New Zealand consists of two main islands - North and South - together with some small offshore islands. It is situated between 34° and 47°S in the South Pacific and has an area a little larger than the United Kingdom. Situated 2,400 km/1,500 mi east southeast of Australia, in the belt of disturbed westerly winds, it has a very equable maritime climate more like that of western Britain than that of Portugal, with which it can be compared in latitude.
Weather in New Zealand is very changeable throughout the year and all months are moderately wet. Fine sunny spells of weather can occur at any time of year, however, and the country has more sunshine than might be expected in such a variable climate. Daily sunshine hours average from four to five in winter to six or seven in summer in most parts of New Zealand. The north of the country and the east coasts are rather more sunny than the extreme south and the wetter west coast of South Island.
Both North and South Islands are hilly and mountainous. The west coast of South Island is backed by the high Southern Alps with Mount Cook, the highest peak, rising to over 3,700 m/12,000 ft. There are several volcanic peaks in North Island rising above 2,400 m/8,000 ft. These higher mountains carry snow throughout the year. In the Southern Alps there are extensive snowfields and glaciers, as precipitation on the western side of South Island is heavy; as much as 2,000-2,500 mm/80-100 in and over 5,000 mm/200 in in the mountains.
Snow can occur almost anywhere at sea level in New Zealand, but is very rare in the extreme north of North Island. Here the climate is almost subtropical with very mild winters and warm, rather humid, summers. The table for Auckland is representative of this, the warmest part of the country. The tables for Wellington and Napier show that temperatures are only a little lower elsewhere in North Island, where frost is very rare on the coast but can be quite frequent inland.
The tables for Christchurch, Dunedin, and Hokitika in South Island show that temperatures are a little lower here throughout the year. Extremes of heat and cold, however, are very rare in New Zealand, thanks to the dominant influence of the ocean. Hokitika on the west coast is much wetter in all months than Christchurch or Dunedin. The table for Christchurch is representative of the Canterbury Plains, the driest part of the country, but inland winter temperatures are rather lower and frost more frequent. The lowlands to the east of the Southern Alps are often affected by a warm, very dry wind which suddenly raises the temperature for a few hours or a day or so. This is a föhn-type wind and occurs when strong westerly winds crossing the mountains are warmed as the air descends on the lee side. The wind melts snow in winter but can desiccate crops in summer.
New Zealand as a whole has a very healthy and pleasant climate with few weather hazards. The combination of weather, altitude, and scenery provide excellent opportunities for a range of sport and outdoor activities.
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