Canberra Balloon Festival 2022
Lake Burley Griffin, Canberra
11-13 March 2022
By BELINDA O’CONNOR
After picking up my daughter Issi from school, we were on the road to Canberra by 4pm. Unfortunately, this meant we would arrive in the dark, and I was worried we’d lose reception and our map guide before we got to the campsite.
Finally, the bitumen turned into a bush track. Fifteen kilometres later we were faced with a locked gate, code in hand but it just refused to open. Back to the phone and alas, now no reception. Just as we began contemplating a trek in the dark to who knows where, Scott and Jenny came to our aid. The lock had a trick they knew and it was opened in a flash. So relieved!
The campsite was magical, covered in a variety of different coloured two-person dome tents. We proudly pitched ours—a bright pink tent (an ode to the artist Christo) and settled in for the night.
The next day we all agreed to go our separate ways. Some ventured off to the National Gallery of Australia, others went to the Ancient Greeks exhibition at the National Museum of Australia, whilst others made their way to the National Arboretum Canberra. We agreed to meet again at 1.30pm at Black Mountain Peninsula, where we paddled around Lake Burley Griffin and discovered its wetlands.
We drove back to the campsite—this time in daylight. We all cooked dinner and sat around a fire, eating marshmallows, chatting and laughing the night away. A highlight of the night was a visit from Canberra locals—and also seasoned River Canoe Club members—Peter and Polly, who we’d done the Murrumbidgee with. Great stories, great people, great laughs.
The 5.30am start the next morning was a rude shock. My alarm was louder than I had intended and someone’s car alarm accidentally went off. This was the day to see the hot air balloons in all their majesty. Driving again in the dark, we wound our way to the lake as kangaroos hopped and skipped in front of our headlights. We were on full alert, but it was a wonderful memory.
We followed what Issi referred to as “those over-planned roads” to the lake where we jumped in our boats and paddled to see the much-anticipated balloons. Bathed in the sky’s hue of perfect pink, the sunrise was really something. We could hear the burners of the balloons blast before we could even see them. As we all paddled excitedly to see more, we became quite spread out. Everyone began to blend into the community of paddlers—paddle boarders, kayakers, canoeists and hover boards.
Balloons began to slowly descend in a line and some briefly skimmed the water with their baskets and then ascended again. One balloon offered a large rope, and they towed us all behind it. There were 25 inflatables including a rather large sloth.
My phone leaped with joy into Lake Burley Griffin, and without a second thought I dived in after it—realising then as my phone slowly fell away into the depths that I stayed on top of the water because I was wearing my PFD. All I could do was watch as it slipped further away, perhaps to be a time capsule in years to come. Peter and Polly came to my rescue, and helped me go through the motions. Despair, denial, reality.
Like a soggy doggy (Issi’s words), we paddled to the only coffee shop around to drown our sorrows in a cup of coffee—but the wait was something else. An hour later I was able to sip on something warm. Jenny apparently scored a banana bread or two in their overwhelmed confusion.
Paddling back we had a whole memory bank of colourful balloons, smiles and laughter. I couldn’t help but have a niggling feeling that our trip will be remembered as the day Mum lost her phone in Lake Burley Griffin. Dead, at the bottom of the lake, Issi wonders if she can hear it ringing! “Oh I heard it Mum, did you hear it?” Pft, watersports!
Driving home talking of our adventure, we looked forward to our next one.