Australia

Hot air ballooning in Melbourne with Andy from ‘Picture This’

You may notice in the attached photos that my wife has suddenly got a whole lot more hirsuite, this is because after booking our little adventure, Jette sadly fell ill and was forced to stay at home. It was too late to cancel or re-book, so I called my best mate Guy to ask if he wanted to wake at 4am on a Saturday morning, “No probs, that sounds great”, came his reply after I explained my plans for him.

The reason hot air balloons fly is the same reason midgets can survive mexican buffets; hot air rises. The cooler the surrounding air, the more reliable the lift. This is why hot air balloon rides leave so damn early. After meeting in town and signing a disclaimer that said we wouldn’t sue if we plonked down in a tree, we got to the launch field at around 5am. Our Pilot Andy efficiently organised us to help set up this big rip-stop nylon death machine. First cold air is blown into the balloon. This is done by holding the bottom end open and pointing a massive, petrol powered leaf blower thing inside. Soon the sheer size of the balloon became apparent, I’m guessing you could make at least 100 paragliding wings out of one balloon. The fan was making a raoucous and I noticed lights coming on at nearby houses. I could imagine the conversations, “Every bloody morning…I told you this park-side house was suspiciously cheap Beryl…”

Once Andy determined that enough cold air was inside it was time to heat things up. With the wicker basket on its side, Andy turned on the gas and gave the balloon a long hot blast from the burners. They sounded like some kind of possessed fighter jet, “Every bloody morning…” Soon the balloon was straining to lift the basket (which was very cleverly anchored to the van). Once the balloon was stable above the basket, Andy told everyone to clamber in.

Before I could say, “how safe are these things?” the anchor was untied and we silently floated up. The feeling was like being in a totally silent elevator, there was absolutely no breeze and we were all hushed as we skimmed over the trees. Launching a hot air balloon is far more relaxing than hurtling off cliff with a paraglider wing above your head. As we cleared the park we saw right into someone’s lounge room. A poor unsuspecting lady sat, relaxing in her lounge room, drinking her coffee and reading the paper in her nightgown. When she looked up with a startled expression Guy and myself waved and grinned manically until she scuttled red faced out of view.

Hot Air balloon pilots have two controls: blast the flame for up, release hot air for down. Pilots cannot steer the craft in the normal way but they manage to fly the whole rig going where they want. This piqued my curiosity. Once we were well above the city and in a pack of about six balloons, I started interrogating Andy. The magic force which pilots use to steer are called inversions. Usually as you increase in height, the air gets cooler. Sometimes there is a layer of air which is warmer than that  just below it called an inversion. Inversions create a change in wind direction so that if the wind is going North – South, it might be going East – West at the inversion layer. By bobbing between these subtle layers, hot air balloon pilots can effectively steer the craft and go [almost] anywhere they want. The level of skill required boggles the mind. I struggle to land my Paraglider on a big cliff with up/down/left/right steerage!

The views were expansive, the whole of Melbourne sprawled out before us as we watched the sun rising over distant mountains. As we were going with the wind there was not a single puff of breeze and an intermittent blast from the burners kept our shoulders warm. Soon Andy was busily radio-ing fellow pilots in the group. It was comforting to hear them asking him for advice. Peering over his glasses Andy was checking weather monitors and carefully adjusting our height. I was hugely impressed when he bought all his knowledge into play to swing us around in a big, graceful loop to land right in the middle of Fawkner park, St Kilda. We touched down with nary a bump and a rope was pulled to let all our hot air out. I felt rather deflated to be finished with the experience [I know, sorry].

We all helped to pack up the rig and were chauffered off to the Sofitel Hotel in the CBD where we were treated to the most impressive champagne breakfast buffet that I have ever gourged on.

I can highly recommend that you try hot air ballooning, even if you are scared of heights. There is a real feeling of security inside that tiny wicker basket full of propane tanks and flames, no really.

I know what you are probably thinking and yes, I asked Andy about launching my Paraglider from one of their balloons (see video at bottom). Andy gave me a contact who should be able to make this happen. This activity has received the green tick from the ‘safety committee’ (my wife) so I’ll keep you posted.

Blue skies and Happy Feet to you.

 

We flew with Picture This – Hot air ballooning The crew were highly professional and looked after everyone really well, especially the little nine year old girl who was hysterical before lift off. This experience and post was in no sponsored by Picture This.

Post note: On Tuesday morning, three days after our flight, Guy forwarded this article to me. Andy was forced to make an “unscheduled landing” that was “highly controlled”. Read: The wind died and Andy pulled off an incredibly prescise spot landing between Anna’s roses and back fence!! Read more here

 

Exploring Cradle Mountain National Park – again

I have just quit my safe, regular job and am about to throw myself into a mix-bag of study, relief pharmacy work, adventuring and more writing. Not a bad crossroad to be at, but for sure I have a lot of thinking to do. My wife has picked up on my need to think, re-group, find solace and train for the Ama Dablam climb that is looming. Supportive as always, Jette says, “I think you should go hug some trees for a few days…go on, bugger off.” *Witness Danish girl being rapidly Australianised.* I quickly agree and four short days after hanging up the white coat I am at the trailhead. I don’t want to sound like one of those try-hard Indian-mystic-hippy-Bhudda type but Cradle Mountain National Park is truly my sacred ground.

grey Exploring Cradle Mountain National Park   again

Me in mum’s jacket at 3 months old – Crater lake Jan 1978

 

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Fagus turning colour at Crater Lake

I have been coming here since before I could walk. My dad introduced many a young adventurer to nature here as he taught outdoor education. My childhood is peppered with memories of this place as is my adulthood – only a few months ago I married my best friend and fave travel companion in the shadows of Cradle Mountain. Yup, a pretty special place. But not only to me; the park is UNESCO World Heritage listed and us Tasmanians are fiercely protective of this area…so leave your guns and dogs at home please!

Despite having walked the famous Overland Track countless times the beauty of the deciduous Fagus still catches my breath. Before I even find my walking cadence I am at Crater Lake looking up at rocky walls which look as though God subcontracted the colouring to Picasso.

The hut at Crater Lake
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grey Exploring Cradle Mountain National Park   again grey Exploring Cradle Mountain National Park   again

The track past Crater Lake takes a dramatic uphill turn. Following a steep push I am at Marion’s Lookout, definitely starting to sweat but very much enjoying the feeling of my headspace clearing. It does not take long for these hills to clear my cache. An elderly guide is enjoying the views beside two Asian clients. The guide and I have a quick chat as the other two speak together in an undeterminable language. They look in admiration at my too-big-because-I-rushed-packing rucksack. Leaving, I farewell my chatty friends, hook my thumbs under the straps near my shoulders then follow my feet past Cradle Mountain. My mind in happily stuck in neutral by the time I stop to sit in complete silence whilst looking at my comforting mountains.

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grey Exploring Cradle Mountain National Park   again grey Exploring Cradle Mountain National Park   again

Soon I leave the high plateau to walk downwards through prehistoric looking palms into Waterfall Valley. A cheeky little wallaby watches me enter his grazing patch with a keen eye. Did I imagine him sighing in resignation before hopping away? Just before he disappears he gives me a second glance which seems to say ‘bugger off, I was here first…pesky humans’.

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grey Exploring Cradle Mountain National Park   again grey Exploring Cradle Mountain National Park   again

Thankfully I am the only one (human) here so I have pick of the campsites. I shun the new hut, with the cosy gas heater and fancy drying room, preferring instead to pitch my tent next to an old hut tucked away amongst a mystical Mrytle forest almost out of sight .

 

When I wake the next morning I realise why the new hut is where it is. My tent, the old hut, and all nearby trees are covered in frost which has no hope of seeing sunlight until at least midday. Nothing else for it, still in my sleeping bag I fish around for my cooker and make a coffee (sounds simple right, wrong) then I snuggle back down to read.

The second time I wake I decide it’s time to go waterfall hunting. My last time here was with dad, he showed me all the good waterfalls so, once fed and dressed, I dig up fond memories of this trip and amble through a few enjoyable hours pushing through untracked bush and hunting for a great photo. As I explore my mind dawdles across all manner of topic, for example;

1. If Jette and I have kids will I be fortunate enough to show them this area?

2. How do Giraffes drink water, with their long necks and legs wouldn’t it just come back out their noses?

2. When will we end this ridiculous cycle of extremist Christians hating on all Muslims – Extremist Muslims retaliating with violence towards all Christians and extremist Christians feeling more justification to hate on all Muslims?

3. Did I lock mum’s car?

4. Will I have it in me to get up the next big Nepalese Mountain? (A common mind-dawdle of late)

5. Should I move on to Scott Kilvert hut?

6. Why do I always put two twos in my lists?

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Late in the arvo while making coffee in the old hut a amiable retiree named Paul bursts in. Well, in reality Paul just walks in normally but as I have not seen anyone for some it feels as though he has just stormed in twirling a baton with a marching band behind him. Paul is trying to reduce his girth to tackle the Appalachian trail in America next year. We have a very brief talk but I am really not in a chatty mood. Deciding to move on I pack my things and hit the trail to arrive at Scott Kilvert Hut just on dark. Having managed to all but avoid conversation for a full two days, I struggle to hide my disappointment when I find more chatty people just waiting to make new friends. They are a friendly couple who have already established themselves at the hut. I decline their kind offer to play cards and beat a hasty retreat to pitch my tent on the helipad. Reading and listening to familiar mountain noises soon sends me off to a deep sleep. (Yes, all my gear is ready to grab in case a chopper comes and tries to land on my head in the night!) Early the next morning I wake…but soon I am lulled by the still.

At 10:30am I rouse myself enough to spend a blissful day on my helipad reading, photographing and snoozing. Who says training for a big mountaineering expedition needs to be hard work?! The following video is my entire day compressed into 13 seconds.

 

Once darkness falls I crawl into my sleeping bag having not said a single word for 24 hours. To think that some people go to expensive Thai Buddhist retreats for the same privilege. At 1am a curious possum wakes me by rustling against my tent, I stick my head out to shoo him off then look up at the shadow of the mountain where a huge wave of cloud is rolling down at me in slow motion. 20 minutes later my tent is flapping like a single aunt at a Greek wedding and the rain is pouring down.

Seven sleepless hours later I get up.

The storm seems determined to grow. I pack up all my now wet gear, fold the tent, stuff it all into my trusty red rucksack and get out of there. It truly is a cold, wet, miserable walk…but I love it. Just before finishing I make two short videos showing the wild weather.

 

I am done and back in mum’s car which thankfully was locked, I’m warm and driving home, fully relaxed, recharged and ready to face a few new life challenges, not least of which is figuring out just how Giraffes drink*.

Regarding the wild weather, don’t worry, it has not put me off from my special bush time. I just see it as good training, kind of a preview of coming attractions, for the Nepal expedition.

 

*Regarding the Giraffes I did find out. Check out this link In my search I happened upon the answer to another question which most people are too afraid to ask here.

Paragliding at Bright

grey Paragliding at Bright

 

A short video diary of my recent weekend paragliding at Bright with my mate Juan and some very cool freaks!

 

grey Paragliding at Bright

Melbourne Formula 1

Melbourne Formula 1

A few weeks ago I was riding my motorbike to work, nothing out of the ordinary there. I had just cut between the lanes to the front of the lights when I heard an unbelievable humming sound. It sounded like an angry hornet and kept getting increasingly louder at an alarming rate. I looked around frantically and not without some concern as it sounded like I was about to be rear ended in a spectacular fashion by some kind of superbike on steroids. The sound kept on getting louder until it passed by to my left with a roar. When the sound dimmed, leaving my teeth chattering, I realised that I had just heard my first ever Formula One car in person.The little bogan* in me was dancing around, grinning, with a massive car-stiffie, that engine sounded otherworldly.

My commute goes right past Albert Park, the road around the lake is normally a sedate amble past a large duck filled pond, for a few week of the year it is turned into a Formula one track for the Melbourne Grand Prix. Scaffolding is put up for the stands and workers busily make the road smooth and set out tyre barriers. The transformation is quite spectacular….not as spekky as the race though.

Whilst at work that day I was chatting with a colleague Jan about these amazing vehicles and she mentioned that her apartment overlooks the lake and asked if I would like to come to her F1 Party…”hell yeah Jan!”

Fast forward to sunday of St Patricks day, I am walking to Jan’s place, past green adorned pubs spilling embarrassingly drunk patrons and following my ears towards the track. Jan’s building if right on the southern corner of Albert park overlooking the lake, from her 14th storey balcony you can see five corners (about 1/3 of the track). Arriving a little before the race I cracked a bourbon can and watched a concerned circle of ducks huddling in the middle of the lake as they tried to figure out what to do next. The F1 Cars did their warm up laps as we watched a brilliantly choreographed flight by the Air Force roulettes, then an F14, F16 16 or some kind of big, loud war planes buzzed over close by. The intimidating array of (empty) bomb holders under the wing along with the noise made my very glad that he was on our team. I missed the race start as I got into a heavy discussion with a friendly, purple haired lady about sustainable energy solutions for Australia (don’t ask).

To give you all an indication of how damn close we were to the action check this little Tv to track film I threw together:

 

As you can hear, even from that far away the sound of these impossible machines is ear splitting. The ducks had all fled leaving a few confused seagulls on the lake. From our vantage point we could see both the track and a highway, note how the F1 cars make the normal cars seemingly stand still.

 

About half an hour later I had seen enough, my little inner, dancing bogan had collapsed from exhaustion and I headed for home. Sadly towards the end all I could think about was how cool it would be to fly a motorised Paraglider over the whole show next year…gawd that would annoy a few people!

 

 

*Bogan – (Adapted from wikipedia) The term bogan is Australian and New Zealand slang, usually pejorative or self-deprecating, for an individual who is recognised to be from an unsophisticated background or someone whose limited education, speech, clothing, attitude and behaviour exemplifies a lack of manners and education. They hold a deep love of motor sport, wheelies and tuck their cigarettes under their sleeve while drinking bourbon from a can and swearing profusely. 

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