Flying with the birds: Balloons over Wairarapa
21-24 March 2013
The skies over Wairarapa are set to be filled with a mass kaleidoscope of colour and a less than reclusive giant kiwi as one of the highlights of the regions events calendar, the Trust House Balloons Over Wairarapa prepares for lift-off.
Unlike his flightless friends tucked away in burrows as daylight dances over the Wairarapa valley, Iwi the kiwi will be heading skyward alongside the flotilla of colourful balloons from throughout New Zealand.
The giant seven story kiwi shaped hot air balloon started life as a stuffed toy prototype at the home of Carterton ballooning veteran Rick Walzcak and came to life in an English balloon factory.
It will be Iwi’s homecoming in the air at Balloons Over Wairarapa.
The annual balloon extravaganza, now celebrating its 15th year, will see balloons and their pilots take part in a series of competitions and displays over the four days.
Weather playing its part, the balloons will launch each day at dawn when the breeze is gentle and drift with the wind over Wairarapa towns, farms and vineyards.
The fun and competition will begin at dawn on Thursday March 21 when all balloons lift off from Carterton’s Carrington Park in the traditional ‘mass ascension.’ Delighting children will then be the focus of pilot’s attention when they, their crew and balloons visit schools throughout the region.
Later that evening the balloonist’s burners will hiss and light up in a fiery glow as they parade down the main street of Carterton.
Friday’s dawn lift off venue at Wairarapa College sets the stage for pilots to showcase their skills in a competition challenge, followed by a meet the pilot’s session that afternoon at Hood Aerodrome, where competitive spirits will be challenged again.
Saturday morning will feature the traditional ‘splash ‘n dash’ over Masterton’s Henley Lake where pilots attempt to splash their baskets into the lake to score competition points.
The festival’s celebrated highlight, the Trust House Night Glow takes place on Saturday 23 March at Masterton’s historic Solway Showgrounds, where tethered balloons glow like light bulbs and brighten the night sky in a dazzling show choreographed to music.
The festival draws to a close on Sunday with an early morning flight over Carterton. The launch field will be chosen according to wind direction with the aim of having the balloons fly toward the Carterton Events Centre in the final competition event.
Balloon Miester Martyn Stacey from Christchurch and a stalwart of the Wairarapa Balloon Festival, will direct the various events.
Mr Stacey said many pilots returned year after year, drawn by the near perfect flying “venues.”
“The pilots love flying in Wairarapa – it is a brilliant place to fly a balloon. The variations of what can be done here allow us to be flexible on the day of any event to suit the conditions.”
Wairarapa Balloon Society chairman, Jonathan Hooker said the focus remained firmly on a fun, friendly community event which can be enjoyed by pilots, locals and visitors to Wairarapa. The festival consistently attracts thousands of visitors to the region.
“The commitment from pilots to return each year and the support of the local community had enabled the event to continue year after year, even through difficult times. An enormous amount of goodwill makes this an event which everyone can enjoy. Without the pilots, volunteers and sponsors, the festival would not have remained the success that it is.”
Entry to all events is free, except for the Night Glow where adults are $7 and children $4. Children under five are free and a $15 family pass is available.
Members of the public can get in amongst it and experience the thrill of a balloon ride during the festival’s competition events. For more information on how to book a ride and full festival information see www.nzballoons.co.nz.
All those keen to see the balloons at their best are advised to rise and shine early as all the action begins at around 7.00am. As ballooning is dependent on weather conditions, decisions about each flight or event will be made in the early morning or late afternoon. Regular updates will be posted on www.nzballoons.co.nz, Twitter: BallonsoverWai, Facebook: Balloons Over Wairarapa and broadcast on Wairarapa’s 89.5/105.5 MoreFM.
Wairarapa has hosted 14 major balloon festivals in as many years. The first was in 1999. The four-day festival usually hosts approximately 25 balloons from around New Zealand and from overseas each year.
Wairarapa is home to number of balloon pilots who have flown in the region for decades. Most of them live in Carterton. Carterton is thought to have the highest number of balloons per capita of anywhere in the world.
The combination of superb flying conditions, supportive sponsors and a welcoming and enthusiastic community has helped build the event into a key fixture on Wairarapa’s event calendar.
During the festival the balloons launch at dawn each day from locations in Masterton, or Carterton. Evening flights and a street parade are also held. All events are weather dependent.
The festival is organised and managed by members of the Wairarapa Balloon Society Incorporated, a non-profit organisation that includes local balloon pilots, event managers and volunteers. Many local volunteers are involved as ground crew during the event.
The festival is funded almost entirely through sponsorship and grants from a range of local and regional supporters.