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Easter weekend looking up for balloon festival

Excitement has been rising in the region all week for Wairarapa’s upcoming balloon festival, taking place this Easter Weekend, with its initial ascension this morning.

The annual festival has blown up this year with 20 balloonists due to fly over the course of the weekend, eight more than last year.

The lineup includes ‘Buster the Bulldog’, a balloon that has travelled all the way from the United Kingdom.

Event coordinator Peter Aymes said a practice flight on Tuesday morning had gone “brilliantly” and the weather ahead is looking good.

“The weather’s looking pretty settled, we’re quite pleased. There’s a couple of drizzly patches, but we’re hopeful they will dissipate.”

Between 10,000 and 15,000 are expected for Saturday’s Night Glow, the festival’s main event held at Clareville Showground.

Balloons will be lit up and displayed, and visitors will also be able to watch model aeroplane displays and a ‘performance’ of the balloons lighting up in sync with music.

Aymes said the logistics of planning an event like this has its challenges – notably predicting how many people will show up, and the need to keep a close watch on weather changes.

“Operationally, you have to keep on your toes and keep your options open, because you’re at the mercy of the weather,” he said.

“In the air, you can navigate to some extent but in general you’ll go in the direction of the wind, so you need to make sure you have a few miles of flat land.”

Balloonists from around New Zealand have been preparing all week, with early morning wake-up calls and practice flights to make sure all equipment is working smoothly.

Wairarapa-based flyer Howard Watson is one of these balloonists, and has been flying for nearly 30 years – he’s even found love in the air.

“The first flight I ran on my own, the young lady I was taking ended up being my wife,” Watson laughed.

Watson owns his own balloon and said he had been hooked on the hobby ever since he was first shown the ropes at a homestead he stayed at in Hawke’s Bay.

“You need to be up there to understand it. It’s the freedom and being part of something that’s been going on since the 1800s,” Watson said.

“It’s a pure hobby.”

The festival kicked off early this morning with the first ascension taking place in Masterton.

Residents awake early enough will be able to step outside and watch the colourful ensembles glide overhead – young balloonist Fiona Hamilton said one of her favourite parts was looking down to see people watching.

“The best part about the festival is seeing people come out of their houses to watch you in their pyjamas and wrapped up in their robes!”

The festival runs from today until Monday, when there will be a farewell flight taking off from a yet-to-be-revealed mystery location.

Information on daytime events and Night Glow is available via the festival’s website, and it is recommended to check the festival’s Facebook page for location updates and changes on the day as events are weather dependent.

Bella Cleary
Bella Cleary
Bella Cleary is a reporter at the Wairarapa Times-Age, originally hailing from Wellington. She is interested in social issues and writes about the local arts and culture scene.

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