Yes you heard it right, Qatar Airways flies daily to Australia’s capital Canberra and ahead of this service, Qatar Airways has unveiled a specially designed hot air balloon to fly the skies of the city and its surroundings. The balloon, measuring 70 metres in circumference, is the largest hot air balloon in Canberra. To inaugurate the hot air balloon’s maiden flight, Qatar Airways Senior Manager Australasia, Adam Radwanski, hosted Australian Capital Territory Chief Minister, Andrew Barr, VisitCanberra Acting Director, Jonathan Kobus and a few Canberra influencers to a scenic flight over the city. Travel and Beyond was one of those influencers—while we are travelling in Malaysia, Michelle Taylor represented us on this unique experience…
From 12 February 2018 onwards, Canberrans can look forward to Qatar Airways’ award-winning service, linking them to their extensive global network that spans six continents. Celebrating this addition to the city’s global route map aboard Canberra’s newest hot air balloon on its maiden voyage was such a great way to showcase Canberra.
Rosemarie and Joseph from the Travel and Beyond received this coveted invite for the early morning balloon flight including breakfast at the Hyatt Hotel afterwards, but as they are currently out of the country, I was honoured to represent them.
It was an extremely early start. I must have been subconsciously scared of sleeping through my 4:15 alarm, because my body clock woke me at 3:30 and then drifting back off was no longer possible.
What I didn’t reveal to Rosemarie is that I am petrified of heights and if I had been representing myself, I would have turned the alarm off and rolled over to get a couple more hours of shut-eye. But as it was, I could not let my friends down! I had to at least give it a try.
The crowd that gathered in the Hyatt Hotel foyer at 5:20 am was buzzing with the thrill of the unknown and, I think, a small tingle of nervousness.
Balloon Aloft’s crew walked us through the safety information which was reassuring. Several of us looked carefully at the safety brochure and practised getting into the descent position, having a giggle, but memorizing the procedures all the same. Soon enough, our van was trundling along behind the Qatar balloon in its trailer out to Yarramundi Reach for take-off.
As the pilot fired up the balloon to inflate it, I backed away to get some shots of the entire scene. Photo after photo, so much to aim the lens at. When I finally lifted my eyes from the camera’s viewfinder, I saw that nearly everyone had already clambered into the basket and I was the last one to get in.
This was my chance to back out and it could look accidental! I could still take photos from below, great shots of the huge red balloon that was already straining to leave the ground, the biggest balloon that has ever graced our Canberra skies, with the Qatar logo.
With a willpower all their own, my traitorous legs started to propel me towards the balloon at a gallop. Friendly hands pulled me in and after some extra fire power, the basket began to gently rise.
What a strange feeling it is to float up so softly, feeling as light as a feather, no bumps or shaking in such a massive contraption. I waited for the fear to kick in as I peeked timidly over the side of the basket.
The soft morning sun painted the landscape with glowing light and long shadows from our vantage point. We were floating towards the forests at the National Arboretum and soon looking down over the shapes of the trees from overhead.
It was literally like the opening scene from some Nordic crime show, where there is a flyover of a forest with all the pointy pine trees. Magical! No surge of fear pulsed through me, what I was feeling was wonder and exhilaration.
Canberra is green and lush this summer and every view we had was better than the last. I thought that our original magpie-flight-height was perfect, where we were level with the taller iconic structures like Telstra Tower, the sunlight dancing behind them, making everything shiny.
But then we drifted up even higher and now as we gazed down, it was all about the patterns stretching out over the landscape below, the fascinating shapes of the National Arboretum’s buildings against its grassy steps; the precise lines of the rows and rows of planted trees like soldiers on parade; and the highway snaking through all the foliage hugging the curves of the winding Lake Burley Griffin.
These views literally took my breath away.
Canberra has so many stunning landmarks and it was a thrill to see them all from the sky. While I was able to easily identify Telstra Tower, Parliament House, and the National Museum, Chief Minister Andrew Barr, standing in my section of the balloon, was impressively knowledgeable about his hometown, pointing out certain roads, suburbs and even the Lodge, the official Prime Minister’s residence.
We gently drifted wherever the gentle breeze took us, cocooned in our own magical world, looking down over a gold-rimmed Canberra like soaring eagles. And all too soon, we could feel a gentle descent begin.
We had to stow away our cameras and assume the landing crouch. It was such a gentle landing. The euphoric feeling after reminded me a bit of Christmas joy as a child. We all happily pitched in to rein in and roll up the majestic balloon.
The Balloon Aloft crew drove our chirpy group back to debrief the experience over a delicious breakfast at the Hyatt Hotel. I unfortunately could not stay for the breakfast but I can vouch for a delicious croissant and a nice strong cappuccino that made my work day a little more bearable after such an early start.
Thank you so much for the amazing experience, Qatar Airways. I will never forget it. Many thanks to the capable guys at Balloon Aloft and for the wonderful hospitality we enjoyed at the Hyatt Hotel.
Canberra will be Qatar Airways’ fifth Australian destination, and the airline will be the first international carrier to offer Australia’s capital city daily scheduled flights to Doha via Sydney. The flight path will be served by a 358-seater Boeing 777-300 aircraft, connecting passengers to its global network of more than 150 destinations, of which more than 40 are in Europe. The passenger aircraft features a total of 358 seats, with 42 seats in Business Class and 316 seats in Economy Class. Visit Qatar Airways official website for more details.
Flight Schedule: Qatar Airways flies daily to Australia’s capital Canberra
QR 906 Doha-Sydney Dep 08:10, Arr 06:15 (+1)
QR 906 Sydney-Canberra Dep 07:25, Arr 08:25
QR 907 Canberra-Sydney Dep 13:45, Arr 14:45
QR 907 Sydney-Doha Dep 15:55, Arr 22:30
Travel and Beyond was hosted by Qatar Airways. All opinions are our own. Text and photos by guest blogger Michelle Taylor.