Abu Dhabi: The desert cloaked in pre-dawn darkness is quiet, the only sounds come from the ground crew as they rush to prepare everything. The hot air balloons have to be in flight soon, at dawn to be exact.
Captain Peter Kollar, the Managing Director of Balloon Adventure Emirates LLC, gathers everyone around him, energetically explaining what is happening and what the procedures are before everyone climbs into the hot air balloon's basket.
"We have been in operation since 2004 [in Dubai] and we recently began extended our services to people in Abu Dhabi. We fly usually from October until May, however, this year Ramadan finished around the 20th of September so we began our tours earlier and will also probably do the same time next year. In the summer we don't [do tours] because it is simply too hot… but in the winter it's gorgeous, with a gorgeous landscape as well," Kollar said.
Soon, the balloon gently breaks through the clouds, just in time for all 24 passengers to enjoy a breathtaking view of the sunrise at approximately 915 metres, or 3,000 feet.
"I love a good, cloudy day. It's so much more interesting than a clear blue sky," Peter said, grinning. "Now, we will go on our version of a magic carpet ride and look for gazelles and camels. Hopefully, we will see some today," he added. But despite hovering the balloon just a few metres above the desert sands, the only visible clue that gazelles and camels were in the area was through the imprints they left behind.
"When we first arrived, there was no map of the area. We had to drive around the desert with nothing but our GPS and then use Google Earth to create a map," Kollar explained. "It took about four weeks and a lot of petrol, but we did it," he added, laughing.
Observing his enthusiasm, it is difficult to believe that all of this almost never happened.
"Abdullah Rashad, our local partner and someone who I can now call a friend, was on a honeymoon in New Zealand in 2001 or 2002. He went up on a flight with me and afterwards told me how much he enjoyed it and asked if I could set up something similar in the UAE. At that time, I told him that I wasn't sure I could because I already had a company at that time in Germany and New Zealand…and my wife would kill me if I started another business because I'm travelling all the time," Peter said.
"But he put a bug in my head… I surprised him by calling and saying that I would stop over in Dubai on my way to Germany, because I fly balloons there in the summer," he added.
Soon afterwards, Kollar researched the UAE's climate and went with Abdullah Rashad to meet various officials and meteorologists, and received their certificate from the General Civil Aviation Authority (Air Operator's Certificate AT024).
Convinced that it was possible, he contacted his existing business partner in New Zealand and the three of them agreed to invest, buying the three large and three small hot air balloons that make up the company.
"We are very happy that the Emiratis are very supportive of us. We try to make sure that they understand what we do, that we take care of the environment and that we are careful about how we fly," Peter said.
"But we don't have many local passengers, which is a pity. I really expected more…we get a lot of expatriate and tourist passengers…but the numbers are improving now and we get a lot of passengers from the GCC, such as Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Kuwait," he added.
So don't miss out on this once in a lifetime adventure, even if you aren't really a morning person. Because no two rides are the same, you never know what to expect on your journey.
Where the action takes place
The balloons are launched from an area just north of Al Ain, about an hour's drive from Abu Dhabi and Dubai. They are approved by the General Civil Aviation Authority and GHQ.
Learn more: Ticket Prices
- Dh950 per adult and Dh800 for children aged from 5 to 12 years.
- Prices are valid until May 31,2010. (The price is subject to change without prior notification)
- Contact: Telephone: +971 4 285 4949
Have you ever been on a hot air balloon ride? How was the experience?