As a spectator, the Supagas Canowindra International Balloon Challenge is a visual marvel.
Every year in April, the event, which is Australia's largest hot air balloon festival, draws visitors from all over to watch as hot air balloons gently float across the morning sky.
But up in the air, there's a whole lot more going on.
The 2022 Canowindra International Balloon Challenge is on from April 2-10, and while the weekends are focused on creating a visual spectacle in the sky for visitors to enjoy, the week is about competing.
A balloon is a 10-storey high bag of air that doesn't have a steering wheel. So it's not like a plane. You have to work with the wind conditions you've got. It's a bit like sailing but in three dimensions because we get to go up and down as well.Adam Barrow, vice president, Canowindra International Balloon Challenge
Competitive ballooning is a worldwide sport where hot air balloon pilots go head-to-head to compete in a series of challenges.
The challenges are all about accuracy, and each flight during the competition has different objectives, with teams scored based on their performance.
Adam Barrow, vice president of the Canowindra International Balloon Challenge organising committee, says to think of it like sailing-but in three dimensions.
"A balloon is a 10-storey high bag of air that doesn't have a steering wheel. So it's not like a plane. You have to work with the wind conditions you've got. It's a bit like sailing but in three dimensions because we get to go up and down as well," he said.
Each team has a pilot who goes up in the balloon, with a support crew on the ground.
Given their reliance on natural conditions, the course for each round isn't set until that morning.
In Canowindra, Adam and a professional meteorologist, a safety officer, and a fellow balloon expert will get up at about 3.30am, look at the weather conditions, and set the task for the day, with balloons launching around sunrise.
The balloons all compete simultaneously, so they're subject to the same weather conditions, and Adam said it doesn't matter if it gets crowded up there.
"The balloons can bump into each other-it's like a big pillow fight. So that contact is quite common and not dangerous. And so they can all fly together, bounce off each other and move around a little bit," he said.
"That's what makes it so spectacular to watch because we have 15 balloons all arriving at the same spot within a few minutes of each other."
Spectators are welcome to watch the competition every day-the departure point will be announced on the event's social media pages around 6.30am.
If you catch the balloon competition, you're seeing the best of the best in the country.
This year it's the leading practice event for the Australian team going to the World Championships in Slovenia in September.
"There are six pilots representing Australia this year, and all six of those pilots will be at this event, just trying to sharpen their skills and use it as a training event to get them in the best shape before they then ship all their gear over to Europe," Adam said.
And the Canowindra International Balloon Challenge isn't all about competing.
On both weekends of the festival, the balloons will launch from downtown Canowindra at sunrise, weather permitting, so spectators can get up close to the action.
Then on April 9 from 3pm is the family-friendly Cabonne Community Glow, held at Canowindra Sports Oval.
The popular ticketed event sees the tethered hot air balloons light up the night sky, synchronising their flames to a music soundtrack.
The event also has live music and night markets with local food and wine.
For more information on the Canowindra International Balloon Challenge, or tickets to the Cabonne Community Glow, visit the website canowindrachallenge.org.au.