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



Ipswich CBD bank to close for good

CLOSED FOR BUSINESS.

Not enough physical customers to keep doors open

'Ridiculous': Council refuses renovation at heritage home

NOT FAIR: Karen Solomon of Newtown is angry with Ipswich City Council for refusing her plans to build a colonial style double car port at her Newtown home.

Council rejected development application

Council refusal of 'high density' development ends in court

Ipswich City Council first meeting with the new 2016 council.

Developer took the matter to the Queensland Planning Court

Local Partners

Your gig guide to a great night out in Ipswich

The latest on the live music scene across the city.

Dreamworld may supersize with 'Disneyland expansion'

Dreamworld could become a “more attractive and entertaining park”.

Bush balladeer brings bruised blues to Brissie

BRIGHT FUTURE: Jordan Merrick has just released his EP, In Colour.

Singer-songwriter Jordan Merrick on his debut EP, In Colour

Ipswich lad 'Robbo' brings Studio 10 home to Nanna

REUNION: Studio 10 roving reporter David 'Robbo' Robinson broadcast the Channel 10 shows live from Ipswich with his grandmother Jan Wells.

And Eastern Heights fan plays host in the TV thrill of her life

World’s strongest man reveals incredible 12,000 calorie diet

Brian Shaw won his 4th World's Strongest Man title. Source: Twitter

World’s strongest man reveals incredible 12,000-calorie diet

ABC2 slammed over football exhibition match coverage

Fans weren't too happy with ABC2's coverage of Wednesday night's game.

ABC2 slammed for coverage of soccer exhibition match

'Bulls--t!' Lisa Wilkinson grilled over Karl's pay packet

Join us for a Great Night as we Proudly present Lisa Wilkinson

“And you believe everything you read?”

'Ridiculous': Council refuses renovation at heritage home

NOT FAIR: Karen Solomon of Newtown is angry with Ipswich City Council for refusing her plans to build a colonial style double car port at her Newtown home.

Council rejected development application

Council refusal of 'high density' development ends in court

Ipswich City Council first meeting with the new 2016 council.

Developer took the matter to the Queensland Planning Court

Open for inspection homes May 25-31

Check out this weekend's homes open for inspection

How Toowoomba house prices compare in Australia

For sale sign in front of home.

Here's what $700,000 will buy you in Toowoomba, Brisbane and Sydney

One of Maryborough's most historic homes is still for sale

FULL OF HISTORY: Trisha Moulds is owner of the historic Tinana state known as Rosehill. The beautiful home is currently for sale.

It has been the scene of both joy and tragedies over the years.

Ready to SELL your property?

Post Your Ad Here!