The basket that hangs from the base of a hot air balloon is divided into segments. The one at Gold Coast, Australia, had four. The pilot of our craft had us climb in, three to a section but made sure that the fourth one contained only a young Australian couple. Privileges for fellow countrymen, we mused but had no time to nurse the grudge as we were swept away by the excitement of the pre-dawn lift off. Flames belched from the burner and filled the multi-hued textile dome above us to bursting. Then ever so slowly we started to rise into a sky on the cusp of daybreak.
And as the sun peered over the eastern horizon its first rays exploded on the flotilla of balloons around us, lighting them up in brilliant colours. It was like the ornaments on a Christmas tree had broken free of their harness and taken flight. Our pilot triggered a few more bursts of flames into the balloon and lifted us even higher over the farmlands below us. Then turning to the young Australian couple he asked: “How about now?”
The girl looked a little confused; as were the rest of us, her fellow passengers. The only one other than the pilot who knew what it was all about was the young man who blushed a little then dropped down on one knee — which is not an easy feat given the limited space there is in a hot air balloon basket. But he managed. He whisked out a ring from his shirt pocket and popped the all-important question: “Will you marry me?”
Now that was not fair: he gave the girl no option but to accept his proposal! Forget the fact that they were a thousand feet up in the air, the sheer extravagance of his gesture swept her off her feet… And literally so, as she jumped in delight and squealed: “Yes! Yes! Yes!” The pilot had to intervene at this point and request the couple to keep a lid on their shared joy: a hot air balloon cannot handle too much rocking about. He promised them that he would celebrate the event with a Champagne breakfast once we landed and reassured the rest of us that we would be included in the party.
We left the two lovebirds to share their special moment together and refocused on the scenery below us: horses trotting around in fenced stud farms; deep blue swimming pools spread out like napkins in front of beautiful homesteads; water spouts spraying fruit orchards: the urban sprawl of Gold Coast on the far horizon… A flock of lily-white birds, flying in formation, swept across the ever-changing tapestry.
All too soon it was over and we started to make our final descent. On our 45-minute flight we had covered a distance of 10 km, reached a maximum speed of 25 kph and soared up to a height of 3,700 ft above sea level.
As promised, we celebrated the popping of the question by popping Champagne bottles (mixed with orange juice, it gives the drink a fizzy bite) and a finger food breakfast. The truth be told, a bubbly breakfast is a long-standing tradition that is part of a balloon flight in most parts of the world. This one flight established in no uncertain terms that a hot-air balloon flight can be a romantic adventure and an opportunity for one to propose in exotic settings. One can win that “Yes! Yes! Yes!” soaring above Alice Springs, Australia, with wild kangaroos hopping across the vast Outback; in Cappadocia, Turkey, where the earth heaves, thrusting phallic-like projections at the heavens; in Luxor, Egypt, where the Nile flows through the land of the Pharaohs; at Christchurch, New Zealand, where snowy peaks tower over an ocean of green pasturelands; at Pilanesberg National Park, South Africa, where herds of wild animals roam…the options for wooing your loved one are limitless.
Cold facts about hot-air ballooning
If you plan to seek the hand of your loved one in marriage, inform the pilot in advance so that he creates the moment for you.
Hot air ballooning is a soft adventure which requires no previous flying experience, licence or special skill. Balloons can carry between four to 16 passengers.
Balloons drift with the wind. The pilot controls its flight by catching wind currents at different altitudes. He can also rotate the basket so that no passenger feels that he/she is on the wrong side of the good views.
Many operators may request passengers to help with pre-launch preparations. Helping out to roll up the balloon after it lands is part of the fun.
Since hot air ballooning is weather related, flights can be cancelled for safety reasons.