A hot air balloon safari should be on everyone’s bucket list! This is truly a fun and exciting way to see Africa’s wildlife and landscapes – especially when in the Big Five, malaria-free Pilanesberg National Park, which is located next to the world famous Sun City Resort in the north West Province of South Africa.
This type of safari gives you a bird’s-eye-view of the park and allows you to capture aerial photographs that you normally would not be able to get.
Gametrackers will collect you early in the morning from your lodge and then you will go on a short game drive as you drive through the Pilanesberg to where the balloon takes off on Hippo Loop near Mankwe Lake, which is situated in the middle of Pilanesberg.
This is an exciting time as you watch the balloon being inflated by a large flame - you can get some really great photographs as the balloon starts to inflate.
Once the balloon is inflated you will then climb into the basket. The pilot will take you through some safety measures and then your flight begins as the guys let go of the holding ropes.
Take-off & the Flight - The moment you have been waiting for has finally arrived! The balloon takes off just before the sun rises so there is not much light for the first 10-15 minutes - this is the best time to fly because the air is calm and stable.
The balloon is now taking off and you will have many photo opportunities. The very first animal we saw was a male lion walking on the far side of Lake Mankwe, we saw many other animals like; giraffe, wildebeest, impala and hippos. If you see animals from the balloon consider it a bonus, but you will be guaranteed lovely landscapes as the balloon floats over the dams with the rising sun.
We expected to feel the balloon motion but it was a very smooth flight. You will be in the air for about an hour depending on the wind factor. The balloon will drift in the wind- the pilot controls the height and altitude by using the local air current and prevailing winds to help him to navigate the balloon to a suitable landing spot.
Back on the Ground – The hour’s flight will end quickly and the pilot will let you know that he will be landing in a few minute’s time. You will see the ground crew vehicles and personnel arriving at the landing point and getting ready to welcome you back to earth!
The pilot will instruct you to grab the rope handles on the inside of the basket and to brace yourself. Landings can be bumpy but we had a gentle landing. As the balloon approached the ground, the ground crew rushed to grab the basket as it tipped to the side and they balanced it and stopped its motion - and then your hot air balloon safari has ended.
Once you are back on the vehicle it’s time to a much need breakfast at the Bakubung Lodge restaurant. You will leave the landing spot and head out for another short game drive through the park to the breakfast spot. At breakfast the Pilot will present you with a certificate confirming that you flying in a Hot Air Balloon.
The whole morning lasts about four hours and after breakfast guests are then taken back to their lodges.
The early morning drive can be very cold especially during winter so we suggest you dress warmly. We went in July and found the drive from the loge to the balloon site much colder than when we were up in the balloon!
We prefer to layer our clothes because heavy bulky jackets get in the way when you are trying to move in your small space on the balloon. Don’t take too much clothing on the balloon – leave bulky jackets on the vehicle. The basket is divided into squares and can hold 8 or 12 people, but only two adults per square making it a tight squeeze to move round in.
Wear a cap/ peak or beanie for those cold winter months. We also wore jeans or you can wear long pants as long as you are comfortable. Shoes – any closed in shoe will do, like a sneaker, or hiking boot.
Please ladies no high heels this is for your own safety, we don’t want to be toppling out of the balloon!
We took our smaller and lighter lenses – the 80-400mm for animals and the wide angle, 16-35mm for landscapes. We also took the Nikon 18-200mm lens, which I kept in my camera vest.
Just remember to keep your VR/IS on in case the balloon jolts when taking off, landing or if a strong wind comes up.
The Sigma 150-600mm Contemporary lens would also be ideal for the balloon as it is lighter than the Sport lens and provides more reach than the 80-400.
Airtrackers Hot Air Balloon Safaris is the group that operates the Hot Air Ballooning in the breath taking Pilanesberg, but Gametrackers also do Elephant back Safaris and many more outdoor adventures.
Gametrackers Outdoor Adventures is at the Welcome Center at Sun City Resorts.
Tel: (+27) 14 552 5020 or Ext 583 or 3530 from within the Sun City complex.
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"Having a passion for the region itself and having to know about all dynamics, water holes and ideal roads for a period of 6 years - I wish I had this guide on my first trip already!" - Morkel Erasmus, Secunda, South Africa
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