If you’re in Melbourne and looking for a fun and unique experience, skip Eureka Tower and get a better view on a hot air balloon ride over the city.
Keep reading to find out about the time we time we woke up before the sun and DIDN’T go up in a balloon... and my experience finally flying over Melbourne with Picture This Ballooning.
On Christmas Eve Eve, the day before I left for Australia, I woke up to my cousin’s girlfriend posting some epic photos of their hot air balloon ride on Instagram. They’d already arrived in Australia, and had done many of the activities I also wanted to do, but had been too busy to plan. With it being a holiday week, I knew it was a long shot, but I sent a few emails to try to arrange a balloon ride for my sisters and I.
That afternoon, I received an extremely friendly response from a staff member of Picture This Ballooning. Their kind and upbeat tone alone was enough to make me choose the company, as I’d emailed several other companies, and the same cannot be said. I scheduled a morning flight over the Yarra Valley, and my sisters and I were so excited.
On the morning of, we all jumped out of bed, got ready, and were outside our Airbnb ready to be picked up well before our 3:30am pickup time. A van pulled up… the kind of van your parents warn you to not get inside… a man with a headlamp on his hat climbed out, walked towards us, and said, “Where ya headed?” in an extremely Aussie accent. Entering stranger, danger mode, but also not knowing whether or not this was our ride, I said, “A balloon...” Turns out he was in fact our ride, so we all climbed in to the back of the van. (Lol… sorry, mom. I promise I listened to your lessons about strangers).
We drove all the way out to Yarra Valley, and in to a country club, where we met up with the rest of the people who would go ballooning. Long story short, it wasn’t until we’d made it out to a field where they tested a weather balloon that we were told, due to the overcast and cloudy conditions, we wouldn’t be going up in a balloon that morning. It was a huge bummer to wake up so early in the morning for a ballon ride... and then to not have a balloon ride… but I really appreciated the company’s reasoning. This activity isn’t cheap, and they really care about ensuring their customers get their money's worth (while having a safe ride). This wouldn’t have been the case that morning.
On our ride back to the Airbnb, I noticed the same Kangaroo crossing road sign that had gotten Bethany extremely excited (literally sitting on the edge of her seat) when we’d driven in. Our eyes had been peeled for a kangaroo sighting since landing in the country, so I’d decided that, in an attempt to perk everyone up (and entertain myself), I’d shout, “KANGAROO!” So I did. I didn’t actually see any, but my outburst caused our driver, who had since proved himself to totally not be the creeper van type, to go, “REALLY?!”
He slowed down the van, and I laughed and apologized, explaining that I hadn’t actually seen anything… but then he pointed to the golf course and said, “Look, there are some over there!” I thought he was turning the tables, and playing my own tricks on me, but, turns out, there actually WERE about a dozen kangaroos grazing on the golf course. Who knew kangaroos liked golf? We walked out to get close to them, got some cool photos, and didn’t get kicked or sucker punched. The moral of the story, folks, is that sometimes practical jokes pay off, and that even when things don’t go according to plan, you can still create epic memories if you stay positive.
The staff of Picture This was extremely apologetic about our flight cancellation, and, after seeing how excited we got over the kangaroos, told us about penguins we could see at St. Kilda pier (Update - went to see them... it was awesome). They were so personable, and seemed to really want to make sure we still had a great visit to the city. They worked so hard to get the three of us on a flight that week, but with the weather being poor and the holiday season being busy, it wasn’t looking good. Then, as if by some miracle, they had one spot open up on New Year’s Eve… the day before I was leaving Australia. My sisters had a few more days in Melbourne, and being really understanding of how much this was something I wanted to do, told me I should go ahead and take the spot.
On New Year’s Eve, I got back to my Airbnb at 3 a.m. after a night out, changed my clothes, threw on a baseball cap, and, shortly after, was picked up by a different staff member of Picture This Ballooning. He drove me to a hotel downtown where everyone was meeting for the sunrise balloon ride. I grabbed a comfy chair, a latte, kept my fingers crossed that, this time, the balloon would actually go up, and tried to not let myself become overrun with exhaustion.
Just before sunrise, we were off. We were driven to the field where we’d be taking off, given a briefing about the do’s and don’ts of our balloon ride, and were even able to help get the balloon ready for flight. I thought surely this time that it was really going to happen, and, even though I was the only person in my balloon group flying solo, I was absolutely giddy with excitement (or exhaustion, I'm not really sure).
As we took off over Melbourne that morning, my exhaustion vanished and was replaced with a calming sense of pure awe. The sun was slowly beginning to rise up over the horizon, and the, already picturesque, skyline was now dotted with half a dozen colorful balloons. In that moment, I was overwhelmed with gratitude. At times like this, it really hits me how far I have come, and how thankful I am for all of life’s adventures, both big and small. Oftentimes, we get so wrapped up in our day to day routines and the things we need to do, that we totally forget to stop and reflect on how hard we’ve worked and what we’ve already accomplished.
I couldn’t tell you how long the flight was that morning because I lost track of time completely. However long it was, I’m so thankful I had that time to stop and reflect on the year that would soon be over. Though I hadn’t had a wink of sleep, I can’t think of a single other way I would rather have spent the last morning of the year – (which, I must add, was also followed by the most delicious buffet breakfast and glasses of champagne).
In addition to a smooth and beautiful flight (and a yummy breakfast), I was highly impressed by the professional, and candid, staff of Picture This Ballooning. They were experts in the field, and highly conversational. I was glad to not only have had an awesome experience flying over Melbourne, but also to have learned a lot about the history of ballooning. From my initial emails with the company, to the kind drivers who picked me up and dropped my off, ensuring a safe flight, and offering pointers on things to see and do in Melbourne, I was so delighted by my experience with this company.
I’m sure Eureka Tower is cool, but, for a better view of Melbourne and an overall amazing time, splurge on a balloon ride over the city... and if you’re going to spring for the balloon ride, you might as well do it with the friendliest company in Melbourne – Picture This Ballooning.
If you're not already convinced, check out my video recap of the flight below!
Though I was a guest of Picture This Ballooning, that in no way impacted this review of my flight with their company. All opinions, musings, and bad jokes are my own.