Me? Getting into a Balloon?

You know me. I hate heights. Just thinking of that bungy jump Zax did still makes me feel weak in the knees.

So, as you can imagine, when the prospect of a family balloon safari came up in early 2010, right after we’d moved to South Africa, I wasn’t terribly enthusiastic.

But since I”m often accused of not feeling terribly enthusiastic about proposed activities, and since it seems my enthusiasm is somehow always integral to the whole venture, I swallowed down my fear and feigned enthusiasm. Which is how we came to get up really early the morning after our visit at Maropeng, while we were already out that way near Krugersdorp, to embark on our balloon ride.

It was very cold. And, contrary to what I thought, if indeed I had actually thought about it, you don’t just drive up, step onto the balloon, and up you soar. No, there is the small matter of inflating the balloon first. Signing indemnity forms. Waiting around and blowing into your hands. If not genuine enthusiasm, I had by now developed a definite urge to get going, reasoning that higher up the sunrise would be happening earlier, making me warm. Once again my fear of cold conquering all other fears.

Huddled together waiting for our ride. It’s cold on the Highveld on a May morning.

A very welcome sunrise

I must tell you, if you’re thinking of doing a balloon safari, that the word “safari” is a bit of a boast. If you’re wanting to see animals, you’re much better off doing so from a game drive vehicle. When you’re in a balloon, the few animals you might see are very far down and look tiny, plus the balloon isn’t actually going to go where the animals might be. It’s going to go where your driver (or are they called captain?) can reasonably steer it while making sure it goes somewhere in the vicinity of the desired landing site. In fact, the whole aim, from the moment you leave the ground for a balloon ride, is to work towards landing it again.

Do you see the tiny antilopes down below? At least I think they were antilopes…

Animals or not, I did enjoy the ride. Once I loosened my white-knuckled grip on the nearest rope, that is. The views were spectacular. Up above…

…and down below.

I wasn’t the only one with a height problem, it turns out. Looking around frantically because I couldn’t see Jabulani, I found him at my feet. That’s the spot I’m going to claim next time!

Sunshine could barely peek over the edge of the basket, while Impatience and Zax got happier the higher we soared. Zax found particular joy in leaning over the edge and watching my reaction. I think it has something to do with being a mother, but watching my kids get close to a precipice is even worse than getting close myself. Much worse.

I was happiest when we got close to the ground, trying to catch a better drift of wind. Except sometimes we scraped over the trees.

What’s really amazing about a balloon ride is how calm it is up there. You’d think it would be a windy affair, but since you’re actually moving exactly as fast as the wind, there is no wind to feel or hear. Everything is peaceful and quiet.

And yet, I was very glad when we touched down for the final time. Happy to have all my goslings on dry land again, so to speak, and happy to tuck into the bush breakfast awaiting us right there.

Booking information

Though not strictly necessary, as it’s only about 45 minutes from the Northern Suburbs, we spent the night at a hotel in the Muldersdrift area so that we didn’t have to get up quite so early. And it’s a really nice area, with plenty of gorgeous country estates. We had dinner right next door at Carnivore Restaurant, a very memorable experience and one I can highly recommend. The original Carnivore is in Nairobi, Kenya, and this one is similarly decorated with statues of Maasai warriors, giving it a very African feel. As the name suggests, it is a heaven for meat lovers with lots of unusual game on the menu, served the same way as in a Brazilian churrascaria.

Hotel: Misty Hills Country Hotel
Balloon Safari: Airventures
Dinner: Carnivore

This article is part of Joburg Expat’s What To Do in Joburg series.