Bill Harrop Hot Air Ballooning
The "Original" Balloon Safaris from Skeerpoort Balloon Field in the Magalies River Valley which includes everything - coffee/tea on arrival, a 1 hour flight, sparkling wine on landing, clubhouse breakfast & a Citation for Bravery. This is the most expensive option.
The "Cloud 9" Balloon Rides from one of 4 seleted launch sites in the Magaliesburg & Cradle of Humankind, which includes coffee/tea on arrival, a 1 hour flight, sparkling wine on landing & a Citation for Bravery. This is medium-priced.
"Action Balloon" flights where you meet at Van Gaalen Cheese Farm in Skeerpoort, and are taken to a launch site selected by the pilot. This has the cheapest price, and is the one reflected on the form below.
Bill Harrop hot air ballooning pride themselves on being the 'Original' hot air ballooning outfit in South Africa, and it shows - I was "blown away" by their professionalism. They took no risks with safety, and my ballooning flight was cancelled as a result of what they call strong cross-winds, but to a Capetonian is a gentle breeze. Luckily conditions improved on the Monday before my Mango flight back to Cape Town.
They are situated just north of the Hartebeespoort Dam and are easy to find - in fact a kilometre before I got there I was already seeing signposts saying "Bill Harrop hot air ballooning". On arrival at 06h10, it was nice and frosty, the sun wasn't up yet, and I was guided to the ballooning site by a friendly security guard.
Dave welcomed us with offerings of hot chocolate, biscuits, tea and coffee. Dave lives on the premises with his wonderful family (he's daughter's home-schooled so she's also around), and runs the ballooning when the Harrops aren't around. Nik was our pilot, a salt-of-the-earth Englishman who has been there and done it all - he regularly balloons in the Serengeti and is on his way to work in England, where he alternates between ballooning and truck-driving.
You cant steer a balloon in any direction other than up or down. And Nik immediately showed off his years of experience by allowing the "drainage" to take us towards the Hartbeespoort and then lifted higher so that the wind would take us back over the Magalies River, and very nearly into it as he lowered us again so that the drainage took us down to within a few feet of the river. We then went back over where we started and waved hello to those preparing our breakfast.
In the area we ballooned we could go to a maximum height of 1km, as the flight path for international flights to OR Tambo International Airport is above us, and we saw evidence of it with a Lufthansa A380 and a Singapore Airlines aircraft passing closeby overhead. Occassionally Nik would spit over the edge of the balloon, to see in what direction the wind was going.
As we flew over the Witwatersberg we saw cows, zebras, babboons, a jackal and giraffe (the balloon descended and we saw the animals up close and a bit confused). We headed towards the Hartbeespoort tracking station (where they used to track the space shuttles). We passed over a field where a less friendly farmer isn't keen on balloons landing, and landed very close to the tracking station. The landing wasn't hard, but we were dragged along a bit before ending in an upright position. I climbed out of the balloon, and relieved of my enormous weight it lifted up again! Japie, Nik and Dave then manoevered the basket smartly onto the trailer (which had arrived seconds after we landed).
After landing we drank champagne, as is the tradition started on the first flights in France, and at breakfast the shared experience and the champers all contributing to an enjoyable relaxing occassion. Nik told me that if we had landed 5 minutes later we would have had a hard landing (where the basket tips over and you get dragged along horizontally).
I have to mention the breakfast - it was very very good - as a vegetarian I am naturally fussy, but they full catered for my needs - including a delicious bean stew - thanks Patsy! At breakfast we had certificates handed out recognising our extraordinary bravery!
I recommend going ballooning with Bill Harrop hot air ballooning - whether it's man-alone like me or as the ultimate gift to your partner or parents.
Author: Rob Baker