Huge balloon touches down in Waikato from California

Kim Lynch was terrified when she took her first hot air balloon ride - so terrified that she barely looked up to enjoy the view.

Fast forward 35 years and she owns six balloons with her family and has travelled all the way from California to be at the Balloons Over Waikato festival.

The event is in its 18th year, this time featuring 19 balloons, and around 135,000 visitors are expected over the five-day festival.

Ms Lynch and her family run the non-profit organisation Reach for the Stars which is in Hamilton to support Ronald McDonald House.

They've brought along the largest balloon to ever fly at Balloons Over Waikato - Robbie.

The balloon had to be shipped from California. Weighing in at around 650kg, Robbie is far too heavy to be flown.

"We share the joy of flight with people of all abilities. So we have the special shape balloon Robbie who is the shape of a boy in a wheelchair," Ms Lynch says.

(Reach for the Stars)
(Reach for the Stars)

"It is wheelchair accessible. It has a basket to take people in a wheelchair for a flight… It's very rare there's only 12 of them in the United States. We were the first ones to be fully FAA [Federal Aviation Administration] certified."

They were certified first because the founder of Reach for the Stars, Pat Murphy, was so passionate about the cause.

Mr Murphy worked as a volunteer at a camp for children with cancer where he brought his personal hot air balloon to take campers for rides. He got frustrated when they couldn't climb into the basket because of their disabilities.

For seven years he worked to build and certify a basket that allowed wheelchair accessibility and now that basket has made it to New Zealand.


"I love New Zealand, the people here are so friendly and so courteous. The crew has been marvellous," Ms Lynch says.

But there is one thing that could make it better, calm weather.

"I'd love to see some better weather days, can you guarantee me one tomorrow?" she laughed.

Balloons over Waikato runs until March 26 at Innes Common with a special event Zuru Night Glow at the University of Waikato on Saturday night.