FLOATING ON GENTLE ZEPHYRS
OVER THE VAST CONTINENT OF AFRICA
Balloon flights are wish list items for many. Bill Harrop, founder of South Africa’s first commercial balloon flight operation, has made them a reality for thousands of happy passengers.
Ballooning has to be the most seductive form of sightseeing. At daybreak, when the air is stratified and before the earth heats up forming thermals, the motion is controlled and gentle, a weightless floating – if you closed your eyes you’d hardly discern any movement.
Soaring a kilometre above the earth, you fly at a level where landmarks can still be identified. Harrop’s flight terrain includes the Segwati Game Reserve, Hartbeespoort Dam and the Cradle of Humankind, giving guests sightings of game, water and an age-old landscape where modern humans first stood upright. The activity is the safest of all aviation pursuits too, and injuries are rare.
Harrop’s balloon experience begins at dawn – between 05:00 and 06:30 depending on the season. The launch site is at the company’s Skeerpoort base, 45km north-west of Johannesburg’s northern suburbs. There’s freshly brewed coffee and justbaked muffins as passengers watch flight preparations from the patio of an Edwardian-style clubhouse. A ‘whoosh’ signals the lighting of propane gas burners which blow into billowing piles of rainbow-coloured cloth, shaping them into magnificent orbs. Instruction on boarding and safety are given, and the flights last an hour or so. A bottomless glass of local bubbly is served in flight or on landing, which, according to the company literature, takes place “always in the shadow of the basket, wherever that may be.”
Passengers are returned to the clubhouse by vehicle for a slapup breakfast, where a menu highlight is Harrop’s take on Northumbrian oatmeal porridge - “with a pinch (of salt), a sprinkle (of sugar), a dollop (of cream) and a dribble (of whiskey)”, he quips. Passengers leave with a citation marking their “courage and fortitude to ascend (as few other earthly mortals would dare) up in to the aether...in an aerostat floating on the gentle zephyrs over the vast continent of Africa.”
The experience is pricey, and as such a bucket list item. Many of Harrop’s customers book it as a celebratory activity, to mark a significant birthday or anniversary, or to ‘pop the question’. Ballooning is also widely used for corporate team building or incentive events. Mindful of budgetary constraints, Harrop mar-