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On The Road Again

Posted by Iain on Feb. 22, 2019, 4:35 p.m. in New Zealand Weather

As you read this I will be 10 km up in the air on my first big trip of the year to Asia and South Africa. As much as I enjoy the prospect of meeting new people and providing a strategy to help them join us in New Zealand (or Australia) it is bittersweet. I am always sad to leave home, especially for two months as this trip is and even harder to leave a very long hot summer behind. As I drove back to Auckland on Tuesday morning from our beach house, past a deserted Langs beach, a gentle swell breaking, I felt a real sense of sadness that I was leaving what is quite possibly one of the prettiest stretches of beach in New Zealand and undeniably our own little piece of paradise.

Our home away from home where we now spend four days a week, working as well as unwinding, is everything I love about living in New Zealand. The beach lies 160 km north of Auckland and is a very easy 90 minute drive. Our three bedroom ‘board and batten’ cottage looks out over Bream Bay and we enjoy panoramic views across the Pacific Ocean to the Whangarei Heads. Local farmer’s markets, great restaurants and cafes give us just enough civilisation, but we enjoy peace and quiet. Less than 15 minutes drive away is our native forest block which, as regular readers know, we are ridding of introduced predators as we ‘give back’ this 22 hectares of forest to nature.

Even on the beach property where we have 6000 m² of land, I have been busy planting native trees for the past 15 years. These trees are now home to a variety of native birds which every morning wake us at dawn to an increasingly loud chorus of song. The more birds we have, the more what is growing there changes, as the native birds drop the seeds of the fruit and berries they eat causing their preferred trees to grow in place of what I might have preferred. It’s a wonderful process to quietly observe as the years roll by.

A very warm ocean current flows down this eastern coast of the North Island having worked its way across the Tasman Sea from Queensland in Australia. That water is always warm at this time of the year but over the last two summers the temperatures in the Tasman Sea (on the other side of the North Island) have been between 4 and 6°C warmer than the historical average. Even in winter it doesn’t get colder than 16 degrees (far too cold for me but plenty of hardier souls with wet suits are out surfing).

This already warm current is becoming even warmer and while there are a number of explanations including the cyclical nature of El Nino know and La Niña patterns, the fact that 90% of the heat being released into the atmosphere (for whatever reason right now) is being absorbed by the oceans. As a consequence our ocean is getting even warmer and while at this time of year it is usually around 23-24°C the last two years it has been pushing 26° by early March. That is warm enough to support a lot of tropical species of fish which are now being caught in the area.

Just like last summer, this one has been really dry. We have had virtually no rain for over eight weeks. We don’t have good soils up there and the underlying substrate is clay which by this time of the year has had almost al its moisture sucked out of it so it almost sets like concrete. Summer 2019 is on track to be the driest summer since records began over 70 years ago. Historically, in January we can expect around 70 mm of rain which is usually received thanks to weakening tropical cyclones that charge down from the Pacific, dump 20 to 30 mm of rain in a couple of hours and then move off. None so far this year and the cracks in the ground are in places wide enough to lose a small child down (okay, not quite, but 3-4cm across).

Air temperatures range between 26 and 30° through January and February and often until late March so we’ve probably got another month of what is truly subtropical weather with overnight lows between 18 and 21°C.

By the time I return to New Zealand in April the hottest part of summer will be behind us and no doubt the weather will be coming more unsettled as summer wanes and autumn starts to slowly drift north from the South Island where by then it will have well and truly arrived.

The humid temperatures we tend to experience at this time of the year will start to abate to the low 20°s and the rainfall will become more frequent. In this part of the country we are very much a winter rain, summer drought climate and I can’t help observing over the last two decades “up north” that we are increasingly moving into a pattern of rainy season (winter) and dry season (summer). 

Just as our summers are long, hot and dry, equally predictable are the rains that will arrive from May, and by October I will be thinking I need to put drainage in and will have long forgotten about the thousands of litres of water I needed to irrigate my fruit trees, vegetable patch and native seedlings just to keep them alive through this long baking summer. To keep my veggies and fruit trees alive again this summer I will have used up thousands of litres of water. By the end of next spring, I’ll be wondering how to get rid of all the water and to stop my trees from drowning. 

We are truly blessed with the seasons we have - not too hot and not too cold, four months of summer, 2 months each of autum and spring and four months of a very mild winter.  Although in Auckland and Nothland through winter it does get wet and by spring I am usually well over it. Those coming from the likes of Singapore and Malaysia, and even Hong Kong, love the climate. The British think they’ve moved to the tropics. 

As I leave summer behind for another year I am comforted knowing I am about to meet a whole lot of wonderful new people and provide them with a plan to get here and enjoy what we enjoy. Families for whom this country will soon become a home; not just a bolthole from a possible trouble spot, but somewhere they too will raise children and enjoy a pretty special and chilled way of life.

Until next week 

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Summer Heat Rolls On

Posted by Iain on Feb. 2, 2018, 2:57 p.m. in New Zealand Weather

What a summer we are having. Long, hot and for most places, dry. Drought, common in many parts of the country has once again broken out but often in places not known for their lack of rainfall. The west coast of the South Island, for example.

Summers across New Zealand can vary greatly from year to year in terms of heat, rain, wind and sunshine. In the north, we are always guaranteed warm and humid with average humidity between December and February sitting at 70-80%. We can go weeks with little rain or be hit by a series of remnant tropical cyclones seemingly every other week.

The fact that the country is long and relatively skinny stretching 1400km from 33 degrees south to 47 degrees south means you may be living in the sub-tropical north or the temperate south. The huge mountains that form the spine of the South Island and the high hills of the North Island lead to marked climate differences between the west coast to east. As a general rule the west coasts of both islands (including Auckland and Wellington) receive abundant and welcome rainfall. In winter, it must be said we do at times wish for the rain to stop. Along the east coasts of both islands however the prayers are for more rain as they lie in the rain shadow of the mountains and hills. Living with six months of summer with its accompanying drought is commonplace for east coasters – especially in the North Island. 

The best example of these regional variations is the small Central Otago town of Cromwell which in any given year is likely to record both the hottest and coldest temperatures. Nestled in a bowl and surrounded by mountains on three sides, summer temperatures well in excess of 30 degrees are common. Come back six months later and they are lucky to hit double figures. It also seldom rains – average annual rainfall is around 330mm. 

Drive another 80km or so to the west and cross the mountains and rainfall increases to 3000mm a year. Temperatures seldom hit 25 degrees despite being on the same latitude.

In addition to this unique topography, we are surrounded by relatively warm water. A very warm current snakes down the east coast of the North Island from the tropics. A very cold one travels up the east coast of the South Island.

Right now, we are in the middle of a La Nina weather event and that has caused average sea temperatures in the Tasman Sea to the west (where our major weather comes from) to be around 2.5 degrees warmer than usual. It is being described, seriously, as a marine heatwave. This in turn has pushed up onshore temperatures by 2.5 degrees (we are talking Celsius here) during December and January is set to become the hottest on record.

Summer sea temperatures around Auckland and Northland peak in February at around 22-23 degrees. Last week we were out fishing and the water temperature was 24 degrees. Around Auckland recently temperatures are being recorded of 26 degrees. I can tell you – that’s warm in anyone’s language – in fact as a scuba diver that is not far off what you’d get close to the equator.

So many parts of the country are bone dry. As I say, not necessarily unusual, but what we have seen is many places going weeks with no rain. Over summer and up this end of the country we get rain that is occasional but tropical in intensity.  Auckland had 8% of its usual 70mm in December. January, I suspect, will be ‘average’ but that is because we have just had the first tropical cyclone of the season dump 40mm of rain on us yesterday (I could hear my vegetables and fruit trees singing) and two weeks ago we had a similar amount of rain over 24 hours. Temperatures since December haven’t fallen below 25 degrees and we have had plenty of days closer to 30. For those of you that live without humidity, add around 5 degrees to appreciate what it feels like.

Many of my clients from South Africa who have arrived in the past three months and have headed for places like Wellington, Christchurch, Timaru, Ashburton and Dunedin are all expressing surprise at the heat. All these places, except Wellington, have recorded multiple days through December and January of between 33-35 degrees. Even Invercargill at the bottom of the South Island is a place that usually enjoys summer temperatures in the low 20s yet they too hit 33 degrees a couple of weeks ago.

For those living in Wellington, this summer has seen record sunshine and little rain. Hate to tell you newbies to Wellington to enjoy it; it isn’t going to last.

Christchurch recently went 47 days without a drop of rain (not unusual for them to get no rain, they only get 800mm or so a year) but they have been hit by really hot weather. Dunedin was 33 degrees a few days ago. Clients of mine from Durban were moaning a few days ago to me about the heat. They’d been told by people in South Africa before they left, they’d need thermals when they arrived in Dunedin in November. Fake news! In winter, perhaps but my youngest son is studying there and he’s never worn thermals yet even in the middle of winter. 

A summer to remember and one that isn’t expected to end for another few months. I am someone who doesn’t like the cold but in Auckland when the day time temperature is 26-28 degrees (feels like 32-33 degrees) and overnight lows are 22, it makes sleep difficult. While business and shops are air-conditioned for some reason we don’t tend to have air-conditioning in our homes. Weird. Plenty of people are going without enough sleep and the city is getting full of grumpiness (me included).

Long may it last – the summer, not the grumpiness. I’m off for a swim in that 24 degree Pacific ocean and am looking forward to some more fishing over the weekend.

Until next week...

Iain MacLeod, Southern Man

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The Big Chill

Posted by Iain on June 26, 2015, 1:48 p.m. in New Zealand Weather

Having spent last week in Cape Town complaining about the cold I came home to what was for three days this week a mini Ice Age by comparison.

Average maximum daily temperatures in Auckland through June and July tend to be around 16-17 degrees Celcius which is cool but by no means cold because with our humidity it generally feels a degree or three warmer. At this time of year we can have a lot of cloud cover which does act as a bit of a blanket and keeps us more snug than the temperatures might suggest. This week however someone ripped the duvet off and left the freezer door open.  Air that seems to have come straight off the Ross Shelf in Antarctica settled over the country for a few days and left us shivering under a great big icy blob of frigid air.

With clear sunny days and cloudless nights and this large fat anti-cyclone sitting over us there was nothing to keep the warmth in and temperatures plummeted. Earlier this week Auckland got down to minus 2 degrees overnight and maximum temperatures were  between 11 and 13 degrees for the first three days..

That was positively tropical by comparison to what was happening in the deep south of the country where in Central Otago (and up in the mountains to give this some perspective) temperatures fell as low as negative 21 degrees. Apparently we have only had temperatures that low four times in the recorded history of the country. Two of these record lows happened this week.

Would someone please send an email to Al Gore – there is no way there are any melting ice caps in this part of the world this week.  Show me the warming! I’ll take a triple dose thanks!

I have to say though that while the nights are chilly the days have been amazing. We have a certain type of light in this country and when combined with our clear air and the sunny days these weather patterns bring, the country has been stunningly beautiful from top to frigid bottom. Narnia-esque in so many parts.

Although we get no snow up this end of the country the South Island has more or less been blanketed producing the most incredible images. With everything covered in snow and ice there are it seems only two colours – bright blue skies and the countryside covered in the purest snow and ice. Water has frozen as it has settled and dripped off leaves and fences and the frosts that cannot melt are being added to the next night creating a landscape dominated by crystals.

Lovely if you are a tourist I imagine, less so if you are a farmer trying to dig your hypothermic sheep out of a snow drift.

The ski field operators are all doing cartwheels given the snow is now deep and soft  and ready for the school holidays as hordes will no doubt descend upon this winter wonderland.

This really is a country of incredible climatic variation and just as the heaters are on full at home this week I quickly forget that during summer we need air-conditioning in the same house cranked up to the max to prevent house from feeling like a Turkish bath. And we complain of the humidity and heat in summer as much as we moan about the current cold.

It’s funny we forget that we live in the sub tropics which might mean nice warm summers but it also means cool winters with occasional extremes around the edges.

I have to say it all makes for thoroughly interesting micro-climates though.

The temperatures are now returning to normal for this time of year with a chilly but not freezing 16 degrees in Auckland.

Last week while in Cape Town the ‘cape of storms’ delivered and I had heavy iron ‘loungers’ being blown around the deck outside my hotel room for two days as if they were made of balsawood. Low cloud, huge winds, cold temperatures were quickly replaced with what we have had here the past few days – stunning blue skies and bitingly low temperatures. While for many people who have more settled and predictable climates this can all take some getting used to but I have to say a return to Cape Town is for me like a return to Auckland – you never quite know what the day will serve up in terms of weather at any given time of year (or in Auckland’s case in any given hour on any given day…..).

Some love it, some hate it but for me it is never anything other than interesting.


Until next week

Iain MacLeod

Southern Man

Cyclone Pam Leaves Her Calling Card

Posted by Iain on March 20, 2015, 8:25 p.m. in New Zealand Weather

With many parts of New Zealand suffering from their annual drought the prayers and rain dances have been in full swing these past few weeks. 

It seems one rain dance too many as Cyclone Pam, having smashed her way across Vanuatu, set about sprinting across 3000km of South Pacific ocean in a little over 24 hours to attempt the same destruction on New Zealand.

Luckily, she only brushed the north and east of the country as the main body of the biggest storm in memory skidded offshore down the coast.

Tropical Cyclones (hurricanes) usually begin to lose their awesome power as they hit the cooler waters around New Zealand (at this time of the year the sea in these parts is 23-24 degrees Celsius) but this baby was big and strong enough to retain much of its power built up as it headed south.

North of Auckland and all the way down the east coast past Coromandel, Tauranga and the Wairarapa swells of between 5 and 8 metres were smashing the coast. These are all ‘surf’ beaches popular with swimmers and board riders but no one ventured out into the massive waves thrown up by this storm. To do so would have been suicidal.

In some hil country areas up to 100mm of rain was received in 24 hours. This, for places like the Hawkes Bay, represents about on sixth of their average rainfall.

With the ground hard and parched such volumes of rain can be more destructive than helpful. While they can fill up reservoirs and dams, much of it simply runs off the hard fields and pastures into rivers which then floods, causing major damage downstream.

Thankfully, the system was far enough out to see that the worst of its potential was not unleashed and the damage relatively light.

Auckland escaped largely unscathed through being sheltered form the hurricane force winds. In fact, I have been told it was more than a bit of an anti-climax for most Auckland’s.

Drought is such a part of our long hot summers but it still amazes me how many South African clients in particular, who (it has to be said), have a stilted perception of our climate and have sent me emails marvelling at the weather through the Cricket World Cup as if it is unusual for it not to rain for weeks on end. In summer, it isn’t.

Because New Zealand is 1600km long and thin, mountainous in the south and hilly in the north, lying in the sub-tropics and in the souther temperate regions we're surrounded by warm water in the north and cooler water in the south. This means our climates are as varied as countries with ten times the land mass. No set wet or dry seasons and you will find you can get rain at any time of the year although generally more in the winter.

In Auckland we get 1000mm a year (about the same as Durban and Johannesburg). We have one third of the rainfall of Singapore of Kuala Lumpur. Seven percent generally falls between May and September.

Of our five largest cities, Auckland, Hamilton, Wellington, Christchurch and Dunedin those last two are actually the driest despite lying (or perhaps because of) over 1000km further south. They come in at 850mm and 650mm each year, far drier than all of the major cities of South Africa.

In terms of sunshine hours, Christchurch generally tops the list. The further north you go, the more humid things generally become and therefore the more cloudy. For the record, the two sunniest cities in New Zealand  are actually Benison (top of the South Island) and Whakatane (south east of Tauranga)

We are now sliding gently into Autumn which is slowly creeping its way up from the south. It takes around 6 weeks from now for autumn to reach us up in Auckland. Having enjoyed three months of summer temperatures in the mid to high twenties and weeks of blue skies, the nights are set to cool down and the temperature each month will fall by a degree or two till it hits winter minimums in July and August. Even then it is not really cold (it doesn’t snow, for example) and the difference between an Auckland summer and winter is a jacket and an umbrella on standby. I wouldn’t go so far as to describe it as a goldilocks climate but it does seem to have just about everything in reasonable proportions.

During the South Pacific hurricane season, which is now drawing to a close, mother nature does unleash from time to time a little reminder that ‘averages’ are a statistical measure and while the past twelve months in New Zealand have been entirely average in terms of sunshine hours and rainfall, when measured in weeks and with her occasional ‘big weather’ surprises such as she delivered this week, things can appear very different when you sit staring outside your window at torrential rain and trees bent double with 150km an hour winds.


Until next week.

Iain MacLeod - Southern Man

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