The Festival of Canberra 2024…. Enlighten and early morning balloons!

Every year in March, Canberra puts on a range of events to celebrate our lovely city. Two of our favourites are Enlighten, where many of our nations iconic buildings are lit up, and the balloon festival, where dozens colourful hot air balloons are launched over the city. We used to regularly attend both, and it’s a highlight for the kids. We haven’t been often in recent years, due to Covid disrupting a couple of years and then Anto decided that last year he wasn’t up for solo late night, and early morning, activities with kids, while I was away in South America and Antarctica.

So in 2024 we got our Canberra mojo back and made sure we got to both events, even if it did involve some sleep sacrifice.

Enlighten 2024

This year Enlighten ran from Friday 1 to Monday 11 March. We decided to get our visit in early and went on the first Saturday night, the 2nd of March. Unfortunately at this time of year it gets dark quite late, and with Miss Zinnia in her first term of school, late nights are hard! Still she was keen to go, so we headed off after dinner and it was already dark when we arrived.

Old Parliament House…..

Our first stop was Old Parliament House. The Museum of Australian Democracy, inside OPH, was open with several exhibits and activities (and many people). We had a quick look but we decided we’d head out to check out the lights first before the kids lost all their energy.

The view from the steps of OPH, down towards Reconciliation Place, was rather pretty. There were plenty of activities, food and lights.

Questacon and the National Library

This years illuminations for Questacon were super cute, with plenty of science themed animations. We did have to stop and watch the different stories play through. The bubbling beaker was a favourite!

The National Library of Australia always looks impressive during Enlighten. It’s like that building is made to have illuminations!

My absolute favourite Library illumination this year was the giant owl.

The lit up trees as you walk from one building to another definitely add to the atmosphere

Lights, lights everywhere…..

It was our first not insanely hot night of the year, and the kids were determined to dig their jumpers out of hibernation. I walked around in a Tshirt the whole time, and wasn’t cold, so it was definitely one of the warmer Enlightens!

There was plenty of entertainment and food on the lawns of King Edward Terrace. The noodle markets are always popular but this year there were a lot more vendors and of course live entertainment. We’d already had dinner so much to the kids disappointment, were not lining up for more food!

These fibreoptic lights around the base of some trees were some of our favorites. The kids were getting too many ideas for our Christmas lights set-up 🙂

Astrid could have watched them for hours, and Soren was busy videoing with my camera, again!

Zinnia was fascinated by the dancers with the ‘light-up dresses’! I’ll admit they were very entertaining. A great use of lights!

Zinnia was convinced it was midnight by now (it was actually about 9pm).

The National Portrait Gallery

The next stop was the National Portrait Gallery. This building is quite a distinctive shape so always has interesting illuminations.

The National Gallery of Australia

Adjacent to the Portrait Gallery is the National Gallery of Australia. The bridge across to the gallery was looking might fun this year!

With all the major buildings (bar New Parliament House) being ticked off we made the walk back up towards OPH and our car. There were still plenty of people out enjoying the mild night, music and food but the kids were about to turn into pumpkins!

As we walked around the back of OPH we could see up to Parliament House, on the hill, which had a pretty cool lego brick animation, but alas I did not have the correct lens for getting that from this far away, and the kids voted not to walk up the hill….

Enlighten by Soren…

Soren was having fun using one of cameras to take videos of some of the projections and entertainment. Here is a little collection of what he captured, for a different view.

We made it home by 10pm, which was a bit of speed Enlighten. You can definitely spend the whole afternoon and evening there if you want to ! We all commented that the illuminations have improved steadily over the years. This years were great and worth the visit. Previous years Enlighten photos are here.

Well that was part one of the big ‘activities you need to do in March in Canberra’. Part two is of course, the balloons…..

The Balloon Festival 2024

Back in the days when the kids were too young for school, we’d try and go to the balloons during the week when it was less crowded (although it was always still crowded!). These days with all of them at school, a thousand afternoon sports and music, and early morning swimming training several mornings a week, weekends are really the only option.

We’ve had some years where us adults have had to get up super-early several times and wait for for the launch report before we knew whether they were going to launch or not. Sometimes we’d even get to the launch site and the wind would come up and no balloons! One year I’m sure we tried four or five times. This year the weather forecast for the whole festival was looking particularly favourable. Anto and I decided we’d try for the first day, Saturday the 9th of March. Saturday mornings are swimming and athletics followed by piano. So there isn’t any sleeping in, so why not get up even earlier and save our sleep ins for the rest of the weekend 😉

Well our plan worked, the weather report was still glorious just before 6am so the kids were up, dressed and we made it out to Patrick White Terrace, along with most of Canberra, just as the sun was starting to make it’s way up…..

Zinnia was very excited watching the balloons being unfolded and starting to inflate…..

We hadn’t made it to the balloon launches in a few years. They had always previously launched on the lawns of King Edward Terrace, but this year was Patrick White lawns, which have far less space! There were definitely people crammed in everyone, but there were plenty of balloons going up so we found ourselves a spot right between about 4 or 5different ones for excellent views.

Soren did think that the ‘gin’ balloon (the Hendrick’s gin one) should have been my favourite 😛

As the sun came up and the many balloons were following, it was certainly a colourful sight!

It’s heaps of fun watching them inflate. Here is some video of the action…….

Launch time….

Soon there were plenty of balloons inflated but still tethered. One by one they started to launch and drift over the Treasury building.

With plenty of balloons now up we decided we’d head back to the car and see if we could follow them. The wind direction meant we were fairly sure they would head towards the arborteum.

It was certainly a beautiful Autumn morning with the balloons high over the library and heading over the lake……

It was definitely one of the warmer balloon launches I’ve attended. I was in my shorts and a Tshirt. The kids insisted on jumpers, but it was definitely very mild for a Canberra Autumn morning. Canberra did put on a spectacular morning though for the first day of the balloon festival!

Arboretum views…..

As we followed the sunrise and the balloons towards the arboretum we saw plenty of them drifting slowly over the road.

As we head up the hill at the arboretum we got some close up views of balloons slowly drifting over our car and the arboretum buildings.

The arboretum is always a great place to watch the balloons in flight. We weren’t the only ones up here enjoying the show. They sometimes land and often do laps around, at a low height. We got a bit of both this day.

The sun was now well and truly up and it was a spectacular morning, watching the colourful balloons dotting the Canberra skyline.

Plenty were heading our way, and the kids were having fun waving to people in the baskets as they drifted over our head.

We finally dragged ourselves away from the magical view and did a lap up to Dairy Farmers Hill and down the other side, watching more low-flying balloons as we headed home.

Another perfect Canberra Autumn morning for balloon watching, and a bonus of having got that activity ticked off the list on day 1 of the Festival. Now more time for sleeping in on the weekend! Despite the early morning we were glad we got to the launch on a such a great weather day. It hadn’t been a few years between balloon launches and it’s always worth the effort. The kids were already making sure we didn’t forget to go next year 😉

All the balloon Festival photos from previous years are here. We’ll definitely be adding to them in the future.

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