Hot Air Ballooning - A Unique New Take on Game Viewing - Africa Point Blog
A profound and unexpected silence cloaks you as you drift mere metres above the treetops, your direction entirely at the whim of the gentle early-morning breeze – you are totally at one with nature. Below you the animals go about their business oblivious to
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Hot Air Ballooning - A Unique New Take on Game Viewing


Published 6th August 2014 by Bridget Halberstadt
Modified 14th May 2015
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Travel Planning & Tips

Hot Air Balloon Lake Nakuru National Park Kenya

 

A profound and unexpected silence cloaks you as you drift mere metres above the treetops, your direction entirely at the whim of the gentle early-morning breeze – you are totally at one with nature. Below you the animals go about their business oblivious to your presence as you get the remarkable opportunity to see the great African wilderness from the viewpoint of an Eagle. This is the essence of a hot air balloon ride over the plains, rivers and forests of Africa’s National Parks - an incredible Safari adventure that you absolutely should not miss.

 

What to Expect

Dawn is the best time of the day to go ballooning – the breezes that dictate the direction of your flight are light and you have the added advantage of seeing the first pink rays of sun popping spectacularly over the horizon. So, expect an early morning wake-up call – usually before 5am, depending on how far you need to travel to the launch site. Then you will be driven to the spot where your balloon is waiting; since it will still be dark, you might be lucky enough to encounter some of Africa’s nocturnal animalsalong the way. At the launch site you will meet your pilot and have a quick safety lesson and a demonstration of the boarding and landing positions. There is usually time for a quick cup of coffee while you watch the balloon being inflated and the final preparations for your flight, before you take to the skies for the ride of your life!

 

No two balloon safaris are the same, and your flight path and the distance you cover will depend on the weather conditions. Once your balloon is in the air the wind dictates the direction of your flight, while the pilot controls your height by varying the amount of hot air released. At times you may be just skimming the tops of the trees, while at other times you could be drifting along significantly higher than this to get a real feel of the vastness of the African wilderness. The vistas from you basket are absolutely incredible and there are multiply opportunities to take some unique photographs and videos.

 

Your flight will last for about an hour to ninety minutes, enough time to make hundreds of memories. Once back on Mother Earth you will be treated to a brilliant Champagne Breakfast served in the bush under the nearest convenient Acacia Tree. After your leisurely breakfast you will be driven back to camp in a proper safari vehicle – this is another great game viewing opportunity in itself.

 

 

Health and Safety

Hot Air Ballooning is one of the safest methods of air transportation on the planet!

 

Your Pilot

Rest assured that your pilot will be fully qualified and experienced. Balloon pilots have to comply with all the regulations that apply to any other pilots – they have to hold a pilots’ licence, log many hours of instruction and pass theoretical exams in just the same way as any other fixed-wing pilots. They also carry out pre-flight checks and carefully monitor the weather (balloons will not depart if the winds are too strong – above 30kph).

 

Your Balloon

The balloons are huge – much bigger than they appear in photos, and generally stand about 10 storeys tall! They do come in different sizes, depending on the region and the operator, and the largest balloons can carry up to 16 people plus the pilot. There are also balloons for 8-10 passengers and then the smaller, exclusive use balloons for up to 5 people, usually used for private photographic flights or romantic honeymoon or proposal flights.What could be more romantic than popping the question as you drift peacefully over the wilderness?

 

The balloons are fuelled by ordinary gas burners which heat the air in the balloons to just above the temperature of the surrounding air. The hotter the air, the faster the balloon will rise and conversely, as the air in the balloon cools it slowly descends. Even if you were to “run out of gas” (which has never happened as there is always a duplicate fuel system on each balloon) your balloon would just gently glide down to earth in a stable “cold descent”, with the envelope of the balloon acting as a parachute. This feature is what makes ballooning one of the safest methods of flight available.

 

 

Where Can You Do It?

There are many reputable Hot Air Balloon operators just waiting to give you the ride of a lifetime during your African Safari. Here are some of the best places in Africa to catch the next Balloon Safari:

 

Masai Mara National Park in Kenya 

The vast open spaces of the African Rift Valley is undoubtedly one of the best places in the world to go on a balloon flight. The open tree-less plains of the Masai Mara National Park allow easy viewing of many animals and the Big Five are frequently spotted. There are several launch sites situated throughout the Park so you will be near one of them wherever you are staying. The very best time for a balloon safari in the Masai Mara would be July to August when you will be able to witness the Great Migration from your lofty viewpoint.

 

The Serengeti National Park in Tanzania 

Ballooning the stunning Serengeti National Park is an item on many a “bucket list”, and for a very good reason! This remarkable UNESCO World Heritage site covers 14,763 square kilometres, making it the ideal place to explore by balloon where you get a real sense of the enormity of the plains. You can expect to see not only millions of Wildebeest, but also large herds of Buffalo, big groups of Elephant and Giraffe and thousands upon thousands of gazelle, not to mention the predators that stalk them.

 

There are several launch sites in the Park, two of them close to the northern border where the migrating Wildebeest make their perilous crossing of the Mara River. There is also a launch site in the central Seronera region and another in the south of the Park.

 

Tarangire National Park

Tarangire National Park is a lesser-known Tanzanian National Park but is famous in its’ own right for the huge herds of Elephant that migrate to the park each year. It is a blissful place to enjoy an aerial game viewing flight and there are quite a few Camps within striking distance of the launch sites in this Park.

 

Namibia 

Hot air ballooning over the incredibly different landscape of the Sossusvlei in Namibia is another African experience without parallel. This time it is not about the wildlife but rather all about the incredible landscape, the sand dunes and the dramatic Namib Desert. Do not miss this adventure if your safari includes a visit to Namibia.

 

South Africa

You can enjoy a wonderful balloon flight over the private Game Reserves that border the Kruger National Park or float like a feather over the expanse of the Pilanesberg National Park, which nestles in the crater of an extinct volcano and offers great Big Five viewing.

 

 

Is Hot-Air Ballooning for You?

All passengers need to be over 7 years of age. You do not have to be fit, but you do need to be able to climb into the basket, which is 1,2mt tall. In addition, landings can be a little bumpy sometimes so this activity is not recommended for pregnant ladies.

 

It can be really chilly at high altitudes in the early morning, so come dressed in layers so that you can be comfortable in the basket as well as on the ground. A hat is suggested to protect your head – the burners generate a surprising amount of heat when they are switched on.

 

 

Tips for Photographers

Photography can be a little tricky! You will need magnification, so be sure to bring a lens of between 50 and 200mm if possible to film animals on the ground, as well as a wide-angle lens for those incredible sweeping shots of your surroundings. To prevent blur from vibration you will need to use a faster shutter speed – if you can adjust it manually choose a 1/250th of a second speed or set your automatic camera on sport-mode. Also make sure to enable your camera’s image stabilization. (Once you’ve taken that perfect shot be sure to submit it to our #IncredibleAfrica14 photo competition!).

 

Have you found a brilliant Hot-air Ballooning destination that escaped our attention? Do you have any insider tips? Please share your experiences and photos with our readers.


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About the Author:
Bridget Halberstadt

Bridget Halberstadt

Bridget is Africa Point’s resident blogger and wordsmith. She’s a proud South African living in beautiful Cape Town. Bridget is passionate about travel to all corners of the globe and loves to learn about foreign cultures, cuisines and people.


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