Many men chased the dream of flying since ancient times, but not until 1783 when the first hot air balloon carried a human on a twenty minutes flight in Paris. Ironically, we can’t determine the landing site of hot air balloon unless it’s tethered, as the balloon will lift and land downwind. Sounds adventurous? Indeed, we had some fun experience during landing during that flight (full details follow).

Most hot air balloon rides launch during the cooler hours of the day, usually early in the morning (else it would be too dark to land if it’s in the evening) for easy lifting as the hot air temperature inside the ball envelope is far higher than ambient.

Which means that passengers can catch the glimpse of sunrise! ~

For a better understanding of the entire traveling experience in a hot air balloon, let me brief you all from the beginning.

It was a frosty winter morning when we arrived around 7:00 am at the departure point beside Lake Hamilton (a.k.a. Lake Rotorua). Mark and partner from Kiwi Balloon Company had started setting up the hot air balloon. It was amazing to see how the 10-storey high hot air balloon can be folded and stored in the blue canvas bag.

Mark welcome us to help in setting up the balloon. Through his explainations on the procedures and safety precautions, we learnt more on the operation of the hot air balloon.

It took less than 25 minutes from unpacking, laying the balloon envelope, connecting it to the basket, inflating the balloon envelope with cold air followed by hot air to establish the shape.

Next, we made the basket upright and slowly climbed into the basket. With the last blast of liquid propane from the tank on the land, we were lifted by the balloon after the land crew release the rope!

The upward flight was that smooth that you won’t really notice it unless you are looking at the surrounding features that got smaller and smaller. We were clearly ahead of the other two balloons that will join us later.


* Picture above is shot by Panasonic GX1 using the built-in Miniature mode. Don’t they look like mini hot air balloon in Lilliput and Blefuscu Islands?

The highlight of the hot air balloon ride is to catch the sunrise in few hundred meters altitude. We were lucky to have a spectacular morning with the colour changing sky as the dawn breaks.

This is based on Google satellite map, try if you can spot and map the whole terrain with the diversion of the main road in the photo on the bottom left and the lake on the right as references.

I always like to witness how a city awakes from darkness, to watch the sun climbs over the mountain majestically and releases its explosion of light across the landscape. The feeling is like watching a bleary-eyed baby slowly opened his/her eyes, and then swinging his/her limbs. Moreover, the bird-eye view was different from other lookout points (be it from buildings or mountains) as you are looking down directly from the vantage point while moving across the landscape.

It was a sunny day, and we are fortunate enough to see the highest mountain in North Island and New Zealand’s largest ski resort (also an active volcano) – Mount Ruapehu (2797 meters), which is situated around 250km away.

Throughout the journey, our pilot Mark shared a lot of flight knowledge and interesting stories with us.

Much to my surprise, the older couple joining the flight are local New Zealanders (one of whom is born in Hamilton). The hot air balloon trip turned out to be a secret gift to the gentleman from his wife, how sweet it is.

But let me share with you… Hot air balloon flight is really a dreamy experience. I came across this stuff when I read “Around the World in 80 Days” during my childhood time and the recent cartoon “Up”. Don’t you think it’s a cool thing to fly up sitting in a hot air balloon? Of course, like the old couple, if you can have a ride with your love ones would be even more memorable and romantic.

These are some shots taken throughout the 1-hour flight:

I wonder whether there is a post-bungy jump symptom, I start to think on how wonderful it is to jump from high altitude (safely) whenever I have found one.

The shot above reminds me of the award-winning photograph of the National Geographic a few years ago – Camel and shadow:

Camel Shadow

Moral of the story: You might need some money (in addition to skills) if you want to reach some exotic and untouched vantage points on certain transports.

The noise generated from combustion of liquid propane always frightened some cattle and sheep on the ground. It was funny to see the animals looking around in fear without locating the exact source of the noise. At some times, there were some herds of cattle and sheep ran away in panic after being “chased” by the dark shadow casted by our balloon. They were forced to stuck themselves at a corner of the fence when the shadow approached them, only to relief themselves by continue their grass grazing after we were gone.

As mentioned earlier, the landing point is determined by the prevailing wind direction and speed. By the end of the flight, Mark kept his communication with the ground crew (who was driving) to join us at landing site. At the particular day, we safely landed on a farmer’s lawn.

Though their tranquil weekend morning was disturbed by the giant balloon, we were warmly welcomed by the owner and kids. Beyond our expectation, they even prepared morning drinks for each of us!

“You are most welcome to land again next time! Please help yourself if we are not at home though…” the friendly owner told Mark.

That’s the open minded personality and hospitality that I appreciate about the people here.

From Mark’s experience, 95% of the landlords would not mind on a landing without prior notice (unless the wind is stable for the land crew to predict and visit the house before proper landing). In fact, most of the people still find it very interesting or very honoured to be “chosen” as a landing site for the rare hot air balloon. But he also encountered some bad experiences (luckily, just minority) which compensation for the loss of damaged lawn or frightened animals were demanded from the land owner.

A photo with the balloon before it got deflated 🙂

Then, we help to deflate the balloon and Mark rolled the whole envelope up.

WIth the help from new helpers, things are getting fun.

The strength of junior helpers: Mark put them on the carrying bag to further compress the balloon envelope, nice thought.

Afterwards, we were brought to an antique restaurant for breakfast, and a champagne toast by tradition to celebrate our smooth flight. Then, we were brought back to the departure point after the delightful breakfast and nice chat.

Overall, the hot-air balloon excursion over Hamilton is a very memorable experience. Besides mesmerising in the beauty of sunrise, the picturesque grassland and mountains of New Zealand are also not to miss. Depending on wind direction, you may glide over Hamilton’s several main streets and the Waikato River ~ so those travellers who come to Auckland or Rotorua can really consider this as a side trip. After all, Hamilton is just less than 2-hour drive from these two major cities.

Thanks to the awesome flight by Kiwi Balloon Company!

The hot air balloon details:
Company: Kiwi Balloon Company (www.kiwiballooncompany.co.nz/)
Email: bookings@kiwiballooncompany.co.nz
Tel: 021 912 679 (International Telephone: +64 21 912 679) or (07) 8438538, please look for Mark ~
Quote that you are introduced by SP from Malaysia and you will have a 10 per cent discount from Mark directly.