It's no secret Canberra is a hot air ballooning paradise but residents taking to the skies this weekend will see more than just rolling mountains, national institutions and the centrepiece lake.
A pirate parrot, a giant soccer ball and the ubiquitous Skywhale will be among 30 hot air balloons from all over the world floating above the capital as part of the annual Canberra Balloon Spectacular.
In the nine-day event, balloons of all shapes and sizes will launch from Old Parliament House and glide passengers over some of the country's most iconic landmarks.
Balloon Aloft chief pilot Richard Gillespie has flown hot air balloons across the globe but it's these sweeping views of the capital that have kept him tethered to Canberra.
“I've flown at a lot of different places across Australia and around the world but I think Canberra is one of the best places I've flown,” he said.
“It's such an attractive city with the lake, the parks and the hills and the mountains around Canberra. It's unusual to be able to fly over a capital city.”
Mr Gillespie has flown hot air balloons full-time for the past two decades, the last six years in the territory.
He said the 28th Balloon Spectacular provided the perfect atmosphere to take to the skies.
Balloon Aloft will be among businesses running daily flights.
The nine-day event will also include hot breakfasts and free entertainment each morning.
“It's a great time to come and fly – it is a great experience, flying with other balloons,” he said
“It's a perfect time of year too – we will be just getting into autumnal colours and the wind is usually light. And it's not too cold and, importantly in the balloon, not too hot.”
Mr Gillespie said Canberra's weather and distinct seasonal changes made flying over the capital particularly special.
“Canberra is surrounded by hills, so it's quite protected from the worst weather, particularly the winds. Generally, you get a nice spell early in the morning before the wind picks up,” he said.
“What is also quite different is you do get proper seasonal changes in Canberra … which is particularly unusual in Australia. Spring and autumn are [my favourite times to fly]. It's a subtle change but quite dramatic.”
As a weather-dependent activity, every day was different.
“There are never two flights the same. You only fly with the wind and you use different winds at different heights to get some steering but never the same flight path,” he said.
“It makes it interesting and challenging, especially flying over a city with a lake in the middle of it.”
The 28th Canberra Balloon Spectacular will glide over Canberra from Saturday, March 8 until Sunday, March 16.
The decision to fly will be made at 6am daily.
For more information, call Canberra Connect on 1322 81 or visit www.events.act.gov.au/balloons.