Houston, we have lift-off

Balloon festival takes to the skies

Last updated 09:36 27/03/2014

Great conditions for competition flying produced a great spectacle at the Balloons over Waikato festival.

balloons over waikato
Mike Scott/Fairfax NZ Zoom
DAY FIVE: Waikato Times videographer went up in a hot-air balloon on Sunday on the final day of Balloons Over Waikato.
Bruce Mercer/Fairfax NZ
PUSHING THE ENVELOPE: Punters of all ages ventured inside a balloon envelope yesterday morning when high winds grounded the mass ascension in Hamilton.

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We have lift-off.

Festival balloonists took to the skies in Hamilton for the first time this morning following yesterday's grounding due to high winds.

Day two of Balloons Over Waikato also started with a cancellation - of the Dawn Patrol from Innes Common, as the wind direction would have taken them too close to the airport.

Still, locals eager for a WEL Energy Trust breakfast at Dawn were on site from around 5.30, event manager Michele Connell said.

And shortly before eight o'clock both she and the spectators were pleased to see the Hamilton balloon became the first to take off.

"It's a great relief to get the balloons in the air, I have to say. And it's a perfect morning for ballooning," she said.

Flight director Martyn Stacey said the balloonists would be on "a real buzz"  and probably dishing out a few high fives when they came back down.

"If you come back to where we have breakfast... You'll see the biggest smiles in the world."

Breakfast would be well earned though, because Mr Stacey set the pilots the challenge of bringing their balloons back to land on a
marked cross in Innes Common.

Frisky wind deflates mass lift-off of hot-air balloons

Balloons Over Waikato fans may have been slightly deflated yesterday when a breezy morning grounded the mass lift-off.

But there was enough action at Hamilton's Innes Common to keep children and the not-so-young entertained.

On Tuesday night, conditions for the mass ascension had looked favourable but the wind got up early yesterday morning.

The event was put on hold, then cancelled, so the only balloons in the sky were helium-filled ones children had released.

Conditions were monitored throughout the early morning yesterday in case they became suitable for flying, festival creative producer and night glow director Trevor Graham said.

But in the end the upper atmosphere winds of about 25 knots were too strong for safe flying.

"It's not so much the taking off, it's the landing. If you have a very high wind, you get dragged a long way before you can get the balloon deflated properly," he said. Balloons needed a steady, low breeze of about 5 to 8 knots on the ground and could not fly above 15 knots.

"It's a sport of watching the weather, basically. You're just standing around watching the treetops all the time."

Auckland balloon pilot David Barrow was positive about the forecast for the rest of the week, and thought the "two evils" of wind and fog should stay away.

"My feeling is that we should get tomorrow [Thursday] morning and - providing there's no fog - the balance of the week," he said.

"This happens at balloon festivals.

"You never ever get every day."

Despite the early wake-up call yesterday morning and the fact the balloons could not get off the ground, the fans who flocked to see them were happy to support a local event and get up close to the graceful flyers. There was plenty going on at ground level, so the children did not seem to mind.

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Balloonists battled the breeze to inflate the Hamilton 150th Birthday balloon, which Hamilton West School students serenaded with the appropriate tune.

What seemed like every man and his dog queued to step inside a balloon envelope and find out what it was like.

"Stinky", according to 5-year-old Frank Young.

Lily Nicholls, 7, from Christchurch, was impressed with the colours.

Her mother, Rebecca Nicholls, said the children were having a great time inside the envelope, which was bigger than what she had expected.

Balloons Over Waikato continues today and will finish on Sunday morning with the Lion Foundation Final Finale.

The festival features 27 balloons from countries including India, the United States, Australia and New Zealand.

BALLOONS PROGRAMME TODAY: 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.

TOMORROW: 6pm-8pm: Hamilton Central Business Association City Burn, Garden Place. A night of food and entertainment.

SATURDAY: 7.30am: The SmartTrak 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 fireworks show.

SUNDAY: 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


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