Although hot air ballooning has become the hot new item at regional tourism and recreational festivals for the summer vacation around Taiwan, Taitung’s Taiwan International Balloon Fiesta (台灣國際熱氣球嘉年華) is undoubtedly the biggest and most developed, and will be featuring a number of firsts.
This year, Hualien County and Greater Kaohsiung have introduced ballooning to festivals aimed to attract domestic and foreign tourism during the summer (Hualien June 22 to Sept 1; Kaohsiung July 8 to Aug. 11), but Taitung has kicked off the summer ballooning season with what will undoubtedly be the biggest hot air balloon event of the year.
Taitung is now in its third year of holding the fiesta, which is the center of a larger project by the county government to make Taitung a center of hot air ballooning for the whole country, complete with a training center for aspiring pilots. This year, there will be an additional treat, as the world’s first Angry Birds-shaped balloon will be officially launched at the fiesta.
The balloon, which has been officially endorsed by Angry Birds-maker Rovio Entertainment, has already generated huge interest not just among balloon enthusiasts, but from the legions of games fans around Taiwan. The balloon, which is as tall as a 10-story building and is nearly 3,000-cubic meters in size, will be commencing a two year world tour after its launch in Taitung, visiting Germany in August, followed by stops in Italy, the US and Thailand.
Custom-shaped balloons such as the Angry Bird balloon create a spectacular impression as they rise up into the sky, but according to Benedict Savio, CEO of Global Media Box, who is providing balloons for the event and who owns the Angry Bird balloon, the technical complexities of such balloons are considerably greater than that of conventional balloons. Each new shape has to be individually certified by aviation authorities before it is allowed to fly. The presence of such a high-profile balloon at the fiesta has generated great media interest. Other custom-shaped balloons, invited from the US, Germany, Holland and Australia will also be making exhibition flights at the fiesta.
Another element that will be unique to the Taitung fiesta this year will be the launch of free flights. Tethered assents in which balloons are allowed to rise up 30m or so to provide passengers with a panoramic view of the surrounding countryside are already well established in Taiwan. Free flights are when the balloon is released and allowed to fly freely, and also at a much greater height, taking off in one location and landing in another. At the launch of the fiesta, Taitung County Commissioner Justin Huang (黃健庭) said that while other ballooning venues in Taiwan were still experimenting with tethered flights, Taitung was the first location to give locals a taste of the real potential of ballooning. Pre-booking for free flights has commenced, with places available from June 15. The number of places available is extremely limited and the cost of a flight, which lasts between 30 and 45 minutes, is NT$8,000 per person. Bookings can be made between 8:30pm and 5:30pm Monday to Friday at (02) 2545-2341 ext 334/335.
Tethered flights, which will still be the main attraction for people visiting the 72-day fiesta, last for between 5 minutes and 7 minutes, rising to a height of around 30m. Such flights will cost NT$500 per person. Flights will take place during a morning session, from 5:30am to 7:30am, and an evening session, from 5pm to 7pm. “The air temperature must be lower than the air inside the balloon,” Savio said. “We cannot go up if the weather is too warm.” Air current and other climatic factors are also important in determining whether the balloons go up or not.
The presence of so many colorful hot air balloons rising up over the Luye plateau makes for a remarkable sight. Apart from the balloons there will be the usual adjuncts of stalls selling Taitung food specialties and cultural products. Throughout the afternoon, a wide range of family friendly entertainment activities will also be in operation. Concerts featuring local performers will be held every Thursday, Friday and Saturday afternoon between 3pm and 4pm and larger scale concerts against a background of lit balloons on June 12, June 28, July 12, July 26 and Aug. 11.
The Luye plateau venue is located just off the 344.5km marker of the Provincial Highway 9 north of Luye train station. Detailed activity schedules, transport information, recommendations of where you can stay, restaurant options and side trips are all available through the festival Web site at balloontaiwan.taitung.gov.tw. (Chinese only.)