Summer returning after unsettled spell

Summer has finally returned to the country after a week of heavy rain, gale force winds and, in some places, snow.

The last of the rain and wind should taper off today and most of the country was expected to enjoy the sunshine on the weekend, said.

Weather analyst Richard Green said the South Island could see temperatures hitting 30C.

"It was only yesterday morning that snow fell to below 500 metres over central Otago and now tomorrow the thirties are a possibility.

"This pattern is more like spring than summer. However, Sunday should see a cooling off again in the south later in the day."

Yesterday, most temperatures across the country were a couple of degrees below average for the time of year and Auckland struggled to top 20C after plenty of warm days lately.

Overnight lows were also cooler than usual but tonight they should climb a little higher and tomorrow night another degree or two could be in the pipeline, Mr Green said.

However, windy conditions could return for a majority of the country early next week as westerlies push in.

Heavy rain in the last few days washed out a bridge on State Highway 6, just north of Harihari on the West Coast, cutting off the region.

Floodwaters have prevented structural engineers from inspecting the bridge.

Teams of contractors were working to clear the flood debris and divert the river, New Zealand Transport Agency (NZTA) spokesman Mark Pinner said yesterday.

NZTA was hoping to have a clearer picture today on how long it would take to reopen the road, although it was expected to take days.

The West Coast road via Lewis Pass through Murchison also had to be closed, forcing travellers to make a seven-hour detour around Blenheim and Kaikoura to get to the east coast of the South Island.

State Highway 65 between Murchison and Springs Junction remained closed due to flooding, Mr Pinner said.

More than half a metre of rain fell in some areas of the West Coast over the past two days.

The flood threat to the Waitaki River, brought on by the heavy rain, has eased but holidaymakers in the Waitaki Lakes and at Lake Pukaki were still being warned of rising water levels as releasing excess water from hydro lakes starts.

Energy company Meridian began spilling water from Lake Pukaki late on Wednesday night.

Meridian spokeswoman Michelle Brooker said a gradual spill would take place for "a good few weeks", and added that spills at Lake Ohau and Benmore may also be needed soon.

Environment Canterbury (ECan) duty flood controller Tony Henderson said campers, hikers and recreational anglers needed to be mindful of the possibility of rising water levels in the Pukaki and Ohau Rivers, as well as all catchment areas above Lake Waitaki and down the Waitaki River.

Snow in Queenstown delighted tourists on the Crown Range between Wanaka and Queenstown yesterday morning.

Hundreds of tourists abandoned their cars and campers briefly to make snowmen and take part in snow ball fights.

Snow also blanketed hills surrounding Queenstown. Most of the snow had melted before midday, but not before tourists rushed to get summer holiday pictures with a snowy backdrop.


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