Winter blast brings snow, strong winds to parts of country

Source: 1 NEWS and RNZ

Snow has closed state highways as the bitterly cold weather moves across central New Zealand.

The SH1 Taihape to Rangipo, SH4 Ohakune to National Park, SH5 Napier-Taupō Road and SH49 Ohakune to Waiouru are now open.

Waka Kotahi said drivers would need to detour via Napier or New Plymouth, adding an extra four to five travel time.

SH1 Desert Road, SH46 Tongariro to Rangipo and Napier-Taihape Rd are all still closed.

The Remutaka Hill SH2 remained open but there was snow forecast to 200m which may settle on the summit.

A number of schools in the central North Island are closed due to the snow conditions and power outages. Taihape Area School, Waiouru Primary School and St Joseph's School in Taihape are all closed.

Falls have eased in most parts of the south, though Arthur's Pass, Porters Pass and Lewis Pass may remain closed into the afternoon, Waka Kotahi said. A large caravan blocking Porters Pass needs to be towed out of the way to re-establish two lanes of traffic.

Lake Pukaki to Burkes Pass SH8 is closed to snow and ice conditions, while SH1 Waitati to Pine Hill has reopened.

State Highway 1 north of Christchurch is fully open and restored to two lanes after jack-knifed trucks on the Hundalees caused significant delays on Sunday afternoon into the evening for other truck drivers and many people in cars, the agency said.

Cook Strait ferry crossings are cancelled through to this evening.

Bluebridge said conditions through the Strait remained very rough and there were still strong winds in Wellington. It would make a decision later in the day about its evening sailings.

Interislander cancelled all sailings due to depart up to 6.45pm and suspended online bookings for the next three days while existing passengers were rescheduled.

Strong wind was disrupting flights into and out of Wellington Airport, and passengers were advised check with their airline or the airport's website.

A motel owner in Waiouru said his guests were covered in snow. Gary, from the Waiouru Welcome Inn, said some tried to leave this morning but were turned back by police, including one person just trying to get to the local Four Square shop.

A heavy snow warning is in place for Hawke's Bay and Gisborne south of the city, Taihape and the northern hill country of Whanganui, Wairarapa including the Tararua District, and the Tararua and Remutaka ranges.

Gale southerlies and snow showers to 200-300m in southern and eastern areas of the North Island would gradually ease later today, MetService said.

The road closures comes with heavy snow warnings, heavy snow watches and road snowfall warnings in place for parts of the country. 

MetService has also issued a strong wind warning for places in the north, along with a strong wind watch for places in the north and south into today. 

In greater Wellington electricity is out for around 950 households in Moonshine Valley, Stokes Valley, Judgeford, Trentham and Haywards, Horokiwi and Korokoro, Normandale and Wainuiomata.

Last night, motorists suffered northbound delays on SH1 Hundalee - south of Kaikoura - due to snow and truck breakdowns .

Marie Rodley told 1 NEWS she had been stuck in queues on the Hundalee Hills for four hours in "zero degree temperatures".

A spokesperson for the NZTA said based on previous snowfalls, the Omihi Saddle gets more than the Hundalees "but in this situation, that was not the case".

"Waka Kotahi in hindsight could have closed the highway mid-afternoon however given the Lewis Pass was already closed SH1 was the single remaining lifeline route between Picton/ Nelson and Christchurch.

"We apologise to people who have endured freezing temperatures and we will have a full debrief on this tomorrow," the spokesperson said.

"Anyone who has run out of gas will be taken care of by the crews who were doing their best in very difficult circumstances".

For more information on weather warnings, see the MetService website .

Breakfast reporter Isaac Gunson has this early morning update from Oxford in North Canterbury.