“Pre flight procedures”

Queenstown, New Zealand. April 2019. (15 photos)

This is Part 1 of my New Zealand 2019 photo series.


In 2017 I visited the Queenstown region of New Zealand.

In 2018 I visited the Auckland region of New Zealand. My post only appeared a couple of weeks a go. I apologise for my tardiness.

A few weeks ago I returned to the Queenstown region. This is the first in a short series of posts about my most recent trip there.


In April this year, just before Easter, I returned to Queenstown for a long weekend trip because there were a couple of things I wanted to see and do that I missed out on last time I was there. Bungy jumping was NOT one of those things.

After booking the flights I was looking through some tourism websites looking for a hiking tour when I saw a description about ballooning in Queenstown. After considering it for a while, two days before arriving in New Zealand I contacted the ballooning company and asked for a reservation if there were a space available. Kind of hoping they would say no, in fact they said yes. Then I had to contact them at 6am on the morning of my flight to confirm the weather conditions were suitable for flying. Again, hoping they would say no, they said yes. So I rugged up for the near freezing outdoor conditions and ventured out for my first ever balloon flight.

This is my flight above Queenstown: the flight of the dragon.

In the photo above two of the other passengers volunteered to hold the balloon open so two fans could inflate the balloon. It was about 1 degree Celsius out but that was perfect for ballooning as it is easier to attain the appropriate temperature differential to achieve and maintain flight.

“Inside the balloon”

Our pilot doing an inspection inside the balloon.

“Fire in the hole”

“Up, up and away”

Whilst looking at the other balloon, I almost didn’t realise we’d actually taken off.

“Above Lake Hayes”

For this first timer, the first couple of hundred metres or so up were the most concerning, because I figured that if the balloon suddenly plummeted I might actually survive but be incapacitated. From higher than that, I assumed instant death from a fall which is actually a less nervous proposition and so I was able to simply enjoy the flight.

“Flying high”

“Sunrise over Queenstown, Otago”

“Snowfall around Queenstown”

Snow from a recent Autumn coldspell on the mountaintops around Queenstown.

“View from the basket”

According to my souvenir certificate, we reached approximately 6500 ft, or 2 km, above land.

“Above Middle Earth”

That’s Queenstown Airport in the middle of the photo. Not the longest runway in the world.

Just behind the airport is Deer Park Heights which I visited and posted about before. This Park is now closed to the public but was the site of filming for many of the scenes from the Lord of the Rings trilogy.

To the extreme left is The Remarkables Mountain Range which I flew up to in a helicopter and posted about previously as well.

“Above Queenstown: the flight of the dragon”

The Shotover River on the left is where many of the adventure jet boat rides take place.

“Looking down”

Since I was up there anyway, I stuck my head and camera over the side and looked straight down.


“Back on solid ground”


It’s a ballooning tradition to enjoy a champagne (in this case, a champagne breakfast) after a flight…

“It is said that back in the early days of ballooning in France, local farmers believed that hot air balloons that were landing in their fields may have been dragons descending from the skies. To soothe the farmers’ fears and make peace, the hot air balloon pilots would share a bottle of champagne with the farmers whose land they have disturbed.”

Dragons descending from the skies. Kind of ironic isn’t it?


I envisage another 3 or so posts in this short photographic series, although the posts won’t appear for a while and won’t necessarily be in consecutive order.


Well, in the title for this post I do mention “the flight of the dragon” and in fact I do have a northbound plane to catch later this week. I’ll be back after a short break, although I do realise that my definition of short may not necessarily match yours. I might try to drop a postcard along the way.


This is Part 1 of my New Zealand 2019 photo series.

Part 2 of this trilogy is Milford Sound and Sights

Part 3 of this trilogy is Otago and that Wanaka Tree

Leica Etcetera, Photography Etcetera

Above Queenstown: The flight of the dragon


79 thoughts on “Above Queenstown: The flight of the dragon

  1. Magnificent balloon photos! Years ago, a balloon sputtered and landed across the street from our house, in the neighbor’s grass. No damage or injury. That was the closest I ever came to a balloon.

    • Thank you. That would have been an unexpected sight! Speaking as one who has been involved in a landing, the pilots do a great job at identifying and landing in a particular location, particularly as the balloons are at the mercy of the wind.

  2. Fantastic series, Lignum, especially the “Above Lake Hayes” photo ~ very cool. It has been a while since I have been in a balloon, but I do like the perspective it gives on the land and you show both the art of the balloons and then of the land below.

    • It was a great experience and view, and perfect weather for it. Only a gentle breeze at ground level, so just 2 bumps before settling. I thought that was quite gentle but the pilot considered the landing a bit rough – a perfectionist obviously. πŸ™‚

  3. Bungy jumping made me laugh because I put it in a poem once, you’ll read it one day.
    Ballooning? Now you’re talking.

    These are breathtakingly beautiful. I’ve always wanted to do it, maybe one day above Cappadocia (though they rip people off).

    Can’t wait for more.

    • Ballooning just seems so graceful and elegant, with a hint of nostalgia to its history. Unlike bungy jumping. Actually, I wish I had a valet like Passepartout to carry my camera gear for me. πŸ™‚ The views were magnificent and it was so serene up there.

      Some experiences are quite overpriced and tourist traps, yet they have to be done. In fact, I’m doing one next week. Just a matter of accepting I’m paying a lot relatively but it’s something I want to see/do. Yes, go ballooning!

      Corrections made – damn spellchecker!

  4. So pretty from up above! Never been in a hot air balloon myself but maybe when I get to New Zealand one day I’ll give it a go. Good for you for doing it…some amazing photos and a well deserved glass of bubbly after πŸ˜€

    • There’s only one ballooning company in Queenstown and they’re incredible safety conscious. On average they cancel scheduled flights 2 out of every 3 days. I’d have no problem going up with them again. You’d have a great time in NZ – do it! πŸ™‚

  5. Extraordinary photos and post, impressive, it does take one’s breath away. Seems so beautiful and peaceful up there, the sunrise moment looks otherworldly a bit, can even see a little rainbow too. And I remember I noticed the champagne moment tradition after a balloon flight in a movie I once saw, I’m happy now I understand why. πŸ™‚

    • After the views, the quiet and serenity of being so high is something you really notice. It is just so peaceful floating up there. I enjoyed it so much.
      Yes, the champagne is a tradition. And if the owners of the land where you land are not there, the company traces the owners and sends them champagne and chocolates as a gift.

  6. Bungee jumping–definitely NOT!! Hot air balloon? Not sure I could. I don’t do well with heights. But good for you and I loved the shots, especially the ones inside the balloon.


    • I wasn’t sure how I would react to the ascent, but actually it turned out to be quite an enjoyable and relaxing experience. I was a bit sad when we started to descend.

    • You’re so right, there’s an aura of nostalgia, history and romance about hot air balloons, like being part of a Jules Verne novel.
      What really struck me was the serenity up there. I certainly hope you do experience it sometime along your travels.

    • Yes, I was inspired to do this by ballooning events I’ve seen in pictures from Africa and Myanmar. I wouldn’t mind ballooning in those countries either.

  7. I very much enjoyed seeing Lake Wakatipu from the shore in differing amounts of cloud and sun over several days. Did it look significantly different from the air than from on the ground?

    • At the mercy of the winds, I could only get a glance of the Lake; the balloon didn’t take us over it. However, even from the distant overview, the appreciation of the Lake is quite different to ground level.

  8. Great post! Hoping they would say no, but they said yes! πŸ˜‚ Love it! No way I could go though … Good on you for being brave! Great shots Mr Draco .. bet you enjoyed that glass of bubbles!

    • Thanks, Julie. I would not have been upset at the time if the weather had caused the flight to be aborted, but it was perfect weather and all systems go. I’m now very glad I did it. And it’s true, the hardest part was the landing. Yes, the champagne breakfast went down a treat. πŸ™‚

  9. I loved our visit to Queenstown but lacked your bravery to leave the ground lifted by a balloon. I adore the balloon inflation images and got tingly feet looking at the balloon airborne over Lake Hayes; a sensation I feel whenever my fear of heights kicks in. But viewing those landscapes from the comfort of my sailboat makes me long to face my fear and join you. Looking forward to more.

    • You’d definitely enjoy the view from above, to complement the beauty from the ground/sea. For me, it was just a matter of deciding to do it, and then not thinking too much about it. After the first 10 minutes in the air, it was just like standing on solid ground. The balloon just glides through the air and you don’t notice it.

  10. There is something graceful about the entire process. Good to know that despite the misgivings you found tranquility way up. It does reflect in the images.

    • Thank you. Whilst it felt like i was living a literary classic, being in a balloon was a graceful and tranquil experience. I recommend it if you have the opportunity.

  11. “Would you like to ride in my beautiful balloon” 🎀🎈 haha… brave one… I wouldn’t dare… even for the pictures!! And fabulous pictures they are too… thanks for the very safe balloon trip from my PC…. although the view over the edge of the basket made me a little dizzy! πŸ˜„ I love the second picture as the balloon is inflated… so striking and powerful colours, I felt the heat!

    I recognised Middle Earth… how can you not, if you’ve seen the movies… breathtaking scenery.

    I lived in a village high on a hill when I was a child, we often had balloons land during the long hot summer evenings… it was a source of great excitement… would it land on a roof, or not? Nearly did once, the village pub roof. To me, it was like having aliens land!

    • What surprised me more than anything was the sensation of calm and serenity up there, floacting on the wind. Once you’re up high enough, 3000 feet up feels the same as 6000 feet up. I understand it’s not for everyone but I’d be happy to go up again.

      Thank you very much, Suzy. The views were indeed spectacular. It’s no wonder this area was the setting for much of Middle Earth in the films. The champagne was a bonus. There was enough to share with the owners if we did land on private property with the owners at home.

  12. You have one-upped google earth with this post. That’s an excellent thing. Last time I saw hot air balloons was my birthday, and pretended seeing them was a fabulous gift from the universe meant specifically for me.

  13. Hehe, dragons in the sky. That was so you πŸ˜€ Very nice flight from the looks of it. I have heard it is very cold ballooning, and hope you rugged up well πŸ™‚

    • Thanks. The coldest part of the experience was on the ground waiting to go up. I was shivering at times on the ground. Since the basket is small and everyone is close to the flame, it’s actually relatively warm up there. And very peaceful.

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