ABC Perth Saturday Breakfast: Hidden Treasures goes up, up and away in the Avon Valley

Giant Man and Tiny Balloon

For ABC Saturday Breakfast Hidden Treasures, Ro and I went somewhere we haven’t been before … beyond Perth! Up and over the escarpment and east to the Avon Valley.

There’s a reason that songs are written about being in the air. 

‘Come Fly With Me’, ‘99 Red Balloon’s, ‘Up, Up and Away’ and ‘Danger Zone’ are just a few of the classics inspired by the feeling of being up there, where the air is rarefied.

Let’s have an adventure that is discovered in the darkness but is soon revealed by the dawn of a new day. 

Let’s go hot air ballooning!

The Avon Valley isn’t far from Perth and if it was north or south it would just about qualify as part of the Perth Metropolitan Scheme.  Being just over an hour’s drive away it’s wonderful how easy we can leave the city behind, even if it’s just for a few hours.

Arriving at the Northam Airport I’m the first to arrive and there is nobody at the airport except for the resident cat.  It’s so cold that the cat jumps into my car. 

As other people start to arrive and huddle around the coffee making facilities, I’m taken by news articles on the wall that describe the history of hot air ballooning in the world. This sounds like the beginning of a joke but it’s true, in 1783 a sheep, a duck and a rooster went riding in a hot air balloon in France. 

I had thought that the airport would be our take off point but Damien, our chief pilot, has been letting go of weather balloons and squinting at the night sky like an old sea captain. For this morning’s flight with Windward Balloon Adventures we must head west of Northam.

These guys have all the permissions required from the shire and farmers to access properties, so long as we remember to close the gates.

Still in complete darkness, our pilots inflate the balloons as they lie on the ground and the roar and brightness of the gas burners is a bit like those aerobatic displays of jet planes whooshing over your head. 

After a final briefing we climb into our basket and just like that, we’re away. No seatbelts. No worries.

Dark Shadows Welcome a New Day

I’ve done some wonderful air related activities in my life from the fastest and longest zipline in the world with my daughter Matilda down the side of a mountain in South Africa, to twice jumping out of aeroplanes, flying a beautiful Tiger Moth over Perth and the seaplane to Rottnest, and even trekking up mountains and being above clouds.

When I jumped out of an aeroplane I thought about the words of John Magee, a World War II Spitfire pilot who wrote a poem called High Flight with the first line, “Oh, I have slipped the surly bonds of earth” and the last line, “Put out my hand and touched the face of God”.

Astronaut Michael Collins died recently, and he once remarked that he wondered what John Magee would have been inspired to write if he could have been in orbit above the Earth. 

As we ascend from the paddock that becomes a mist shrouded valley beneath, I looked to the east and had author Douglas Adams’ words in my head, “There is a moment in every dawn when light floats and there is the possibility of magic.  Creation holds its breath.”

Creation Holds Its Breath

I can tell you I held my breath and it was amazing.  In so many of life’s travels and adventures it’s been the sites and sights that are the most awesome but what was so immersively different about a hot air balloon experience is that sound becomes part of the canvas before you.

It’s mostly silent apart from the whoosh of the gas burners every so often to get some altitude. Looking down and around you’re suddenly struck by the sounds of parrots having an early morning squabble in the trees over who’s sitting on the best branch, sheep all going baa as they move across a paddock far below and even a dog barking from somewhere. 

There are other balloons to help with the perspective of what we’re all a part of this morning.  They drift along as we drift along and we rise and fall and our hearts sing with the joy of witnessing to a new day in a beautiful part of the world.

A Collective Noun for Hot Air Balloons is a … Drift

As we continue to drift, we travel over bushland with granite outcrops beginning to be warmed by the early rays of the sun and kangaroos jumping through the trees and in the distance on hills to the west we can see the shadow of our balloon and directly below us the reflection of the balloon is crystal clear in the river below.

We land in a harvester scarred paddock with a gentle bump and everyone helps roll up the balloon into a bag that is much easier to manage than any sleeping bag.

The Avon Valley stretches from New Norcia in the north to Beverley in the south, with the historic communities of Toodyay, York, and Northam all just a short Spotify playlist of flying tunes away.

Northam has the Avon River running through it and the champagne breakfast after the ballooning is held in a café overlooking the river, complete with white swans and suspension bridge.  During a champagne toast we are all welcomed to the club of Balloonatics.

Hot air ballooning seems to be on the bucket lists of many people but keeps getting pushed down the list not from the fear of hanging from a basket but from getting up so early.  Get over the time thing and get it done. It’s just an hour away and you’ll be up, up and away. 

Windward Balloon Adventures in the Avon Valley

Special Tip:  The National Ballooning Championships will be held in the Avon Valley between 30 August and 4 September, with lots of opportunities to be a spectator and a participant. 

Giant Man in Tiny ABC Studio

ABC Saturday Breakfast: Hidden Treasures in the streets, trails and hills of Armadale

A full studio, full of fun with Ro, Molly, Matilda and Tom all part of the action. How cool is the ABC? Participating in making great programs and having my kids watching it all come together is very special. For this edition of Hidden Treasures we recounted the recent experience of a trip to Armadale that included Tom and his mate Nick.

Armadale is tucked up against the south eastern corner of Perth.  This side of the hills but right on the edge of them.

With our Hidden Treasures we often talk about one of the characteristics of a Hidden Treasure being that they’re often bypassed or driven through at a great rate of knots.

Armadale is a great example of a suburb that gets driven through a lot that is worth slowing down for and having a look around.

It was always the first taste of the city for me when we’d make the drive up in the Toyota Crown.  You’d hit those first traffic lights and be in awe of the city traffic and annoyed that Mum hadn’t stopped at the Pioneer Village. I always wanted my picture on one of those ‘Wanted’ posters.

It’s become Perth’s version of Melbourne’s Daylesford. Lots of places with the words wellness, calming, spiritual, organic and retreat in their names.

Ro loves her sport and so let’s start at the Champion Lakes Regatta Centre.  If you’ve ever wondered when flying into Perth what that big rectangular area of water is, it’s the home of rowing and there’s even a beach and some good walking and cycling tracks around the lake.  Remember, rowers row early if you want to catch the action.

Armadale Visitor Centre – lots of information and free maps with walking trails for trekkers, families and dogs. There’s also local produce including chutneys, jams, pickles and …. lemon butter!

Bert Tyler Vintage Machinery Museum has really well restored and refurbished agricultural machinery and there’s even a Furphy water cart.

The History House Museum has some good recognition exhibits of Aboriginal history in the district and also some very cool old harpsichords, pianos and organs with musical links to many of the old churches in the area.

Urban Art Trail – big murals by local and international artists.  How cool are murals? This is a walking tour through the urban heart of Armadale that has identified tired old spaces and turned them into breathtaking, inspiring places.

Heritage Tree Trail – Lou from the Armadale Visitor Centre has written the Heritage Tree Trail Guide that takes you on an urban walk to 13 of the best-looking senior flora citizens in Armadale.  There’s a Sugar Gum planted in 1910, Moreton Bay Figs planted in 1890, a Jarrah tree more than 500 years old, a carob tree which is the sole survivor of an orchard back in 1900 and lots of others all waiting for you to give them a big hug.

30km’s of Bridal Trails in Darling Downs, which isn’t an old 1950’s radio serial, it’s a horse inspired residential area in the southern Armadale area. (properties connected by the bridal trails.

Brackenridge Village and Retro Rescue Antiques and Collectibles is one of those shops where you keep saying, “I used to have this!”  I looked at the Skippy melamine cup and plate and was thrown back to my childhood having a vegemite sandwich and apple juice.  From daleks to car badges, glow mesh purses to optic fibre lamps, this store has more than enough for anyone who loves the stuff we used to have.

Locke View Poultry Zoo requires a call before you visit.  Astrid was kind enough to allow myself, Tom and his mate Nick to visit unannounced … but only after I made Tom and Nick clean out the cages and move a load of firewood. 

Astrid showed the boys some quails as they were hatching and how she helps the little chickens who are born unable to walk.  She makes little braces with bandaids and is a lot easier than making little crutches out of toothpicks.  She had such an impact on Tom that he is no longer saving his allowance for Nintendo games, he wants chickens.

Canns Road and Soldiers Road are part of the Armadale Hills Scenic Drive.  On the map you think you’ll take about half an hour to get from one end to the other but you end up taking three hours as, along the roadside, are signs that say, ‘Honey Here’, ‘Fresh Persimmons’ and other local produce as well as kangaroos that are paid by the Armadale Visitor Centre to sit in the bushland of Wungong Regional Park and wait for you to stop and get out of your car for a photo before skipping away.

Armadale is a hidden treasure within a hidden treasure.  There’s a lot that’s easy to discover in the heart of Armadale but if you take the time to get up to the hills and onto some winding backroads you’ll find even more treasure.