A view to a thrill

Julie Woods returns safely to earth after her balloon flight. Supplied photo
Julie Woods returns safely to earth after her balloon flight. Supplied photo
When the hot-air balloon disaster occurred in Carterton in January 2012, I thought to myself, ''Well, there goes my chance to go up in a hot-air balloon!''

Then I thought, ''Hang on a minute, Julie, that's just fear talking.''

But with no opportunity to go up in a hot-air balloon on the horizon, I was able to comfortably park those hot-air thoughts.

That is, until I was being filmed for a documentary by an American film-maker, Mel Edmon, who had heard me in an interview on Radio New Zealand National with Jim Mora at the end of 2011. The filming was to take place in Feilding, with a visit to my vision-impaired friend in Levin on the way.

Turned out my Levin friend was a keen balloonist and asked us if we wanted to go up. With the memories of only three months prior fresh in the minds of all, I decided to respond on the group's behalf and say, ''Why not!''

Filming continued on the Saturday, including the making of truffles. The flight was planned for the Sunday morning. We would be phoned at 5am the next day to confirm arrangements if the weather was good enough to fly. I packed my bags and got my make-up on just in case, and the phone rang at Mel's in Feilding at 5am.

''Aha'', ''ehim'', ''aha'', ''right'', I could hear Mel saying. She put down the phone and said, ''We're going up!''

Frantically, we finished packing, applied more lipstick, hopped in the car and drove for 40 minutes until we arrived in the Horowhenua, at the paddock at Koputaroa from which we would take off.

We were greeted by a man called Dennis and a pilot called Dan. Mel had said on the way down ''I hope we get a pretty balloon for filming'', and we did. A bright yellow balloon that even I knew would stand out against the bright blue sky.

Dennis gave us instructions on what to do upon landing and then it was time to hop into the tiny basket. There was room for only four of us: Tom the cameraman, Dan the pilot, my husband Ron, and myself. We all climbed into the cane enclosure, one by one, resting our hands on the leather handles as we hopped in, all squeezing in tight.

The ''whoosh'' sound of hot air filling the balloon gave me a fright and we all waited anxiously to take off. Everything was so still. I now understood why we were cleared to fly. It was a perfect, calm morning. I was starting to feel relaxed, yet a little anxious that we appeared to be still on the ground.

''Have we taken off yet?'', I asked the three men in the basket.

''Yes,'' replied Ron. ''We're about 1000m from the ground.''

What? I couldn't even tell; shows you how much I can see: Absolutely nothing! With no other sense to inform me of the feeling of peace, I could now see why people called it heaven up here.

Ron began describing the birds flying around us and the view from the basket. I was beginning to paint my own picture: the bright yellow balloon, the glistening of the water beneath us, the greenery of the surrounding farms and then, suddenly, the noise of mooing cows and barking dogs.

''We must be approaching land,'' I remarked.

''Yes, I can see some power lines over there,'' observed Ron's voice nervously.

''Another thing that blind woman no longer has to worry about,'' I muttered.

With more warning of landing than of takeoff, our basket gently bounced along the grass, finally settling in a farmer's paddock. The farmer was in her pyjamas and came out to welcome us down, providing an opportunity for me to give her a truffle to say thank you for letting us land in her paddock.

I was ecstatic, relieved to be on the ground, and exhilarated from having parked my fear and done what I thought I couldn't. I pulled out my cellphone and decided to tell my mother about the best day of my life.

''Hi, Mum,'' I exclaimed down the phone, ''guess what I've just done?''

That blind woman Julie Woods is a Dunedin author and professional speaker and coach.

Tell us about your best day. Write to odt.features@odt.co.nz. We ask correspondents not to nominate weddings or births; of course they were the best days.

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