Saturday, 8 April 2017

Finally n the air again: a flight over Hamilton!

PHIL: Day 56/11 April

unusual looking American built basket
The early morning arrives on Innes Common by Lake Rotoroa (not to be confused with Rotorua) in downtown Hamilton and weather is marginal. 

Balloons inflate (perhaps 25 in all) but for at the local airport means a tedious wait until they deem it fit to let us go, by which time the wind is driving strato-cumulus clouds across the city. Allie flies with Andy and three sponsor’s nominee passengers. 

I retrieve with Pete Robinson, a hard-drinking general factotum whom Andy has known since the ‘80s.Pete’s spoken English is hard to comprehend and despite living in Hamilton for ten years his local knowledge seems awry, so we get lost as I defer to his directions rather than follow my own instincts.


We see the balloon do a rather inelegant intermediate touch-down, which we subsequently learn was Allie’s out-of-practice attempt at landing in which she breaks an electric stock fence. 

They land finally in a paddock about 5km out of town and we return to the site of the indiscretion to apologise to the farmer, who, fortunately, is very relaxed about it.

The evening launch is cancelled because of strong winds so Martin briefs for a night flight planned for the next morning with some input from me who seems to be one of the few present who have ever flown a balloon at night. 

Actually the permission is only for 15 minutes of real ‘darkness’ before sunrise, which seems pathetic to me but is the result of a nervous Aviation Authority.

ALLIE: DAY 56: Wednesday, 11th of April

A Balloon flight out of Hamilton hands on and an evening down the pub

getting the balloon ready
Out on the field for briefing at 5.45. The weather looking a bit dull. It had rained during the night, but the winds are not too bad, except for blowing towards the airport.

So we get the balloon ready but have to wait for clearance. Time drizzles on. We are getting nervous. Then finally the long awaited call: “cleared to take off!”. 

There we go, Andy, three passengers and me in Andy’s Cameron 120. What wonderful feeling. Rising up from the park we finally manage to see a bit more what’s going on weather wise and it actually doesn’t look too bad. 

special shapes being inflated
Mist and fog still lingering around but the tops of some volcanic hills sticking out of it and most of the farm land now being in the sunshine.
After a couple of minutes Andy hands the burner over to me. Great to be hands on again after such a long time. 

finally in the air again!
We drift across farm land, have to watch the odd group of cattle and horses but otherwise great flying country. Alas my first approach for landing ends up in taking a bit of a fence with us. Hm, ok let’s try again. 

This time I manage to bring the bird down and stop it after a 15meters drag across a field. Made it! Flying is like a drug. Once you have started doing it, you can’t do without the buzz for too long. It definitely was too long!

Lunchtime rest at the hotel. Then out to the launch site at 3.30 but only to find it too windy and unstable to fly. What a pity! But that’s ballooning. Some of the boys are quite happy, because it means they can be down the pub much earlier. 

Our team decides pretty much the same, and we end up at the “Cook and Bull”.
down the pub - where men belong!

I have a nice chat with our two retrieve boys, both being from Hamilton. They earn their money with the odd job of mowing the lawns or cutting hedges but seem to enjoy it. 

Later on the talk revolves around the German Beer festival that even here in remote New Zealand seems to have a remarkable reputation! Not only the drinking but also the enormous features of some of the beer maidens serving the ‘Steins’. I also learn that the most famous Kiwi beer is called ‘Steinlager’ and was introduced by a German named Chuck Hahn.

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