We drifted lazily with the wind, up and away, enjoying the panoramic views of the beautiful Magalies River Valley. The early morning serenity and tranquility was punctuated only by the occasional chirping of birds and the frequent burst of flames into the hot air balloon . We spotted the popular Hartbeespoort Dam nearby and the city skyline at a distance. We glided over tree tops and floated over mountain bikers and sprinting rabbits. I felt a sense of contentment that few other activities could bestow upon me.
It was a magical and surreal experience, one that had been on my bucket list for years. I couldn’t believe that I was finally doing it and not just with any balloon operator. Our charming pilot was the original Bill Harrop , who has been flying people on magical balloon rides since 1981. He entertained us with amusing anecdotes as he expertly navigated the gigantic balloon through the sublime surroundings. After a soft landing an hour later, we celebrated with drinks as we were awarded “citations of bravery”, personally signed by Bill.
There aren't many things I would deliberately wake up early for but a hot air balloon ride is definitely one of them. The launch site was a hive of activity as the sun appeared over the horizon. We sat around a fire holding hot mugs of coffee and watched as the massive multi-coloured balloons were inflated, “fired up” and then launched into the air. As we were on the later flight, we also got to do some “balloon-chasing” where we followed another balloon from the ground until it landed in a field.
Then it was our turn to hop in and enjoy the exhilarating aerial sightseeing adventure. The atmosphere was electric and the entire escapade was something I’ll treasure forever. What made it even better was that it didn’t cost an arm and a leg. The hot air balloon ride was part of the Indaba Hotel ’s Experience of a Lifetime package which included a night of accommodation, three spa treatments, breakfast, dinner and the balloon ride for a very reasonable price.
Located in the Fourways area of Johannesburg, near Lanseria Airport, the Indaba Hotel is huge. It is a popular venue for weddings, corporate events and teambuilding. The sprawling grounds encompass over 250 rooms spread out over several blocks, along with Mowana Spa, two restaurants and conference facilities.
There are two dams on the premises which attract a wide variety of birdlife, a delight for birdwatchers. Fitness enthusiasts have access to the gym, swimming pools and tennis courts. The hotel is quite innovative and regularly presents attractive packages by partnering its offerings with those of other companies. They often have the sky dining events, which is something I would love to do as well.
We stayed in the luxury suite at the hotel. As we walked in, we were wowed not only by the stylish décor and the spacious bathroom with body jet showers but also by the crimson rose petals strewn all over the bed and the bathroom. The fluffy gowns, the Monis juice, the coffee machine and the huge TV were all bonuses.
Mowana Spa is a wellness sanctuary set amidst the bushveld gardens of the Indaba Hotel. The warm African ambience and verdant surroundings made me feel as though I was miles away from Johannesburg. It offers day and night pamper rituals and packages. Mine began in the evening. It was my first time at a night spa and although I was worried about getting cold, the spa rooms were well-equipped with heaters. I was treated to a decadent foot massage, a head and shoulder massage and a hot stone full body massage.
A 3-course dinner was served at the spa in between massages although I opted to have my full meal after my treatments as massages can get a tad uncomfortable on a full stomach. After almost 3 hours of pampering, I was ready for an early night and a very early morning when the hotel driver transported us to the balloon launch site in Magaliesberg.
Everyone should go on a hot air balloon ride at least once. It is what dreams and memories are made of. If it is on your bucket list, then now is the time to tick it off. If it isn’t, (why not?) then you can always visit the Indaba Hotel for a leisure breakaway in Johannesburg or for some indulgent pampering at Mowana Spa.
See this video on Bill Harrop's Balloon Safaris from Travelling Unplugged: