‘You’ll need to call the Up Up and Away office at 5am,’ our itinerary read, ‘If conditions are favourable, you will be collected at 5.30am. Please be dressed warmly and wearing sturdy footwear.’
I’m glad they mentioned the shoe thing. I don’t know about you, but a strappy stiletto would have been my first choice for a hot air balloon ride in winter over the South Island Of New Zealand.
This ballooning ‘adventure’ was the final item on our three day ‘romantic getaway.’ It posed two problems. The first? Neither of us like getting up early. It seemed ludicrous to leave the warmth of a giant hotel bed when there weren’t kids forcing us to do so. The second problem was Jim’s fear of heights. He doesn’t even like being tall.
I don’t know what made him agree to go in the end. Maybe he took a blow to the head skiing the day before. Or maybe one too many glasses of excellent New Zealand sauvignon blanc. Maybe it was the promised romantic experience? Who knows? I do know I had a mild panic attack before we left and forced Jim to make a frenzied call to our life insurance company to check that our policies were valid in case of a hot air ballooning mishap. I was almost disappointed to find out they rate the activity as low-risk. There was no way out. We were going up.
However, on boarding the Up Up And Away bus, we relaxed. Our pilot, Nigel, was Biggles re-incarnated. Tall, silver-haired, with a plummy British accent. He wore a turtleneck beneath his flight-suit and a cap with little lights built into the brim. The only disappointment was at no point did he use the word, ‘jolly’.
Arriving in a field near a village with the quirky name of, ‘Cust,’ we and the other 5 passengers helped Nigel and Geoff (bus-driver) prepare the balloon. I was relieved to know it would be Nigel, not me, attaching the cables that link the basket to the balloon. Passenger participation only extends so far.