The world's biggest princess carriage and a giant race car are taking to the Waikato skies.

They will fly with a giant elephant and a tyrannosaurus rex hatching out of its egg to make up the special shapes category in the annual Balloons over Waikato.

General manager Michele Connell says 21 balloons are taking part in this year's event.

The festival kicks off this morning in Hamilton with the mass ascension from Innes Common at Hamilton Lake. The balloons continue to lift off there for the rest of the week with various activities throughout each day and night.


Seventeen of the balloons will visit schools around the district tomorrow afternoon, while some will light up in Hamilton's Garden Place on Friday between 6pm and 8pm. But the main event is the Zuru Nightglow at Waikato University, which is usually attended by 75,000 to 80,000 people.

"It's always massive," said Ms Connell. "There's a huge amount of people from Auckland and within our own region but also Taupo, Bay of Plenty, as well as international visitors."

As for the special shapes, the Princess Carriage, piloted by Jeff Snyder of the United States, took two weeks to build and used 1280m of pink, yellow and purple fabric.

"This carriage is fit for a princess and will be a favourite for kids of all ages." The balloon will also make a special visit to the Te Kuiti Domain on Friday.

The Race Car balloon is 37m wide and 22m high - 10 times larger than a normal car - and weighs 365kg. Ms Connell says its unusual shape means it has two large rip panels and 12 separate vents instead of the normal landing system, which makes it a complex balloon to operate.

But it's not the first time pilot Lenny Cant, from Belgium, has visited New Zealand, after taking part in the event in 2009. "Returning to New Zealand is something we have been working towards since our last visit, we are very excited to fly here again."

It will be Baby Dino's first visit to New Zealand. Ms Connell says the festival has been trying to attract the balloon for quite some time.

The balloon is making its way from the United States with 24-year-old pilot Jay McCormack.

The final special shape is the Resene-sponsored Elefantastic Pea-Nut balloon; 30m tall with a 15m long trunk, and ears that are 8m by 6m, it weighs 200kg.

The balloon was made in Brazil but now lives in Pennsylvania, US, and will be piloted by Tony Saxton.

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