Sport

A world above

ETHEREAL: Unlike any other aircraft, balloons travel with the wind, so there is no friction, no breeze, no sense of movement and no sound.
ETHEREAL: Unlike any other aircraft, balloons travel with the wind, so there is no friction, no breeze, no sense of movement and no sound.

IT'S ABOUT 4.50am and a dozen of us gather in the frosty pre-dawn dark beside Tyagarah airstrip as Australian ballooning champion Thomas Dattler releases a small test balloon.

The fact he and his crew took out the national titles last year - and will travel to Michigan, US, to contest the world titles this year - is small comfort as the blinking red LED light disappears into the dark at about 1000 feet.

"It's going north-east so we won't be launching from here," he says.

"We'd be out at sea in no time - not so good without a steering wheel," he adds with a slight grin.

We pack into two troop carriers, one pulling all the equipment, and head inland.

From a dark lookout at the corner of Coolamon Scenic Dr and the Pacific Hwy, Thomas releases a second test balloon, which is immediately swept down into Byron Bay and out to sea.

The 12 of us pile nervously back into the troopies and head west as the excitement builds and the crew continue discussing launch options on the two-way.

As a local, I've often looked upon extreme-sport activities for bullet-proof backpackers with a little disdain, but this is different, very different. And from the moment we launch from a misty paddock somewhere near Bexhill, you know it.

The silence is surreal, the landscape - lit low from the sunrise - is just sublime, and the stillness is exquisite. This is not only reflected back to me in the faces of my 11 co-passengers, but that of our veteran pilot too, as he tells us we are scooting along at about 10 knots.

It may just be another day at the office for Thomas, but you know this man loves his job. His grin is infectious.

Unlike any other aircraft, balloons travel with the wind, so there is no friction, no breeze, no sense of movement and no sound. I wouldn't be laying it on too thick to call this experience ethereal - at 2000 feet the atmosphere sparkles, the horizon curves and stars still shine above us.

We gawk speechlessly as Thomas reveals more tricks, dropping altitude quickly to pick up a different wind direction (identified by squirting hair conditioner out the basket) and the chance to touch the tree tops near Nashua.

Filing photos and badly-thumbed commentary direct to The Northern Star's Facebook page, I resist the urge to photograph Hollywood nice-guy Simon Baker's hinterland spread as we float majestically overhead. I feel above such things today.

Only the sound of the burners break the quiet, lifting us over the next ridge, on track for a soft landing in another paddock, just outside of Bangalow.

Steadied by a pretty good champagne breakfast, I reluctantly return to work like a kid leaving Dreamworld for the first time, transported in every sense. The tourists may lap it up, but every local should do this at least once.

Ballooning

Where: Byron Bay Ballooning, 1 Old Brunswick Rd, Tyagarah (beside Tyagarah Airfield near Byron Bay)

When: 60 to 90 mins before sunrise

How much: $325 per passenger, includes champagne breakfast

How long: One hour flight, allow four hours for everything else

What to wear: Comfortable protective clothes (season appropriate) and closed shoes

Topics:  tyagarah airfield



How to survive a bushfire in your car

IT SOUNDS like a nightmare, but it can happen.

Eight reasons to join the RFS

SPREAD across 93% of Queensland, the Rural Fire Service has about 36,000 volunteers. And you could be one of them.

What if my insurer gives me grief?

CLAIMING your insurance cover after a natural disaster can go one of two ways. It can be a breeze, or like pulling teeth.

Santa's visit to Marburg delayed a day due to storm

Saturday afternoon's storm rolling into Marburg.

Christmas Carnival delayed 24 hours

Massive water park will help you cool off this weekend

Water Wonderland is coming to Ipswich.

The water park Ipswich residents have been crying out for is here.

Family of slain grandfather welcomes guilty plea

Ariik Mayot was arrested by police after attacking Ipswich grandfather Lindsay Ede in Goodna. Photo: Contributed

"Coward punch" killer could serve life in jail

Local Partners

Mandy Moore feels like she's 60

Mandy Moore sees herself as a 60-year-old rather than a 32-year-old

David Attenborough on facing his mortality

Sir David Attenborough in a scene from the TV special The Death of the Oceans.

Life without Sir David Attenborough is hard to imagine

Goooodbye Hamish and Andy (from our radios)

Hamish and Andy

The pair have been on air since 2006

Saying "I do" changed Shia's outlook on marriage

Shia LaBeouf has a new outlook on marriage since he tied the knot.

Singer tunes in to first movie role

Tori Kelly voices the character Meena in the movie Sing.

Musician Tori Kelly voices Meena the teenage elephant in Sing

Cricketing greats bring Aussie mateship to commentary box

Cricket commentator Adam Gilchrist.

ADAM Gilchrist enjoys the fun of calling the Big Bash League.

Chinese locked out of Australian property market

The rules are different if you're a foreigner

The buyer was from China - the trouble started right there

Morrison signs off on new affordable rental model

Australia's Treasurer Scott Morrison speaks during a press conference after a meeting of the Council of Federal Financial Relations at Parliament House in Canberra, Friday, Dec. 2, 2016.

Scott Morrison signed off on development of a new financing model

New 1200-seat Mormon church to open in Ipswich

COMMUNITY: Barbara MacDonald of Springfield Lakes with her children from left, Jacob, 6, Charlotte, 2, Joseph, 4, Emily, 9, and Lachlan, 8, outside the newly built Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints at Augustine Heights.

One of Australia's largest Mormon churches will open this month

REVEALED: 25 of Ipswich's cheapest houses

8 Trumper St, East Ipswich, Offers above $230,000.

Old and neglected homes in hot demand with renovators

Coast high-flyer's fight back from bankruptcy, $72m debt

Scott Juniper went from millionaire developer to declaring bankruptcy in2012, now he is back on top of his game again with new developments including this one in Coolum.

'Apocalyptic lending storm' causes financial collapse.

Ready to SELL your property?

Post Your Ad Here!