VIDEO: Pilot on Cloud 9

When you imagine going hot air ballooning, many picture  the wine-growing region. But we have our own exceptional views right here in western Sydney. Editor Heloise Reece and photographer Carlos Furtado joined Cloud 9 balloon pilot John Allen for the ultimate experience. 

EVERY day John Allen of Annangrove gets up to go to work — and has no idea where it will take him.

He depends highly on the elements.

‘‘Hot air ballooning is still appealing to me for several reasons: it’s that freedom — unlike other aircraft and other jobs, it’s not the same thing every day,’’ he said.

Watch our video of the flight experience below, filmed by Carlos Furtado: 

‘‘I can take-off from the same location three days in a row and land in the same paddock three days in a row, but I can guarantee you, the means of getting there is completely different each time.’’

With more than 25 years’ experience and 3000 hours of flying, John describes hot air ballooning best: ‘‘It’s just like a nature walk from the air’’.

He says he finds flying over the Hawkesbury Valley ‘‘exceptional’’.

‘‘It has a beautiful landscape, similar to England, and it’s always green, no matter what time of year you fly,’’ he said.

‘‘It has the Hawkesbury River winding it’s way through the countryside, the farms, gardens and historical villages.

‘‘That’s what you want: you don’t just want the experience of ballooning, you want something beautiful to experience while you’re flying.’’

And John Crawford of Kurrajong Heights agrees.

‘‘I did one over Alice Springs and there was nothing to see,’’ he said. ‘‘Here it’s like a patchwork.’’

John Allen, who includes Virgin founder Richard Branson as one of his trainees, said there were several reasons hot air ballooning was so popular.

‘‘You’ve got the freedom of flight, the silence, and the nature underneath you,’’ he said.

‘‘Most people do hot air ballooning as a couple, so  it can be a romantic adventure or just something to experience together.’’

So it’s no wonder it’s one of the most popular ways to propose.

And the statistics speak for themselves: Cloud 9 Balloon Flights has Cupid — their purpose-built VIP hot air balloon just for lovers.

‘‘We probably get one [proposal] a week,’’ John said.  ‘‘One flight we had four champagne corks going off in every corner.’’

Dorothea Hamilton of Toongabbie purchased the balloon ride tickets for her husband Mark’s 40th birthday.

‘‘I have always wanted to go ballooning, and I thought ‘I’m not a parachuting kind of person, but this is something exciting  we can do together’,’’ Dorothea said. ‘‘And it was nice and close.’’

‘‘I was really surprised by how soothing it was,’’ Mark said. ‘‘Very tranquil, it was lovely.’’

Flights include a 45 to 60-minute balloon flight over a choice of two  locations, the Hawkesbury Valley or the Hunter Valley; online souvenir photos, breakfast and a full-colour flight certificate. Optional extras include breakfast for non-flyers ($25 a person); edited video of your flight ($80); or a printed A4 souvenir photo ($30).

Packages include engagement, family of four, weekends, week day escape and corporate.  Prices range from $299 to $1400 for flights in the Hawkesbury and the Hunter Valley. Book online at cloud9balloons.com.au or 1300555711.

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