most peaceful thing i've ever encountered. The only sound was the occasional twitter of birds. The sun was just rising and there was a low mist over the ground, which made beautiful photographs. I had to slightly re-assure myself that I was in a basket, with just a balloon and some gas and a man called Thomas to keep me alive, floating a few hundred feet above the ground.. it wasn't at all scary though because I was thoroughly distracted by taking photographs. The sunrise looked incredible over the mist, and we floated over occasional farms, seeing horses run free, it was honestly like being in a fairytale.
The flight lasted an hour, at one point Thomas set up a camera on a rope so he could photograph us all in our basket. He also offered to take photographs of the couples/friends together. He was really friendly and open to us asking questions, and though he was reassuring on safety, he did not seem to have the "i've done this a million times" type thing, he really appreciated that this was, for the majority of us the first time in a hot air balloon.
**Back down to the earth**
We glided back down into a field, and Thomas went through the landing arrangements. We had a relatively soft landing and then we all helped to pack the balloon away, which was actually great fun! We then got driven back to the airfield which had an office, a kitchen etc and where Thomas' wife had laid out a fantastic breakfast for us.
**The famous champagne breakfast**
This far exceeded expectations, there was homemade freshly baked blueberry muffins, a quiche, some toast and other 'real breakfast' type material, fresh fruit and of course, champagne. There was also a selection of juices for those who don't drink. The pilots and other staff that had helped set up the balloon sat amongst us chatting about their flight and sharing stories. I honestly didn't want to leave breakfast!
During the breakfast, we were presented with an option of buying photographs. I decided to buy a CD of the five photos that were taken as me and my partner each wanted a different one. The cost was $15, and this seemed fantastic value considering we could do whatever we wanted with them. We also each bought a 'Byron Bay' Ballooning' T shirt as they seemed excellent quality and we wanted to brag to our friends back home, of course! These were around $20 and came in different colours, sizes and an option for men and women. There were also baseball caps to purchase. I paid by card so went into the office to sort it out. As it turns out, there was a large print that had been done that was not needed, and Thomas threw this in for free with the other things I was buying, which was really nice.
The whole service and experience was something I will remember for the rest of my life, we were treated fantastically for the whole duration of the experience which lasted around four hours in total. The staff were fantastic, the flight was amazing, and the breakfast was delicious. I would not hesitate to recommend this company to everyone. My friends are amazed by the photographs I took. Taking into account the price as well, this company are completely outstanding!
We received a lovely certificate which I have laminated and placed proudly on my wall, but I certainly don't need that to remember that day forever!
Summary: If you're in Australia and want to do something amazing, do this!
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