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


Stay Connected

Update your news preferences and get the latest news delivered to your inbox.

Register for Relay for Life 2017

SIGN UP: Lorna Hicks, Debbie Shields, Julie Sandeman and Ashlee Hansen at the Central Highlands Relay for Life 2016.

Throw your support behind Relay for Life 2017.

Day extra special for new citizens

FLAG DOWN A PARTY: The council will hold events all over the Central Highlands.

Australia Day will be extra special for our newest citizens.

Their stories live on

HISTORY LESSON: Lady Annie Brassey visited Tenterfield in July 1887 while spending much of the last 10 years of her life at sea. Hear her story on Australia Day.

Hear the region's stories of old at the historical afternoon tea.

Local Partners

Women "bullied" into caesareans at rural hospital: claims

Maternity service review causes chaos at Emerald Hospital.

Puppetry of the Penis secrets revealed ahead of show

The famed Puppetry of the Penis is coming to the Sunshine Coast for shows in Noosa and Caloundra.

WARNING: This interview contains adult themes and traces of nuts

Noll meltdown won't affect Gympie Oz Day concert

Shannon Noll

Photo Contributed

Shannon Noll is still expected to perform in Gympie next Thursday

Win your love with tickets

SMILES: Staff and children from Outside School Hours Care are fundraising for a new playground at the centre.

DAZZLE your darling with tickets to this year's Valentine's Day Ball

Madonna hopes for election unity

Madonna hopes Donald Trump's election will "bring people together"

JK Rowling rules out Cursed Child trilogy

JK Rowling has ruled out a 'Cursed Child' movie trilogy

Buckley's chance in psychological thriller

James McAvoy and Betty Buckley in a scene from the movie Split.

Broadway veteran back on big screen with James McAvoy

Daniel MacPherson: acting’s a bit like channel surfing

Australian actor Daniel MacPherson in a scene from the American TV series APB.

THE Aussie export talks about making his mark in the US.

Shopping isn't fun if you can see dead people

Lisa Marie Woodham will be giving readings in Gladstone until Saturday January 21.

Shopping isn't fun if you can see dead people

Buderim man strips off for speed dating with a twist

RAW AMBITION: Buderim local Jackson pictured with his blind date Candice in a scene from SBS's new dating show Undressed.

People have done stranger things for love

By the water's edge

Secure your seachange

HOT PROPERTY: Money to spend on land, buildings

File picture.

Sale, leasing of industrial real estate picks up in Mackay

Collapsed Coast company could owe up to $5 million

Staff, ATO, landlords among those out of pocket.

Ipswich block of dirt sells for $582 a square metre

JUST SOLD: A property on the Brookwater golf course sold for a record-breaking $612,000.

Property smashed 2007 record by close to $100,000

Sunday auction for historical home

Former Catholic school sure to attract spirited bidding

Ready to SELL your property?

Post Your Ad Here!