Flying high to more success

21:06, Jan 17 2013
Ted and Gretchen Howard
SEA OF COLOUR: Ted and Gretchen Howard prepare some of their extensive kite collection for this weekend's Nelson Kite Festival. Photo:

Kite flyers from all around New Zealand will be joined by overseas enthusiasts from countries such as England and Holland at the 22nd annual Nelson Kite Festival at Neale Park this weekend.

Kites on display will include monkey kites from the New Zealand Kiteflyers Association, kites with cows on them and perennial favourites like the 10-metre Hootie the Blowfish and the 12m rotating "bol" or bowl kite, a 30-metre Octopus kite and a kite stack comprising seven kites stacked on top of each other with whimsical tails flying off the stacks.

Organisers Ted and Gretchen Howard said the festival was the longest-running provincial kite festival in the country and it had never been cancelled due to bad weather.

"We chose this weekend because it coincided with Wellington anniversary weekend so we have traditionally had a lot of visitors from the capital. But also by late January the weather used to have settled into steady summer conditions with gentle sea breezes in the afternoon," Ted said.

"And in the early years it used to be like that but more recently ‘global wierding' has set in and the climatic patterns have been pretty erratic."

Ted said the festival has attracted big crowds in past years.


"We got between 5000 and 8000 people the year we had the enormous mega ray kite here. It was 900 square metres and the size of four houses. It weighed around 300kg and we needed the minimum of a 10 tonne truck to anchor it and one tractor each side to stabilise it and it needed a pilot kite to launch it."

Over the years Ted and Gretchen have introduced many innovative ideas to get people involved and to make people realise there is more to kites than simply flying them.

These included best kite and costume awards, altitude sprints (where people have to get the kite as high in the sky as quickly as possible) and exhibitions of rokkaku or Japanese kite fighting where the object is to cut opponents' kites out of the sky.

"We have also done some team sport formation kite flying and a mass ascension when everyone attempts to launch a particular kind of kite at the same time. That's pretty spectacular," Ted said.

"And we have done line climbs with a teddy bear where the teddy is dropped off the kite via a parachute and we used kites for lolly scrambles. But we have had to drop those ideas for safety reasons."

Ted said they had tied down Hootie the Blowfish so people could look inside it.

"You can get up to 50 people inside it but afterwards we have to check there are no kids hiding in the tail."

He said the problem of children hiding in kites before they were launched was something that had happened overseas.

Ted and Gretchen said after they organised the first festival themselves, it was then included in the Nelson City Council's summer festival programme.

"But we got dropped from the festival after a few years," Ted said.

"So we formed the Nelson Kite Club which enabled us to continue to apply for funding."

Gretchen said funding was important, not only to cover costs such as the sound system and advertising but to pay some of the kite flyers who travelled to Nelson with some of their exotic creations.

"For us it is the kites that make every show a bit different," she said.

Ted said numbers in the kite club had dwindled so they no longer applied for funding. Instead they were helped out at the festival by friends and they collected donations by way of offering activities such as rides in a kite buggy to enable them to pay the professional kite flyers.

The festival runs from Friday afternoon until Sunday. However, Saturday is set aside for the kite flyers to practise. The public day is this Sunday from noon till 5pm.