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Balloon festival at Easter is more than hot air

The balloon festival in Wairarapa. PHOTOS/FILE

Balloon festival is back in business

After a break of three years because of covid, one of Wairarapa’s biggest events is heading skywards again next year.

The Wairarapa Balloon Festival, one of the region’s most colourful and popular jamborees, is on track to be back next Easter.

Expected to be bigger and better than before, up to 20 balloonists from around the country are on the ticket, more than any other festival so far.

Set down for five days from April 14, balloon take-offs at different Wairarapa towns are planned for each day. The festival’s centrepiece ‘Night Glow’ will be at Clareville Showgrounds north of Carterton on the evening of April 16. That display alone is expected to draw a crowd of up to 20,000.

A fixture on Wairarapa event calendars for more than 20 years, Event director Peter Amyes said the festival could now go ahead under the ‘orange’ setting for the government’s new traffic light system.

He said the two-year hiatus had allowed organisers to rethink the popular event. A re-imagined festival for next year will be the first in a new focus, especially the ‘Night Glow’.

The large evening event would rely on ticketing, including vaccine passport requirements for entry. Unvaccinated people would not be able to go.

“We are very excited about the future of ballooning in Wairarapa,” he said.

“We’ve decided to shift the Night Glow to the Clareville Showgrounds, which we believe enables us to take the festival to the next level.”

As a non-residential area, Clareville provided more flexibility for organisers.

The last Wairarapa Balloon Festival in 2019.

“We are working on creating a spectacular event that will feature skydivers, Tiger Moths flying over-head, model aeroplanes, drones, a laser light show and of course the balloons.”

In addition to the spectacle in the air, on-the-ground entertainment will include live music and a range of food options.

“The 2022 Night Glow promises to be a joyful and vibrant extravaganza that’s not to be missed irrespective of what the weather throws at us,” Amyes said.

With uncertainty about whether the international border would be open, the festival is expected to be attended by balloonists from inside New Zealand only.

The region’s open spaces, relatively settled weather and minimally controlled air-space made it one of the best-suited and most popular regions in the country for balloonists.

“Ballooning has the potential to have a very strong future here.”

“As part of our strategy, we’re aiming to attract commercial ballooning operators to be based in Wairarapa and help establish a training environment for people wanting to learn to become a pilot,” Amyes said.

Work was under way to host an annual balloon flying competition.

“Hot air ballooning is a sport, and we want to do all we can to keep Wairarapa top of mind among balloonists.”

Destination Wairarapa marketing manager Barbara Hyde said confirmation of the return of the festival was good news.

“It is an iconic event that showcases our beautiful region and is loved by literally thousands.”

“We often enjoy settled weather at Easter, and with it being a long weekend, people won’t be rushing to school or to work, so they can take the time to enjoy watching the balloons and the special entertainment at the Night Glow.”

  • Early bird tickets and family packages for the event are available from 1 December. More information is at www.nzballoons.co.nz

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