2013: The Jekyll and Hyde summer

By Steve Deane, Amelia Wade

Dry and sunny months bring cheer for many but worries to farmers and carers of irritable kids

It hasn't rained a drop in Rotorua in weeks and throughout the country people have basked in sunshine and heat - but the long, hot summer also has another side.

Farmers have come under pressure, water restrictions exist in many areas and scrub fires have kept rural crews on their toes.

Children and their teachers are finding the heat challenging - pupils struggle to concentrate, while teachers try to make sure their classes are engaged.

Kaurilands Primary School principal Jo Augustine said staff had to make sure their West Auckland students were hydrated, played in the shade and were given engaging activities after lunch.

"If it's especially hot, they really seem to get fed up and upset for no reason. But I guess that could be said of all of us when it's hot," Ms Augustine said.

For retailers, the 2013 summer has boosted sales of fans and beachwear.

Beer and cider have poured out of supermarkets.

Gretchen Lowe, spokeswoman for The Warehouse, said there had been a massive rush for summer items.

"We have seen a big spike in sales across products such as fans, sun umbrellas, sunscreen, outdoor furniture, pools, beach towels, and beach accessories as Kiwi families look to stock up on essentials to enjoy this amazing Kiwi summer."

Over the Christmas break, Briscoes saw its fan stocks depleted in Auckland and Wellington as people tried to keep cool. Briscoes Group managing director Rod Duke said there had also been a spike in the sales of outdoor furniture.

At the company's other major chain, Rebel Sport, people had been snapping up recreational summer gear.

"We haven't seen a summer like this for about five years or so. It's been brilliant, it's honestly just been brilliant," Mr Duke said.

Lion Nathan reported a boost in beer and cider sales - a big change from last year, when the top three sellers were coffee, tea and Panadol.

A spokeswoman for the brewery, Liz Read, said cider sales were up 18 per cent on last summer.

"Certainly things in the alcohol category are better than this time last year as people get out their barbecues and have a few drinks."

But not everyone has been enjoying the sunny and dry weather.

National rural fire officer Murray Dudfield said there had not been any increase in vegetation fires, possibly because people knew conditions were prime for fires and were being extra-cautious.

The president of Landscaping NZ, Wayne Butson, said the dry ground had caused a few problems for landscapers in areas with water restrictions, but there was an upside.

"It's meant we've been able to carry on and get work done without having to sit it out with muddy boots."

Georgina Griffiths, a climate scientist at the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research, said that while February wasn't breaking any temperatures, it was the sunniest and driest on record in some areas. A cold spell at the start of the month was pulling down monthly averages.

"The fact it's been so dry and so sunny, that would have skewed some people's perceptions on heat. Perhaps we've just forgotten what a really good February looks like."


Balmy nights bring out bumper rugby crowds

Balmy nights, bumper crowds and bruised bodies - rugby is back.

Of course it is. It's February, after all. Long gone are the days when that might have seemed a little strange. Once an intruder into the world of beaches, barbies and cricket, summer rugby is now a fixture on the calendar. The national game, and Super rugby franchises in particular, are thankful.

"It's actually terrific," says Blues marketing manager Grant McKenzie, who is expecting a crowd in excess of 30,000 to roll up for next weekend's home campaign opener against the Crusaders, when the temperature at kickoff could easily be 23C.

Rugby has come to cherish its late-summer engagements. The Blues stank last season. Really stank. But their crowds still grew, thanks in part to bumper summer turnouts.

"If it rains it will fundamentally affect our crowd," Mr McKenzie said. "You can't really get away from that. Because Super rugby runs from February to August you are playing across three seasons. Watching a game at Eden Park on a balmy March evening versus a similar game in July is fundamentally different."

So, too, the number of spectators who choose to do so. Last year when the winter rains lashed the city, a dire form line had been established and the truly awful Lions hit town, a crowd of just 10,000-odd braved Eden Park.

That was a record low for the Blues at their primary venue, but even in a down year the trend was largely up.

Having introduced a popular "$5 a child for any seat in the house" offer, the Blues are breaking new ground in the search for the spectator dollar, teaming up with the Warriors in a combined ticket deal. Getting into bed with the rival code would have been viewed as sacrilege not too many years ago. Not any more.

"It's about creating events and the ability for Aucklanders to attend them by making them affordable," said Mr McKenzie.

At the other end of the country, the long-mocked Highlanders are also enjoying a notable revival.

The franchise kicked off their campaign last night expecting a crowd of close to 20,000. It's a sign of how far rugby has rebounded in the South that they were a little disappointed with the turnout.

- NZ Herald

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