A Unique Celebration: The Hamilton Hot Air Balloons

the hamilton hot air balloons festival
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The Hamilton Hot Air Balloons

Hamilton is a city in the north island of New Zealand which often gets a bad reputation for not having anything to offer tourists. In fact, many tourists skip Hamilton altogether. We have spent most of our time over the past three weeks in Hamilton and although there isn’t too much to do or see, they do have a really cool festival once a year – the Hamilton Hot Air Balloons.

Since arriving in New Zealand, Dan and I have been spending so much time in Hamilton with friends that it was only natural that we were going to check out the Hamilton Hot Air Balloons. This is our version of what the Hamilton Hot Air Balloons Festival was really like, what there was to do, and if it is worth a visit.

What is the Hamilton Hot Air Balloon Festival exactly?

The Hamilton Hot Air Balloons Festival happens every year in March. It is a 5-day long event that offers a variety of activities involving hot air balloons. This event is officially called “Balloons over Waikato.”

The Hamilton Hot Air Balloons is a celebration showcasing over a dozen different hot air balloons.

The festival runs for five days, ending on Sunday. Each day features a different activity. Some of the activities include a free breakfast while the balloons inflate over the lake, hot air balloon cash grab competition, and the final night of a glow show complete with fireworks.

At the Hamilton Hot Air Balloons, there are also many other things for people to do and see. There are often performers, tons of food trucks, as well as some carnival-style rides for the kids. Overall, the Hamilton Hot Air Balloons Festival really is an event, it is so much more than just watching hot air balloons.

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the hamilton hot air balloons getting inflated
Inflating the hot air balloons

Daily Events at the Hamilton Hot Air Balloons

We didn’t go to every daily activity at the Hamilton Hot Air Balloons Festival, but we went to two of the most popular!

The Cash Grab Competition

The first activity we saw was the Cash Grab Competition. This event is actually sponsored by McDonald’s (hence the McDonald’s food tent that was set up) and involves each hot air balloon to try and grab a key that is attached to a pole. Successfully grabbing the key means $1000 for the balloonist!

For me, this was the first time I had ever been so close to hot air balloons, and certainly the first time I have seen so many in one place.

This was a neat event to attend as it is all about showcasing the talents of the balloonists and enlightening people about the skills required to actually fly a hot air balloon.

The Cash Grab Competition was held on Saturday morning at about 7:30 am. It was at the Innes Common in Hamilton which made a nice setting with the lake.

the cash grab competition at the hamilton balloons
The view of the Cash Grab Competition from across the lake
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Zuru Nightglow

The Zuru Nightglow is the most popular event of the Hamilton Hot Air Balloons Festival. In fact, this event attracts more people than any other event in Hamilton.

The Zuru Nightglow is an outdoor event in which the main attraction is all of the balloons inflating and then lighting up in the dark sky to music. The balloons light up using the fire in which inflates the balloons and makes them float. After the “glow show” there is a firework presentation.

Besides watching the balloons glow and the fireworks, beforehand there are musical performers and lots of rides to entertain the kids. There is lots of food options and even a pop-up bar. Families all gather in the late afternoon and enjoy the event until it gets dark and the balloon show starts.

the zuru nightglow show at the hamilton hot air balloons
All the people waiting for the Zuru Nightglow show to start

When we arrived, at about 6:30 pm, the event was already in full swing. Thousands of people were sitting on the lawn infront of the balloons on picnic blankets and the rides were all operating continuously. There was a band playing music and people dancing. Some of the balloons were just starting to inflate at this point.

We waited around until the balloon glow show started around 8 pm. To our surprise, the balloons don’t actually go into the air for this show. They stay grounded while inflated and then use their fire in sync with music being played. While it was neat to watch, it wasn’t astounding and somewhat underwhelming that the balloons don’t actually take flight.

The Zuru Nightglow is usually held on the last night of the Hamilton Hot Air Balloons Festival which is Sunday. However, this year it was changed to Saturday evening due to bad weather predictions for Sunday. The event is held at the Hamilton University and is completely free of charge. In fact, attending any of the events is free.

For information regarding dates and times of events for following years check out the Balloons over Waikato website. 

the night show at the hamilton balloons
The balloons all inflated and glowing for the final show!

Can you ride in the balloons at the festival?

Yes, it is possible. So while watching the hot air balloons from the ground is free, riding in the balloons isn’t. A hot air balloon ride goes for about $370.00 depending on the balloon.

Hot air balloon rides must be booked in advance as they typically sell out. Visit the website to book a ride or for more information.

inflating balloons in hamilton

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Is the festival worth going to?

Overall, the Hamilton Hot Air Balloons were pretty cool. I had never seen so many hot air balloons at once or been so close before, so that in itself was pretty interesting. We had a good time seeing the balloons take flight during the day and then got some great pictures of the night show.

Would I recommend traveling from across New Zealand to attend the Hamilton Hot Air Balloons Festival? No. But, if you are in the nearby vicinity already I would say it is definitely worth a visit.

-Bailey

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