Thursday, 23 March 2017

Finally up in the air again: Australia, country 22 for me!

ALLIE: DAY 38: Saturday, 24th of March

My 22nd country and Australia in the Ballooning logbook!

Finally, ballooning again! We both felt some sort of withdrawal symptoms after nearly 4 weeks without it. But getting up at 3.00am in the pitch dark morning makes you think “you are mad!” And it’s raining!

We drive the 56km up the windy roads to the Atherton Tableland. Still drizzling we set out with the rest of the team and 3 big balloons (the biggest being a 450cu feet balloon-bus) to drive to the launch site. By 4.30 we launch a few test balloons.

finally air-borne over Australia!
The sky looks stunning. I have never seen such a clear wonderful shiny milky way. We spot the southern cross and know we a to the north of it! All the preparations are done by just the pilot and one crew man – and in the pitch darkness. 

By 6 am the busses with the passengers arrive and the balloon is ready to be fully inflated. Even before sunrise we take off into a magic looking sky. The first flight takes exactly 30min and takes us over mango and banana plantations, before John pops into a tiny field to exchange passengers.

But we may stay on to enjoy a second flight with even more spectacular sights and much better light. The sun breaks through the dark clouds and creates a mysterious light like out of ice age at the time of the first dinosaurs. 
flying over the Atherton Table land

We are reminded to be in Australia when we spot a few kangaroos jumping away from the noise of the burner. This time John does his final landing in a big field that is inhabited by some zebu like cows.
They don’t seem to mind and he lands the big balloon gently in the middle of the field. The retrieve crew soon arrives and we all help to pack this “biggy” with its 1000kilos away.

Its time for a hearty breakfast and the obligatory champagne. We drive a few miles to a little farm where a plentiful breakfast is served (there is even miso soup and rice for the Japanese passengers!).

I talk to Martin, a German, who has chosen Australia as his new home. He loves living out here but gives me the secrets in how to obtain dual nationality even though the German government only allows you to have one.

The secret is paying 300 Euros to a bureau in Cologne, waiting for 7 months and the being allowed to keep your passport. But he said, getting the Australian one, just took him 30 min on the internet and a quick hello to somebody. And now he is officially Aussi!

Phil and I decide to use our time whilst already being up on the plateau and we drive down highway….Phil gets his share of aeroplane spotting with a stop at a war museum which features a few wrecked aeroplanes and the Mareeba airstrip with another few aircraft.

On to the little hippy town of Yungaburra where we stroll along the monthly market ( a bit tacky with lots of handicraft and food stuffs) and taste history in the old hotel pub of 1910. 

The town looks to me like out of a cowboy film. Very hippie and laid back. The town is also famous for watching the Australian beaver like species called Platypus. But its Saturday lunchtime and even they must have decided that its time for a break from visitors.
packing up the balloon
Now its time for my share of our “travel-deal” (after being to 3 aeroplane spots in only 24hrs!) and we drive to the crater lake of Eacham. But I spare Phil the task of a 4 km walk around the lake when I discover that its allowed to swim here. 

The water is beautifully clear and warm (even though the Lonely planet talks about it being cold). The drive back to Trinity is a windy pass with endless bendy curves. We both nearly fall asleep after such an early morning start.

Later more work on the compi and emails, a drink at the favourite beach bar and another home cooked dinner. This time it’s lamb with cuscus and salad.

PHIL: Day 38/24 March

great Australian breakfast after the flight
Up at 0300 to go ballooning with John up on the Atherton Tablelands. A false start as Allie realises, after 5km of following John on the tortuous route, that she has left the camera behind.

I bite my tongue but speak to her gently  in a tone reserved for sub-humans. Then we have a depressing hour’s drive in drizzling rain over the coastal ranges and into the plateau around Mareeba.

After several stops to review possible launch sites we take off, in company with four other big tourist balloons, as the Southern Cross fades in the clearing dawn sky reminding us we are truly in the Southern Hemisphere.

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