Ballooning in the Northam Hemisphere
Not many tourists to Western Australia venture out of Perth, and if they do they tend towards Margaret River. The same could be said for the majority of Perth residents who rarely venture out of the metropolitan area. It’s a great shame, as only an hour or so from Perth lies the beautiful Avon Valley. Reminiscent of the rolling vista of Dorset in England, with scattered farms of sheep and cows, a meandering river, and dotted hills, the Avon Valley is a hidden solace. The historic country town of York in the Avon Valley gives substance to the area and is a great place to stay or visit, with quaint little shops, pubs, restaurants, an old court house, and a vintage car museum.
Nearby to York is the larger town of Northam, and the home of Windward Balloon Adventures, run by nautical expert Damien. For a few hundred bucks a person, and a launch time to have early risers dragging themselves out of bed, it’s the perfect Avon Valley adventure. What better way could there be to see the scenery on offer?
The launch time varies throughout the season, and for us we were dragging ourselves out of bed for a 5.15am meeting. To make our lives easier we booked into Northam Caravan Park which is a few minutes drive from Windward Balloon Adventures, meaning we could get up at the last minute, scramble into the car, and drive groggily around the corner. It’s a quaint caravan park with a section devoted to all manner of birds, chickens, goats, and more.
On arrival at Windward Balloon Adventures we were greeted by the ground crew, who after welcoming us, importantly showed us the coffee. After the arrival of our fellow adventurers, amounting to 18 in total, we were given a run down of the day and a quick briefing. Before we left we were warned there would be no toilet facilities available for the next few hours. I suppose this is reasonable given it’s difficult to fit a portaloo into a hot air balloon, and too be honest it’s only the hour up in the air that you really need to worry about.
The weather isn’t always predictable in the Avon Valley which makes it necessary for the team to locate the best possible launch site within the Northam area. We headed off in a bus, venturing out into the dark countryside. After stopping a couple of times while the ground crew assessed the wind with a helium balloon, we found our launch site about 15 minutes out of Northam. This is where we met Damien, the pilot and owner of Windward.
After another short briefing and health and safety we were guided by Damien and tasked to help prepare the balloon ready for flight. It was fairly chilly at 8 degrees, and it’s worth wearing shoes that don’t soak up the morning dew, but other than that the atmosphere is buzzing with excitement. The roar of the flames as they begin to fill the balloon adds an air of anticipation. It wasn’t long before the balloon was floating above us, and the sheer size is impressive. We took our turn to climb into the basket, and shortly later we were hovering only inches over the ground before rising up past the trees.
I won’t speak too much of the actual flight other than it’s an experience you will never forget. The tranquility of the valley is very therapeutic, intermixed with the excitement of drifting along in the hands of the wind and roar of the burners above. Our flight lasted over an hour as we soared over the landscape. The view is astounding, and surprisingly interesting. The sunrise is spectacular.
We landed in a field close to Northam, and Damien’s jaw-dropping landing skills are something to behold – he managed a perfect landing on the trailer which the ground crew had brought for our arrival. That must take some skill?
We all clubbed together to take down the balloon and package it up back onto the trailer, and were rewarded for our hard work with a hearty champagne breakfast in Northam’s Fitzgerald’s Hotel. The breakfast was an end to a perfect morning, and we raised our glasses to Damien and his team for a sterling adventure.
Windward Balloon Adventures can be contacted via their website.
For more photos of Perth and Western Australia, see our Perth in Pictures gallery.