By Yashivan Govender,
5:30am on a Sunday morning and I am sipping a cup of coffee watching a hot air balloon being setup under African skies. At this stage my mind wonders, I start thinking about the adventures of Phileas Fog to whether or not Pierce Brosnan actually knew how to fly one of these balloons. By the time my mind starts facilitating the thought of Jackie Chan bouncing around the Balloon doing kung fu type kicks, the fiery blaze of the Hot Air Balloon burner begins to roar!
Before I know it I am being whisked off and invited into the balloon’s basket, where I am now been given a safety briefing by our flight captain Bill Harrop. As it turns out the actual Balloon we are travelling on is owned by Bill himself and his travel company is aptly named Bill Harrop’s “Original” Balloon Safaris. An Englishman running a Hot Air Balloon Business in South Africa…awesome, out the box and exactly something to take note of!
We sail through the clear skies at a gentle pace, we see the world in a tranquil state as civilization and the local wildlife start to stir out of their slumber below us. It’s a magnificent journey and Bill’s commentary reassures us that we are in safe hands. Our inevitable descent back to solid ground brings a slight sadness to the senses as being so high up is just incredibly unnatural…almost superhero like!
We land in tremendous fashion, which we soon toast with champagne and orange juice to “sober” the adrenaline rush that we had just been through. Bill rallies the passengers to a buffet breakfast that is full of energy and excitement. As breakfast comes to a halt we slowly calm down and our sky high adventure becomes a distant memory. I find myself in an intriguing conversation with Bill wondering what possess an Englishman to tackle South Africa with a hot air balloon business. “I saw South Africa full of wonderful energy and my passion for the ballooning business seemed to match the country in a very niche manner”, Bill proudly states.
He is a seasoned and intrepid campaigner, having sailed by boat through tricky waters, flown through the skies in nothing more than a basket with a giant balloon above his head, by the sound of it you would think he would have been James Bond’s stunt double in his younger years. However he keenly explains his younger adventures in the Caribbean as being one of his fondest and a huge factor in his learning of the tourism and hospitality business.
I ask him about the future of the tourism industry not just in South Africa but in Africa as well and he explains “…it’s about allowing Africa to just remain as it naturally and not impose too much from a modern infrastructure…it’s critical to keep a balance between the two”. Bill goes onto illustrate his plans for the business, which stems from expanding fully into the hospitality arena to a concept of having a polo field built alongside the clubhouse pavilion and restaurant which currently hosts the breakfast buffet and a scenic view of the balloons taking off into their skyward adventures.
It’s a conversation I won’t forget and can envision Bill’s future plans developing as I depart the clubhouse and head back to the now fully awaken civilization that is the city of Johannesburg. I can’t help but think that this ballooning industry takes more than just an astute business minded individual to run but a creative thinker who is willing to cut loose even though the sky is the limit!
For more information on Bill Harrop's "Original" Balloon Safaris visit: balloon.co.za