Olly Smith, The Daily Telegraph, October 13, 2015
A lush spread of astonishing purples, yellows and greens, Australia's Yarra Valley is otherworldly when admired from a hot-air balloon.
Snakes didn’t spring to mind when I signed up to go hot-air ballooning at dawn. But after piling sleepily into the back of a utility vehicle and rattling across the retreating sleek edge of the Australian night, our briefing began. Like a crack troop, albeit a yawning one who’d never trained together before, we were warned that the cool fields at dawn may harbour silent slithering foes. I think the larrikin driving us did this because he could see that I was the only idiot wearing sandals and was also the only person in the vehicle with a film crew for ITV’s This Morning.
Unfurling the balloon over its flame is the closest I’m ever going to get to feeling like a toasted teacake – lovely, incidentally. As it drifted upward, the towering balloon slowly ruffled into shape. I clambered into the basket and, as I rose over a ghostly treeline, the world stopped. Or rather, it began. You move with the wind, which means it feels breathlessly still even though you might be travelling faster than a bounding kangaroo. And, as our captain silently pulled ropes and twisted valves, Yarra Valley emerged beneath us in a streak of astonishing purple. Its vineyards, row by row, stood to attention on morning parade where some of my favourite winemakers such as Mac Forbes tease out their treasure for the UK shelves. With the world eerily gathering beneath us, we were the birds’ eyes over the lush Yarra Valley and Dandenong Ranges, the pastures of Yarra Valley Dairy and the orchards of the Yarra Valley Chocolaterie & Ice Creamery.
All too soon the spell lifted, the basket dropped and, with a semi-dignified bump, I clambered out of my temporary wicker sky-home and kissed the ground. On all fours, I half expected to spot a grinning Aussie snake ready to bite the Pom. But all I saw was Yarra Valley, bathed in golden light, and vineyards, ripe for exploring.
Global Ballooning (0061 3 9428 5703; globalballooning.com.au ) offers a range of packages departing from Rochford Winery before dawn. Landings can be followed with wine-tasting excursions, gourmet tours, cider and ale trails. A day trip, including breakfast at Rochford Wines, lunch at Yering Station, and visits to five wineries (Coldstream Hills, Domaine Chandon, Yering Station and De Bortoli Wines) costs A$575/£268 per person.
Drinking For Chaps: How to Choose One’s Booze by Gustav Temple and Olly Smith, is published on October 22 by Kyle Books
This article was written by Olly Smith from The Daily Telegraph and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.