On a recent trip to Tanzania, I was lucky enough to take a hot air balloon ride over Ruaha National Park with Serengeti Balloon Safaris. While well established in the Serengeti, where the wildlife is used to the sight of giant balloons floating above them, the operation in Ruaha was only introduced in June this year, so the animals are more skittish. I have been in a hot air balloon once before as a child, in Somerset and I’ve got a certificate to prove it. Fast forward 30 years and I find myself flying around in a basket in the African wilderness, rather than the English countryside.
We were picked up before sunrise from Kigelia Ruaha, an unpretentious and well-placed camp run by Ken and his team of friendly, all-male staff. Bleary eyed but excited, we came to a stop in an open expanse of dry scrubland, where we watched a huge acacia-green and savannah-gold-striped balloon, slowly inflating with blasts of hot air from the burners. Once it was fully expanded, our personable Canadian pilot Frank invited us to come inside and take pictures.
After several men grappled with ropes to get the balloon upright, we had a safety debrief, got buckled up and climbed inside the eight-person basket, divided into four sections. Our group was joined by our driver and a pilot from Auric Air. Frank blasted loud jets of fire into the balloon and we slowly, gently lifted off terra firma and began our ascent into the pre-dawn air.
As we climbed higher, Frank adeptly navigated using a system of rope pulleys, as the African sun made its first glowing appearance, lighting up the horizon in a warm, pinky orange glow. A sense of complete calm enveloped me as I took in the amazing views of the shallow rivers and baobab trees and we floated on up into the breaking dawn. We hovered over a grazing hippo, who broke into a surprisingly fast run. Later, a family of giraffes looked up in bewilderment at the giant blob inching towards them and a troop of baboons scattered from the trees. At one point, we descended so low, we brushed the grass below us.
After an hour or so, Frank gave us instructions on landing and brought us smoothly to the ground, where our champagne breakfast awaited in the shade of a baobab tree, complete with a “loo with a view”. We were served a full English fry up and presented with certificates by Frank, who then gave a speech about the history of hot air ballooning. I now have my own little history of hot air ballooning. Maybe I’ll do it again in another 30 years.
If you are interested in taking a trip to Ruaha, please contact one of our destination specialists.