Balloons over Waikato is shaping up for its biggest year as it prepares to celebrate its 20th birthday.

The Shaped Hot Air Balloons are always the stars of the show, and this year, some of the classics have returned.

Event manager Michele Connell said she is thrilled to have three favourite special shapes from the last 20 years return for this year's fiesta.

"We are proud to be 20, and we are so excited to have some of our favourite balloons returning this year, with the popular Darth Vader, the stunning Betty Jean Butterfly and Resene's Proud to be Kiwi all coming back to us for a second visit," Ms Connell says.

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Balloons over Waikato is a free event and it's for everyone.

Immerse yourself in the weeks high flying fun at Innes Common with competitive flying tasks each morning from 7am.

The Darth Vader balloon is one of the special shape balloons announced for the 20th anniversary Balloons over Waikato. Photo / darthvaderballoon.be
The Darth Vader balloon is one of the special shape balloons announced for the 20th anniversary Balloons over Waikato. Photo / darthvaderballoon.be

Celebrate the birthday with fun and giveaways every day, starting Tuesday, March 19, with the Hamilton opening party, Wednesday's Grassroots Trust Birthday Bash, Thursday's WEL Energy Trust Birthday Breakfast with the Gallagher Chiefs and The First Credit Union Friday Festival.

Then on Friday evening, bring the family for dinner to the hot and fiery City Burn and Markets thanks to Hamilton Central in Garden Place, or visit the regions when balloons head to the Thames Racecourse in Thames and Victoria Square in Cambridge.

Saturday morning concludes morning flying, where balloonists compete in the popular cash grab at the McDonalds Hamilton Happy Birthday and the ZURU Nightglow is the finale from 4pm on Saturday night, March 23.

Hamilton's biggest night out is The ZURU Nightglow on the grounds of the University of Waikato starting at 4pm Saturday. This is a real highlight of the week with five hours of live entertainment on the main stage, food, carnival rides and games, its one for the entire family. At 8pm the stunning orchestrated hot air balloon glow gets under way, culminating in the finale of the spectacular firework display. A night not to be missed.