A group of five hot air balloons drifted across Tumut last weekend, enjoying an early hint of spring with great weather on both Saturday and Sunday. Included in the group were four ‘normal’ balloons and one ‘Danny Deckchair’ style hopper with a single seat instead of a basket.
Craig Farrell of Canberra was part of the group of hot air balloonists and has been flying for 35 years. He said members of the group have flown their balloons all over Australia and even internationally.
“One of the ladies, Gretta, had a birthday on Saturday and we’re always looking for nice places to fly,” he explained of their reason for travelling to Tumut. “Gretta’s been out there and Steve’s been out there a few times to Tumut.
“It’s such a lovely town, with so many lovely people.”
The group launched from ‘Camelot’ and landed at the Airport and a nearby property called ‘Riverview’, where they met local residents and took a few up for a ride.
On Saturday morning, the group landed at Jaida Smith’s home, ‘Bella Vista’, on Foords Lane. Jaida, 13 years old, and Olivia, 14, were home alone while their parents and brothers were at footy.
“It was cool,” she said. “I didn’t think they were going to land in our paddock, I just thought they were flying around. We rang mum and told her they were coming and then they just landed here.
“I was just kinda excited.”
Jaida said they helped the balloonists pack up their gear and she was able to get a good look at all the equipment. She’s never been in a hot air balloon, but would like to.
“It’d just be fun and kinda scary, but fun,” she said.
Jaida told her friends at school about the landing and the general consensus was that the whole experience was “really cool.”
The balloonists had planned a second trip for Saturday, but wind directions prompted them to call it off, or risk getting stuck in the mountains.
“We were going to have a flight on Saturday afternoon as well, and the conditions were pretty good but the direction was almost exactly south,” said Mr Farrell.
“We can’t steer the balloons, so we have to go where the wind goes. We do our flight planning and work out where the wind’s going to take us. If the wind is going to take us towards the mountains, there’s nothing we can do.”
The group skipped the Saturday afternoon ride, and instead enjoyed spending time in the town, eating at the Tumut River Brewing Company and Woolpack Hotel.
“We’re out there to have fun, not take anything, but invest money in accommodation and meals,” said Mr Farrell. “We’re not there to disturb people, just to have fun.”
Although the group offered some flights to locals they met, Mr Farrell said they don’t charge people for flights or organise any commercial activities.
“It’s just a bit of a hobby on the side,” he said. “All through my working life, I did a lot of work with large corporate services work, especially with large government organisations like immigration and things. This is just something interesting to do.”
Mr Farrell started as a young, single man living in Dubbo. He said he read a newspaper report about hot air ballooning one day and thought it would be fun.
“Things were simpler back then,” he said, but added that new balloonists are often taking up the hobby. Mostly, he said they get involved by seeing someone else in a balloon and asking some questions.
“It’s something a bit different. They come out and have a chat with us and start crewing, which is helping on the ground, and they get more and more interested.”
Mr Farrell said the balloons that floated over Tumut on the weekend were ‘on the smaller side’, averaging around 105,000 cubic feet. When he’s speaking to kids, he said he explains that means the balloon could fit 105,000 basketballs inside it.
For those who are interested in eventually buying their own balloons, “it can be very expensive,” he said.
“When people ask me the starting point to get a balloon, it’s the same as buying a car. You can buy a really cheap second hand car that’s not very good for a few thousand dollars, all the way to a brand new car with all the bells and whistles on it, which might be $80,000. In between that, you can get all kinds of variations. All the way from a tiny Kia to a Rolls Royce.”
He said the average balloon probably costs around $50,000. Balloons with intricate graphics or unusually-shaped varieties like unicorns, frogs, castles or sloths can run up to $300,000.
The next mission for the group is to find some soft, yellow canola fields, which Mr Farrell said has been a little difficult with fewer farmers putting canola crops this year after unpredictable weather. They’ll try Grenfell in a few weeks and be back to Tumut for the same late August weekend next year, all going to plan.