Wind halts balloonists massive lift-off
Full of hot air and going nowhereMATT BOWEN AND LIBBY WILSON
The only balloons over Waikato this morning were helium-filled ones kids had accidentally released.
The opening mass ascension event scheduled for 7.30am was put on hold because of the wind, before the official word that balloons would stay on the ground.
Balloons needed a steady slow breeze and the upper atmosphere winds of around 25 knots was "too strong for flying them", festival creative producer and night glow director Trevor Graham said.
Taking off may have been possible but it would have created problems when it came to landing, he said.
"Safety is the most important factor".
There would be further attempts to get the balloons in the air this evening and tomorrow morning.
It was a bit disappointing for Fraser Gibson who was due for his first hot air balloon ride "but that's life".
He was hoping for better conditions for the second attempt tomorrow when he'll have another early start.
"It's worth it," he said. "I've always said I wanted to go up."
Meanwhile the kids were kept entertained despite the grounding, with a walk-through balloon, the inflation of the Hamilton 150th Birthday balloon and prize draws.
Balloonists pumped up for massive lift-off
Pilot Frank Wechter travelled from his home in Albuquerque New Mexico to Innes Common in Hamilton where he'll take to the skies in a ten-storey-high Angry Bird balloon.
If the weather had played ball, he would've taken his place among this morning's Balloons over Waikato opening mass ascension.
Mr Wechter was relaxing in the Kingsgate Hotel lobby yesterday when he revealed that floating on the breeze is his second favourite sensation behind, well, you can imagine what the first is.
It's a bit like dreaming, Wechter said.
In his unconscious mind he puts his arms out and flies effortlessly and that's what air ballooning is like for him.
"You get in and you're floating in the wind - it seems totally effortless."
But flying and operating balloons can turn into an obsession.
People who catch what Wechter called the hot air ballooning "bug", such as his business partner Benedict Savio, have a hard time shaking it off.
"It sort of bites you and becomes addictive," Wechter said.
"The good fortune and the goodwill it shares with people outside of it is infectious.
"We've been fortunate enough that we've been able to operate and fly balloons literally all over the planet," Wechter said.
The Angry Bird design is based on a widely known online game franchise. It has become the highest downloaded freemium game of all time with two billion downloads.
After featuring here, the Angry Bird balloon will head to the Philippines and on to South Africa, the US, Canada, England, Belgium and Italy.
It came here from India where it formed part of "a wealthy gentleman's wedding".
Wechter, 60, has seen a fair few countries from above during his 40 years spent flying aeroplanes and hot air balloons around the globe and Waikato rates well.
"This is one of the most beautiful places in the world to fly," he said.
Ballooning is weather dependent so decisions on whether to fly can only be made on the day.
To see whether the balloons are flying each day check out the Balloons over Waikato homepage, facebook page or twitter feed.
7.30am: Hamilton Mass Ascension at Innes Common, Hamilton Lake - CANCELLED
5.30pm: Hamilton City Ascension from Innes Common, Hamilton Lake; Claudelands Park, Claudelands; Jansen Park, Silverdale; Tauhara Park, Rototuna.
6.30am: Wel Energy Trust Breakfast at Dawn. Innes Common, Hamilton Lake. The first 2000 people get a free breakfast while watching the balloons lift off.
5.30pm-ish. Group balloon lift off at Innes Common, Hamilton Lake.
6pm - 8pm: Hamilton Central Business Association City Burn, Garden Place. A night of food and entertainment.
7.30am: The Smartrak Cash Grab Competition. Balloonists attempt to remove $1000 from the top of a pole at Innes Common, Hamilton Lake.
4pm to 9pm: The ASB Nightglow at Waikato University. The highlight of the Festival for spectators, with live music, the orchestrated Balloon Glow Show and a dramatic fireworks finale.
7.30am: The Lion Foundation Final Finale. Balloons commence inflation - Innes Common, Hamilton Lake. The Frankton Market stalls will also be on site selling their goods and products.
- Waikato Times