Balloon Safari: Rising With The Sun Over South Africa

Hot Air Ballooning South Africa

Magaliesberg, South Africa

We’re flying! Heat from a giant 8 foot flame warms the top of my head as our multi-colored balloon effortlessly lifts off the ground and into the early morning breeze.

The beautiful Magalies River Valley fully revealed itself as we rose into the sky with the sunrise. The area is only an hour North West of Johannesburg, the capital of South Africa.

It’s also home to the Cradle of Humankind. A very large number of ancient ape-man fossils have been found in limestone caves dating back 3.5 million years ago. We all have quite a bit of history in this area!

They are some of the oldest fossils of human ancestors ever discovered.

Balloons in South Africa

Hot Air Ballooning South Africa

Hot Air Balloon Experience

I’d never flown in a hot air balloon before, and wasn’t quite sure what to expect. After waking up at 4am and driving to Bill Harrop’s “Original” Balloon Safari launch site, we were treated to coffee & cookies around an open fire in the darkness as our balloons were assembled in a field.

Large fans are used to pump cold air into the balloon. When it’s partially inflated, the burners are fired up and the air is super-heated until the balloon stands upright.

Then eighteen (yup!) people climb into a large wicker basket, our pilot in the middle. He continues to heat the air with flame until we float off the ground.

Once you realize you’re in the air, profound silence is the first thing you notice. Between occasional blasts of fire from the burner, there is no sound. No propeller, no engine, just the birds. Yet soon we are hovering half a mile above the ground, traveling slowly with the wind.

Magalies Hot Air Balloon

Hot Air Ballooning South Africa

How Do They Work?

Hot air ballooning is the earliest form of flight — invented in France back in 1793. While flying in a balloon might feel like magic, the science behind it is pretty simple.

Hot air is lighter than cool air, so it rises. The pilot heats air inside the nylon balloon using tanks of liquid propane attached to a burner. Blasting fire into the balloon to make it rise.

Aside from the burner controls, there’s also a cord that opens a parachute valve at the top of the balloon that lets hot air escape. The pilot uses this to slow down an ascent, or decrease altitude.

Surprisingly, pilots can manipulate the balloon’s direction somewhat too. Forward speed and direction are only determined by the wind, but wind changes direction & speed at different altitudes. This gives the pilot a little control.

Hot Air Ballooning South Africa

Hot Air Balloon Landing

Soaring Above The Landscape

Cruising across a diverse landscape of forests, rivers, fields, and low mountain ridges at sunrise, we were able to spot some wildlife. Warthogs and Springbok (a type of antelope) ran through the trees below us.

Apparently there are Giraffes too, but they didn’t come out to play.

We began our descent into a game reserve after an hour of flight. Everyone holds on as the basket bounces across the ground before finally settling. To celebrate a successful journey, a champagne toast to the sound of warthogs fighting in bushes nearby.

Flying a hot air balloon over the Magalies Valley in South Africa was a peaceful and scenic experience that I hope to repeat in future destinations. ★

Watch Video: Hot Air Balloon Safari


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More Information

Location: Magaliesberg, South Africa [Map] Accommodation: Valley Lodge
Company: Bill Harrop’s “Original” Balloon Safaris
Cost: R1365 (about $132 USD)
Useful Notes: Bring something warm to wear, it can get chilly in the mornings, especially once you’re up in the air. Sunglasses are good for after the sunrise.

Ever ridden in a hot-air balloon before?

Disclaimer: My trip was made possible in partnership with iAmbassador and South Africa Tourism.

Any Questions Or Comments?

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17 Comments

  1. It is nice reading your write up about everything as you do it in a way that all looks explicit and feel like we are with you.
    I would only ask one thing. How much charges? In Turkey same is available in mid of Turkey (Kayesry) but almost 100$ per person. How was there in SA?

  2. I have ridden a balloon before, in Albuquerque, and it was amazing. I would love to do it again when there are animals below. That would be cool.

  3. Cappadocia turkey is another good hot air balloon…and stealth Mostar bridge jumping at night in refreshing october…will you be the first non pro to dive the 24 meter drop?!?!?!

  4. I’ve never done a hot air balloon ride but would love to try it.
    I have a terrible fear of heights, but someone told me that you don’t have it when in a hot air balloon, so i’d love to test that.

  5. It looks like a lot of fun the and countryside is gorgeous, have only done it once in California waaay to early in the morning.

  6. Loved the picture with the balloon with the river valley in the background. Spectacular! You never disappoint with your pictures.

  7. You can keep your scary Spanish hikes but flying in a hot air balloon is definitely something I’d like to try. It sounds so beautiful and peaceful.

  8. I love your balloon selfie Matt! I’ve recently managed to conquer a fear of heights so maybe a hot air balloon ride should be added to my bucket list?!

  9. I went up in a hot air balloon for the first time a few months ago over Napa Valley, CA. It was gorgeous and I know what you mean about it being so peaceful and quiet. Our pilot had a little trouble catching the right wind tho’ and we missed our landing site. We ended up in a cul du sac with the neighborhood children squealing with delight (and the dogs barking – not so delighted!).

  10. Wow, this looks great! Seems so peaceful. Love your photos! Would love to try hot air balloon ride some day, it’s on my bucket list!

  11. A hot air balloon ride is definitely on my list. Friends have tried to book one here in NC but they are often cancelled due to unpredictable high winds. Funny, those winds didn’t stop the Wright Brothers…

    1. Luckily the weather in this area of South Africa is some of the best in the world for ballooning. Calm winds all the time. I’ve heard a lot of “it was canceled” balloon stories from people.