Guy Fawkes, November 5th 1997

Thanks to our being a British colony for a time one of the traditions we observe is that of Guy Fawkes. So on November 5th it is traditional to let off fireworks and have bonfires down at the beach. Fortunately the more macarbe practice of burning an effigy of Guy himself is not as commonly observed.

But due to the efforts of the more idiotic members of society the fireworks themselves are bcoming more and more limited. When I was younger the available fireworks included skyrockets, catherine wheels, double happy's (miniature dynamite like explosives that just made noise) as well as the the 'tower' fireworks that stood on the ground and launched small explosions into the sky. Catherine Wheels were stopped when a succesion of people failed to read the instructions on their use and hurt themselves. Sky rockets fell by the wayside when they were used to actually fire upon Fire Service people as they tried to put out a fire. Double Happys and their ilk died off when children increasingly used them to hurt animals and each other.

Now even the tower fireworks are in danger as people insist on trying to use them in stupid and dangerous ways. It was into this climate that it was suggested that perhaps the City Council might like to organise a fireworks display that can be run by professionals, and thus safely, so that people can get their fireworks display without risking the more unfortunate problems experienced. So for at least the last three years the Council has been doing precisely that.

Wellington, at sunset. (17 Kb jpeg)

Thus a few friends and I went to the top of Mt Victoria to watch the fifteen minute display. We weren't alone in that idea and a good two thousand odd people also joined us up on top of the mountain. The display is timed to just start as the sun fully sets and it begins to really get dark. Unlike some years this year we got a fairly warm night with only a mild wind.

The view afford from our vantage point was good, but the best views were to be had down on the water front, even better still was out on the harbour - if you had a boat of course. And several boat owners and friends did move into position to watch the display. Because the display is launched from a barge in the middle of the harbour theirs was the closest view of all. If you look at the picture the barge is just off shot to the right of the picture, about the top of the tree line.

Spectator fleet, out on the harbour. (25 Kb jpeg)

Sure enough, bang on 8:45pm NZDST, the display started. They warmed us up with smaller displays to begin with. Partly because the light still hadn't fully faded but mostly because they were being consumate showmen. The barge itself had cascades going off from it directly as well as launching the skyrockets.

Small fireworks explosion. (16 Kb jpeg)

Gradually the explosion size increased with this being an example of a medium to small sized one. When you have NZ$50,000 to spend on the fireworks some quite impressive things can be done. Unfortunately it was about here that I ran out of film. Given that this was an experiment I hadn't expected to work I didn't think to bring a second roll of film, and so the really large explosions haven't been captured on film. Maybe next year.

Big fireworks explosion. (16 Kb jpeg)

But it wasn't just these spherical explosions that they used. Shaped explosions featured as well with a galaxy, heart with an arrow through it and multicoloured ones. Till the grand finale piece which managed to cover a good third of the sky with explosion. To give you a sense of the scale and distances involved the explosion noise was arriving slightly over five seconds after the image. ( 330 m/s * 5 = 1650 metres) And yet, with the bigger explosions, you still felt the shockwave rather than merely heard it.

All in all it is an impressive display, something that is well worth sticking around to see if you are in Wellington around the 5th of November. And I have to salute the people who organise the event and the City Councils support of it. Rather than just removing the right to fire skyrockets they have brought in something to replace the loss. While this means that the visceral thrill of launching a sky rocket yourself is lost the larger fireworks involved in the display compensate for this quite nicely.

Philip R. Banks
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