Domestic Travel

Danielle McCarthy

Up, up and away: Experiencing the magic of the Wairarapa Balloon Festival

Up, up and away: Experiencing the magic of the Wairarapa Balloon Festival
Veteran balloon pilot Peter King (left), from the Wairarapa, enjoys the sensation of hot-air ballooning, a sport he has been involved in for more than 35 years. Image credit: Pete Nikolaison

Peter King is at his happiest when he’s flying high above the wide Wairarapa valley. Not only is the vista beautiful from 5000ft, but the region’s geography and drainage winds, which typically run from north to south, make it a popular place to fly hot air balloons.

“Hot air ballooning is all about manipulating air currents over the landscape,” says Peter. “After taking off and getting airborne, it’s about planning where you want to go by identifying and feeling the breezes on the way up. It’s a science to get it right and when you do, the feeling is just terrific. It’s peaceful and the vistas, especially in the Wairarapa, are amazing.”

Peter’s foray into hot air ballooning began in the seventies when he flew with James Greig in one of the first three hot air balloons imported into New Zealand. One of them was later flown by Roland ‘Roly’ Parsons, the first and only man to cross the Cook Strait in a hot air balloon and the first man to pilot a balloon directly over the top of Mt Cook, in the Southern Alps.

“I had my PPL (private pilot’s license) but quickly became captivated by the balloon and excited by the sport. At the time Bernina was sponsoring the sport in Europe and things were starting to happen here. We ended up buying the Bernina balloon previously owned by Jim Greig. and I guess you could say, we’ve never looked back.”

Trust House Night Glow

The Trust House Night Glow sees tethered balloons lit up by colourful lights and against a musical backdrop.  

Since then Peter, who runs Kings Woodworking Company in Carterton which makes bespoke timber benchtops for national distribution, has flown at locations all around New Zealand and also attended the famous Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta. He thrives on the camaraderie amongst the balloonists.

“Because the wind dictates which direction you go, there is no set landing place’ so the ground crew are a vital component of a successful flight. They make sure that the landowner’s requirements are met & there is a safe pack-up,” he says.

“The other side of the sport I enjoy is going into local primary schools and opening up the envelope for kids and blowing air into it. They are genuinely amazed and ask such wonderful, crazy questions like ‘how does a pilot go toilet’?”


The Resene Splash n Dash competition at Henley Lake in Masterton makes for a spectacular display. This Easter it is being held on Saturday, 31 March (7am – 9.30am weather conditions permitting).

Peter is looking forward to flying his new 70000 cubic foot Boland balloon named “Snakeskin” at this year’s Wairarapa Balloon Festival being held over the long Easter Weekend. Amazingly, with American balloon maker, Brian Boland, who has operated Boland Balloons in Vermont since the 1980s, the whole balloon was sewed up in Pete’s lounge. The team, meticulously cut & sewed the 170 panels that make up the envelope including the “snakeskin” panel the balloon is named for. The basket is made from plywood, aluminium and fabric upholstery. The whole aircraft has been fully checked by CAA and registered as a “homebuilt aircraft”. Pete will also wear his distinctive red and gold leather helmet with silver wings that was specially made for his 60th birthday by Carterton leather artist, Trevor Lamb.

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“Bud E Beaver” is one of three special shaped hot air balloons coming to the 2018 Wairarapa Balloon Festival, being held this Easter.

Peter will join more than 20 other balloonists for the festival including his son Dan who will pilot a two person Boland with distinctive red and white stripes. In addition there will be three special-shaped balloons including “Bud E Beaver”, “Iwi the Kiwi” and “RAC Van” the latter which weighs in at 325kgs, is approximately 30m tall and has yellow flashing lights.

“There will be five Boland hot air balloons flying in the Wairarapa Balloon Festival at Easter time. They are light balloons so the envelope does not have to be as big so it’s quick to inflate and pack up. We just enjoy the speed and it is as fast as the wind takes us.”

The 2018 Wairarapa Balloon festival from Thursday, March 29 to Monday, April 2. Location details about morning balloon ascensions in Carterton, Greytown, Masterton and Martinborough; times for the burner parades and details on the Trust House Night Glow at Solway Showgrounds can be found on

For more information on what to do in the Wairarapa over Easter, including accommodation options, please visit