Balloon fiesta succeeds despite the weather
With over 20 balloons attending this year’s Wairarapa International Balloon Fiesta last month, crowds were in for a great visual spectacle, enhanced by the new special shape balloon N8805PP Peg Leg Pete, the pirate parrot, of Dave and Kathy Reineke from Mahomet, Illinois.
The Thursday morning weather was not the best with low cloud, but with very little wind 20 balloons managed to take off and display their flying to the crowds at Carterton’s Carrington Park.
I was fortunate to join Neil Aberhart in his Kavanagh D-90 ZK-PEA Sweet Pea for a flight over the town. From Te Awamutu, Neil has been flying for about seven years and has a total of almost 160hr flying, including training. His balloon uses his wife’s initials, Patricia Elaine Aberhart, who sadly died of cancer 10 years ago, and the colours of the balloon envelope were chosen by his granddaughter who was three years old at the time.
Neil and his ground crew, Heather Spyvie (chief), Peta Aberhart, his daughter, and Mikhael Kruhlemko were a great team and I had much to do with them over the four days of the festival.
Thursday afternoon was the time for the balloonists to visit the local schools, and Boland Rover ZK-WHS with pilot Murray Shaw and crew from Hamilton also visited Metlifecare’s Wairarapa Village retirement centre. It was wonderful to see the older people’s keen interest in the balloon demonstration, including its landing on the chase vehicle roof before lifting off for a short flight over Masterton.
Next door at St Patrick’s Primary School was Neil Aberhart, my balloonist in the morning, and crew demonstrating some of the capabilities of Sweet Pea to an enthralled crowd of young boys and girls.
I have noticed during the last few balloon visits to the Wairarapa how young people seem to be eager to be part of the balloon scene, with lots of teenagers involved in crews and also learning to fly. A meet-the-pilots session later in the afternoon at Masterton’s Queen Elizabeth Park further enhanced this, with children dressed as pirates having a pirate themed treasure hunt.
As dawn broke on Friday morning all the 22 balloons were ready to lift off from a new ascent spot for the festival, Greytown Park on the western side of Greytown. No cloud and a light nor’west breeze gave perfect flying conditions for the Hare and Hounds Challenge where Balloonmeister Martyn Stacey arranged for one balloon (the hare) to fly a route and set up marker crosses on the ground at intervals along the flight line.
The other balloons (the hounds) take off some time later then have to find the crosses and drop numbered markers as close to the crosses as possible, a great test of a balloonist’s flying skills.
This time I was a passenger with John Clulow from Hamilton with Kavanagh D-90 ZK-MIZ Miz Waikato, along with Donna Campbell. Thanks to perfect flying by John and the ideal weather it was a wonderful experience, across southern Wairarapa towards Lake Wairarapa. On a long flight across large rural farming areas the skills of the chase vehicle crew, along unsealed farm roads, through farm gates and finding access to the final landing area, can be fully appreciated, and our team of John’s wife Liz and Ann Thorn were great.
Friday evening was the Tranzit Burner Parade with the balloon baskets and burners lit and driven through the main streets of Carterton and Greytown.
The Resene Island Hopper Challenge at Masterton’s Henley Lake with balloons flying over the lake, one of the highlights of the festival, was planned for Saturday morning. However, the weather decided that it would not happen, with strong winds and rain causing the event to be cancelled.
The Trust House Night Glow on Saturday night also looked in doubt, but the weather showed a slight improvement and, although not all balloons could inflate due to wind, at least the larger ones did, including Peg Leg Pete, and managed to show off their envelopes.
As it is one of the more popular attractions, The Resene Island Hopper Challenge was rescheduled to Sunday, but again the weather decided that it was not to be, although two Boland balloons did a bit of flying over the lake and several more, including Peg Leg Pete, did static inflations.
That was the conclusion of the festival for the public, and all that remained was the presentation of awards at Masterton’s Wairarapa Services and Citizens Club.
Overall winner of the event and recipient of the Wairarapa International Balloon Fiesta Trophy for the first time was Carterton’s Peter King with Boland Flagship balloon ZK-FAG. Second place was Michael Toulson from Hamilton with Strata 73-12 ZK-CAF, with third spot going to Scott Cursons from Wellington with Cameron C-40 ZK-LAR.
Lead balloon neck awards were presented for mistakes or errors by pilots during the festival— and all three placegetters were also awarded lead balloons. Peter dragged one of his passengers through a blackberry bush, Michael dropped his radio from his balloon basket and Scott hit a fence.
Another superb festival, a success despite the inclement weather. Congratulations must go to Balloonmeister Martyn Stacey and event organiser Jonathan Hooker and his team for a great four days.
- Report and photographs by Clive Wilkinson.
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