After 12 hours of flying and a couple of beers at the Alice Springs Crown Plaza the night before, shuffling to the hotel carpark at 5am is not a joyous experience.
The tour bus is late, but then so am I.
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Never a morning person anyway, and hardly a lover of heights, my apprehension at my impending destination is only buffered by my general stupor.
But the plucky tour guide who narrates in mundane detail the 30-minute drive south to the outskirts of the Alice Springs region does his best to irritate me fully into reality.
Two minibuses full of tourists fill out consent forms on the way to an activity they seem far more up for than me - hot air ballooning across the Outback desert.
We turn abruptly off the highway straight into a ditch, no road in sight, and pull up at the still deflated balloons.
Watching them inflate is in itself a grandiose spectacle.
The thick hiss of the gas and flames lights the plot of sand just off the highway, still pitch dark just before 6am. Captivated by the bright blast of the flames and their radiant heat, I don't even notice the sun rising partway over the horizon by the time we are instructed to climb in.
Twenty passengers, evenly spread across each side of two baskets, are snugly loaded in and taught how to sit and brace for the invariably rough landing.
The ascent is imperceptibly smooth, and I barely know we're off the ground as the morning light begins to define the surrounding MacDonnell Ranges. The 664km long mountain range rises more than a kilometre into the air at points, and from the balloons, appears to curve across more than half the horizon.
As the sun fully emerges above the ranges, all my earlier grumpiness melts away. A kaleidoscope of orange light and shade morphs before my eyes and the open space and still air puts me at peace.
The pilot's trained eyes finds kangaroos I can barely see. The red earth below is patterned with spinifex grass and mulga scrub.
My fellow passengers are slightly selfie-mad, but despite the cheering and posing, the one phrase that resonates in my memory is "so beautiful" uttered over and over.
One friendly tourist next to me insists on taking photos of me gazing out away to the horizon, craning wide out over the basket with my phone to do so.
It is the most anxious moment of the ride.
The flight takes us over the historic Owen Springs Cattle Station and also passes over the Alice Springs Correctional facility, pointed out by the pilot more fleetingly - although it is conspicuously close to our landing site.
Given that I found the pub on the main Alice Springs thoroughfare a rugged experience, even at midday, Lord knows what an emergency landing in those correctional facility grounds would yield. An Alice Springs Outback Experience of another kind?
But our landing is miraculously smooth, and precise, despite the warnings at take off.
Once back on ground, champagne is served along with a brief history lesson on the French pioneers of balloon flight.
Then we are politely asked to help deflate and fold the balloons, which drift parallel to their grounded baskets. Everyone ends up caked in red dust, but, tipsy on empty stomachs full of champagne, no one minds.
Qantas flies from Auckland to Alice Springs, via Melbourne or Sydney. qantas.com
You can also get there by rail on The Ghan, which travels between Darwin and Adelaide.