Balloons Over Wairarapa, 2010
We went to the southern part of the North Island and saw Wellington and the surrounding area. We timed our trip to be able to see the mass ascension of hot air balloons in Clareville. It was really pretty. We arrived at 7:00 am, so we were able to watch the balloons being rolled out onto the fairground and slowly inflated.
If you are going to the festival be aware that the fairgrounds must be used for livestock during parts of the year; the ground was checkered with animal dung. I noticed many people wearing galoshes, or gumboots, which not only helped with the poo problem, but also kept your feet dry as the wet grass soaked through my tennis shoes in minutes. Also, it was a lot colder standing in that field for a couple hours than I thought it would be. Many people were smartly dressed in hats and scarves.
We went to the east side of the field so we could take pictures of the balloons with the sun shinning on them instead of in our faces. I think the southeast part of the field is best because you can also look back at the balloons and get pictures of the balloons with the mountains in the background. It is also a good spot because that is where the balloons compete to see who can skim over the ground the longest and who can throw a Frisbee closest to a target.
Lots of Beautiful Colors
There were probably about 25 balloons at the festival. I expected to see a lot more advertisements, but most of the balloons were just fun colors. My favorite balloons were the checkered patterns ones. Although I would have liked to seen some more solid color balloons; I think pictures with a few solid color balloons in the background of many multicolored ones would have been pretty.
I really enjoyed standing near the baskets as the balloon pilots tested the burners because the flames would warm you up even from 10 feet away. Many of the balloons seemed to be apart of a family tradition as you would see whole families, from little toddlers to grandparents helping to inflate and the get balloons ready for competition.
I had thought all of the balloons would launch at once, creating a line of beautiful colors in the sky, but actually they launch one at a time as they compete in two stages of the competition before taking off toward a pre-determined landing spot.
The first part of the competition involved getting the balloon over a 4-foot-high rope and then being able to drag a rock from a string on the ground for as long as possible without touching the ground. This requires exceptional piloting skills as one must not only hover just a few feet from the ground without bumping it, but he must do this within a span of only 25 feet. At the end of the 25 feet is another piece of tape, about 10 feet high, which you must cross without breaking.
After the rock dragging competition someone from within the balloon must throw a Frisbee and try to get it close to a target. Then the balloon is off to the eastern landing spot – again a competition for who can land the closest to the target. Being that the balloons can only navigate by following the wind, this is quiet a challenge.
We watched the first balloon take off and drift very far south before changing altitude to catch an eastern current. As the balloons continued to launch you could see the difference between the experienced and the novice pilots. The more experienced pilots would stay at a low altitude until the drifted far enough east before continuing their ascent.
While it was beautiful to watch the sunrise as the balloons lifted into the air, I think I would have enjoyed the Spash and Dash competition more. The pictures I’ve seen of the balloons over the water is absolutely beautiful.