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The Canowindra International Balloon Challenge

Located in the Central West region of NSW, the beautiful town of Canowindra (pronounced Ca-noun-druh) hosts the Canowindra International Balloon Challenge each year in April. We visited in 2023 and had the most amazing time!

This is Australia’s largest hot air balloon festival and each year the small town welcomes over 5,000 visitors who come to watch the incredible spectacle of the balloons taking off at sunrise, flying around the countryside and competing in various challenges. 

Over the years Canowindra became known as the “Balloon Capital of Australia” thanks to its wide-open spaces, rolling hills and gentle winds. 

In 2010, local balloon operators Jan and Graham Kerr held the first Canowindra Balloon Challenge, which was a huge success, and since then its popularity has continued to grow. 

Did you know that the town’s entire CBD has been classified as a Heritage Preservation Area by the National Trust, with buildings dating back to 1846? The town became famous in 1863 when bushranger Ben Hall and his gang held the townsfolk up at Robinson’s Inn, now the Royal Hotel. 

Spectacular Sunrises

The balloon challenge kicks off with an epic start at sunrise each morning as the hot air balloons’ flames are lit, they fill up and ascend into the morning sky. 

It’s an early start - we were up before dawn, but it is 100% worth it to see the balloons inflate and launch.

The launch sites for the balloons competing in the challenge will vary depending on the wind direction, and we kept checking the Facebook page for updates of where they are each morning.

When we were there they launched from the river flats behind the caravan park, South Canowindra reserve and at the sports oval, but they could take off from anywhere, so your best bet is to keep checking Facebook!

Make sure you give the inflating balloons a lot of distance and follow any instructions that you are given. The wind catches them and they can move quickly, so please be safe, especially if you have kids.

The Challenges

The challenges are tasks for the competitors to complete during each flight. These are determined before take-off, after assessing the weather and other factors.  

The tasks require pilots manoeuvre their balloons over a set course with goals, targets, scoring areas, time and distance limits.  

The pilots steer their balloons by using the wind - at different altitudes, the wind will vary in direction and speed.  By climbing or descending into these layers of air, the pilot can manoeuvre the balloon onto a preferred line of travel towards their targets.

Enjoying the beautiful countryside

Once the balloons are in the sky, you can jump in your car and follow them as they float through the countryside. Sometimes there were more balloons than we could count, it was just incredible!

If you are driving, please keep your eyes on the road, and pull over to a safe space off the road if you’d like to watch the balloons. Balloon crews assist their pilots in the competition and they will stop and start their cars along the route the balloon is heading, so make sure to give them plenty of space. 

We found following the assist vehicles to be the best way to figure out where the balloons were heading!

Other events during the week:

The Welcome To Canowindra Street Party

2024 will be the festival’s first welcome street party, on 20th April (the first day). It’ll be held on Gaskill Street, right in town, from 5pm. 

The street will be closed off at 3pm and the party will include live music, food and drink stalls and the first Canowindra BBQ Masters competition.

This is a chance for you to show off your BBQ skills and win prizes. You can buy tickets online to enter.

Small Acres Cyder Key Grab 

This year this event is held on 27th April. The Key Grab is a challenge where balloonists fly in from out of town to the Sports Oval where there is a Cider bottle cut out on top of a pole. The pilots have to use their skill and try to grab it to win the prize!

We watched this in 2023 and it was so much fun, and the skill of the balloonists is incredible to watch! The best place to watch this from is the Sports Oval.

The Street Parade

2024 sees the fourth year of the Street Parade, to be held at 10am on the 27th April on Gaskill Street.

The parade features live music, dancers, vintage cars and tractors, Canowindra SES, Moorbel RFS, children from local schools and of course the balloonists!

The Lions Club holds a BBQ in the main street and the Country Women's Association serves breakfast all day in the CWA Hall in Blatchford Street. 

Cabonne Community Glow

The Cabonne Community Glow is one of the highlights of the Canowindra International Balloon Challenge. It’s an amazing family friendly festival and should definitely not be missed!

It is held at the Canowindra Sports Oval, with the main entertainment coming from 15 hot air balloons. These are inflated at sunset and then light up like 20 metre high lightbulbs! They synchronise their flames (so the balloons glow) to a music sound track and honestly, it’s just incredible!

You can see our video from last year here.

The festival also has other musical entertainment, this year the headliners are Zac & George, and last year there were a bunch of great musicians and dancers to entertain the crowd.

The night markets have a huge range of food and drink trucks and stalls, and there’s plenty of room to bring a picnic rug and relax. 

Tickets are only $10 per adult and $2 for under 18s. The fun starts at 3pm and you can pre-purchase tickets here.


There is so much to do in Canowindra during the festival (and an afternoon nap is well earned after waking up so early!) but there is a lot to see (including a great local winery) in the surrounding area as well. 

If you are interested in the town’s bushranger history, check out Blind Freddy’s tours.

You can find out all the information you need about what else there is to do in the area here.

Accommodation in Canowindra during the festival books up early. We managed to find one night accommodation in town, and after that we stayed in a motel in Cowra, which is less than half an hour drive away, so was a fine alternative.

We definitely recommend visiting the Cowra Japanese Gardens while you are in town, you can read all about them here.

With all the excitement in the sky, the fun festival activities, the beautiful town and its super friendly people, the Canowindra International Balloon Challenge really is an event that is not to be missed!

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