Hot air ballooning in Melbourne – a once in a lifetime experience for a bird’s eye view over the second largest city in Australia.
Hot Air Ballooning in Melbourne, Australia
Hot Air Ballooning is quickly becoming one of my favorite ways to see a new area. Floating peacefully through the sky, I have been able to see the chateaus in the Loire Valley of France and the other-worldly landscapes of Cappadocia, Turkey.
Whilst staying in a Melbourne hotel on a recent visit to Australia, early one morning I spotted several hot air balloons floating over the city skyline. I quickly jumped on TripAdvisor to find out about these hot air balloons as I have never even heard of the opportunity to fly OVER a city. Through my research I discovered that Melbourne is one of the few cities in the world that can be traversed by hot air balloon.
What a great way to see Australia’s second largest city with a bird-eye view of the land and especially the huge Central Business District area of Melbourne with Victorian era building nestled between modern skyscrapers.
TripAdvisor features a few operators that offer this hot air balloon experience and I was especially interested in reading the reviews to find a top operator. The top three companies had 200-400 reviews each, which gave me a pretty accurate view of what to expect. Hot air ballooning over Melbourne is an expensive venture, so I wanted to make sure my expectations would be met for a safe and pleasant experience. I quickly read the reviews and almost all highlighted great experiences. The main complaints that TripAdvisor reviewers had seemed to be around weather cancellations. Having hot air ballooned two times before, this an understandable risk and quite honestly, I am glad these companies cancel to avoid risk and maintain a safe experience.
The TripAdvisor listings led me to select Global Ballooning Australia, a family-run business who have been operating for over 30 years. I booked the entire experience within the TripAdvisor website with a few clicks and a payment. TripAdvisor offers secure payments, lowest price guarantee and 24/7 support if there is any issues with the transaction. Best of all, if the price is cheaper directly with the operator, TripAdvisor will refund the difference.
Global Ballooning sent a confirmation email and I was ready to go… until the cancellations. I actually had to reschedule my morning hot air balloon ride two times before we had a green light to go. This was due to high winds in the Melbourne area during the weather’s ever-changing patterns in the winter months. Again, I was expecting this as a possibility due to the reviews and had enough time to allow for these delays and rescheduling in order to take the trip safely.
Ready to Go!
Finally on a Tuesday night, I checked Global Ballooning’s website and I had a green light for a 4am departure the next morning and a sunrise flight. The company’s van arrived to pick me up from our hotel and away I went to the central meeting point, the Pullman Hotel, for the meet up and a quick signing of waivers. Another van ride with the entire group, and we arrived in one of the parks north of Melbourne. We would be flying today with one other balloon which always makes for a nice experience, being able to watch another balloon float over too.
The teams quickly unloaded the baskets and the big balloon called the envelope. Huge fans are used to expand the balloons before the flames are shot in to provide hot air which tips the balloon upright.
And away we went for a sunrise flight over Melbourne …..
Melbourne from above
For one hour we floated up and away, approaching Melbourne, flying over the skyscrapers and getting a 360 view of Melbourne’s harbors.
It is amazing – all of the different perspectives we could see as we looked afar to the tall skyscrapers, the harbors, and the far off sunrise.
Another few minutes, we were directly above the Central Business District, the CBD, looking down on our hotel pool, grids of neighborhoods that looked like legos, and the famous footy field called the MCG. Canoes rowed up the River Yarra and looked like little ants scurrying through the brown muddy water.
At one point, the intercom came on and the pilot was instructed to descend under 2000 feet as a jet was approaching for a landing at the nearby airport. I learned that the hot air balloon is actually run like any other a private airline, reporting flight logs and receiving instructions from the local air traffic control.
Another request was made later in the hour to Melbourne air traffic control to allow us to ascend to 4000 feet. We quickly felt the elevation with a gust of cold air and we picked up a lot of speed as the colder and stronger wind took us out to a golf course farther in the distance.
The landing – it’s always the scariest part of hot air ballooning. I have had a really rough one in France where we skidded through a grain field for about one-quarter of a mile and the basket tipped on it’s side. I have also had a great one in Cappadocia where the pilot landed our balloon on the trailer without barely a bump. It all depends on the speed and as you can imagine, dropping into a crowded city area requires more speed and a sharper descent. We had one big bump and about a 20 foot skid across the park but stayed upright.
We unloaded from the balloon and were then instructed to help fold up the balloon and load it onto a trailer.
My one gripe on the experience was the request to help pack up the balloon. This is not the norm for other hot air balloon experiences and also it is a dirty and labor intensive job. The Melbourne hot air balloon experience is an expensive one compared to others in the world likely due to high labor costs in Australia and the significant expense of running the company under air traffic control regulations. However, it does not meet my expectation to pay this much for a 1st class experience and then have to get dirty packing up a balloon in a dewy field. Regardless, this was a minor factor in a once-in-a lifetime experience flying over a major city in a hot air balloon. The pilot, Kiff, was well experienced pilot, I felt safe, and I had a wonderful time with views of Melbourne that few see.
Another quick van ride and we arrived back at the Pullman Hotel for a buffet breakfast and champagne. We also received our certificates, my third hot air ballooning experience.
I had several weeks in Melbourne so I was able to book this activity in-country, but I would recommend booking in advance for the beginning of your trip to Melbourne. This will give you a great view of the city to start your Melbourne adventures and also allow for rescheduling if needed. Our balloon pilot explained that there are not nearly as many cancellations in Australia’s Summer (Nov-Feb) but during the winter months, Melbourne’s weather famously changes frequently. You can find the best prices on TripAdvisor from 200+ booking sites.
Melbourne is one of the few cities you can hot air balloon over and this operator has been part of the tourism industry for over 30 years. It is also unlikely that most cities could get this type of experience approved today, so take the chance to experience hot air ballooning in Melbourne.
BlueSkyTraveler worked with TripAdvisor to review this attraction and booking through the TripAdvisor, however all opinions are my own.
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