Helicopters help dry cherry orchards

Some Central Otago orchardists yesterday used helicopters to help dry off their rain-affected cherry crops.

Cromwell's 45 South general manager Tim Jones and Earnscleugh orchardist Harry Roberts both confirmed they resorted to using helicopter rotor wash to save the precious fruit.

But they were quick to add the rain was not a disaster for their crops as there was some wind to help dry fruit between showers and temperatures were cool.

Summerfruit New Zealand chairman and Roxburgh orchardist Gary Bennetts said rain was ''always a worry'' at this point in the season and it was too early yesterday to know what effect, if any, the rain would have on crops this season.

Though growers were hoping for the rain to stop, the last thing they wanted was a hot day to follow, as that could make fruit split.

Central Otago District Council principal rural fire officer Owen Burgess yesterday welcomed the rain, which he hoped might reduce the region's fire risk.

By late afternoon yesterday Roxburgh had received about 14mm of rain, Earnscleugh about 10mm and Cromwell 10-12mm.

High winds also caused power cuts yesterday and Delta systems control manager Graeme Johnson said a branch had bought down a power line, causing a two and a-half-hour outage to about 270 connections in Glendhu Bay, near Wanaka. A falling branch at Millers Flat cut power to about 160 users for four hours.

 Heavy rain in Clutha hit camping grounds. Bookings fell and some campers had left. Clutha district rivers were running high.

In the Catlins, camping grounds were reporting a drop in patronage.

At Newhaven, near Owaka, numbers were down for the New Year break, some booking were cancelled and campers left early. In Kaka Point, people were still making bookings, but some were leaving early.

Leanne Scott, of the Balclutha Motor Camp, said the rain had stopped and most holiday-makers were staying despite a few early departures.

The ground had collected about six extra camper vans staying overnight, after they were rained out of the Catlins.

''We're lucky because we have some dry patches here. It hits the Catlins pretty hard. You tell people it's a rainforest, but yeah.''

In South Catlins, Curio Bay Holiday Park manager Val Whyte said it was a quiet start to the year.

''We've had quite heavy rain but there's still a few hardy souls around.''

Mrs Whyte said some campers had left a day or two earlier than planned, but more than 60 people were still holidaying at the sheltered camp.