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




New cafe, fast food outlet for Warwick?

NEW SHOPS: The block on the corner of Albion and Fitzroy Sts is about to get a makeover.

Food and drink outlet and offices for prime Warwick block

One injured after Ballandean paddock fire

Emergency services attended a paddock fire in Ballandean on Thursday afternoon.

One person treated after paddock fire in Ballandean

'Dramatic scenes': Woman had a hand in hotel lockdown, police say

LOCKDOWN: These dramatic scenes unfolded on Palmerin St in June.

Man allegedly behind The Criterion Hotel lockdown heard in court.

Latest deals and offers

Rob Kardashian 'neglected' by Blac Chyna

Friends say they are now 'back in love'

Isla Fisher: I don't like talking about my private life

Isla Fisher shut down TV hosts when they asked about her husband

Mariah Carey: I 'can't believe' Prince has gone

'Prince was one of the best people I've met'

Joe Jonas' 'tough' pals

Joe Jonas' pals are 'tough' with his potential partners

The Bachelor wash up: bacon, plank offs and that white rose

Richie Strahan, second from left, with bachelorettes Eliza, Faith, Noni and Janey in a scene from episode one of the fourth season of The Bachelor.

RICHIE Strahan meets some beautiful, and colourful, bachelorettes.

You can own this Queensland town for just $1

Yelarbon

Unprecedented auction of town's business centre with no reserve

Work starts on $15M Caloundra apartment building

Turning the first sod at the Aqua View Apartments site in Kings Beach are (from left) husband-and-wife developers Alex Yuan and Stella Sun with construction company Tomkins director Mike Tomkins and Councillor Tim Dwyer.

Developers excited about addition to Kings Beach skyline

72-year-old Coast developer set to start new project

GREEN LIGHT: The Cosmopolitan has been approved for development at Cotton Tree.

Meet the Canberran set to deliver another chapter for Coast suburb

Plans revealed for 1500-lot 'master-planned community'

Precinct will be bounded by Boundary St and Shoesmith Rd

Ecco Ripley sales run sparks prime release

MOVING IN: Sekisui House has announced the release of more residential blocks at Ecco Ripley.

Sekisui House is preparing to unveil more land at Ecco Ripley

The climb is slow but property on the way up

Michael Matusik, director of Matusik Property Insights.Photo Allan Reinikka / The Morning Bulletin

The improvement would be mild when compared to past cycles