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New Zealand: Past weather and climate

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New Zealand consists of two main islands (North and South) together with a number of small offshore islands. Situated 1,200 miles from the nearest large land mass, in the belt of disturbed westerly winds, it has a very equable climate more like that of western Britain than that of Portugal which has a similar latitude.

Weather in New Zealand is very changeable throughout the year, and all months are moderately wet. Fine spells of weather can, however, occur at any time of the year, and the country is sunnier than one might expect. Daily sunshine average totals range from four to five hours in winter to six to seven in summer. The north of the country and the east coasts are rather sunnier than the extreme south and the wetter west coast of South Island. Both main islands are hilly and mountainous, and the west coast of South Island includes the New Zealand Alps with Mount Cook rising to over 12,000 feet. These higher mountains carry snow throughout the year. In the Alps there are extensive snowfields and glaciers as precipitation on the western side is high, from about 2,000 mm (80") to 5,000 mm (200") in the higher peaks.

Snow can occur almost anywhere at sea level, but it is extremely rare in the extreme north of North Island. Here the climate is almost sub-tropical with very mild winters and warm humid summers. Here at Auckland, the annual average rainfall is about 1,150 mm (46") and daily maximum average temperatures can vary from 13 °C (56 °F) in winter to 23 °C (73 °F) in summer. This area is the warmest part of the country. Elsewhere on North Island, temperatures are generally only slightly lower (highest value of 21 °C - 70 °F at Wellington). Frost is rare around the coast, but can be frequent inland. In South Island, temperatures are generally a little lower throughout the year, but extremes of heat or cold are very rare in New Zealand due to the dominant influence of the ocean. Christchurch represents conditions on the Canterbury Plain, the driest part of the country. Also here, winter temperatures are rather lower and frost more frequent. Daytime average maximum temperatures range from 10 °C (50 °F) in winter to 21 °C (70 °F) in summer. The annual average rainfall is about 635 mm (25.5"). The lowlands to the east of the New Zealand Alps are often affected by a warm fohn-type dry wind which suddenly raises the temperature for a few hours each day.

As a whole, New Zealand has a very healthy and pleasant climate with few weather hazards. The combination of weather, altitude and scenery provides excellent opportunities for a range of sports and outdoor activities.

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