Rebecca Quilliam is senior reporter at the NZME. News Service office in Wellington.

Polar blast: Massive storm pounds New Zealand

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Some planes have been grounded and interisland ferries are staying in port, forcing travellers to hunker down as a massive storm pounds the country.

Heavy snow has fallen in parts of the South Island, cutting off some communities - but the polar blast is just getting started, forecasters warn.

An Air New Zealand spokesman said severe weather had disrupted and cancelled flights across the country today, with more delays expected as gale force winds were predicted to wallop the lower North Island.

"A lot of those disruptions are looking to continue into this evening as well."

High winds have caused Air New Zealand to suspend all flight operations into and out of Wellington for the rest of this evening.

Mount Cook Airlines, a subsidiary of Air New Zealand, has suspended operations into and out of Queenstown Airport as a result of worsening weather conditions.

Air New Zealand jet services continue to operate in Queenstown.

"Unfavourable weather conditions have caused some late running services across other domestic ports, but most Air New Zealand services are operating as scheduled," a spokesman said.

A Jetstar spokesman said flights were continuing, but urged passengers to check departure times on the airlines website in case of changes later in the evening.

Ferry passengers have also had travel plans disrupted with all services on the Interislander ferries and the Bluebridge cancelled tonight.

A KiwiRail spokeswoman said Interisland services would stop from 6pm, with the next sailing not expected until at least 2.30pm from Wellington tomorrow.

Bluebridge sailings have also been halted from 8.45pm until 2pm tomorrow.

Christchurch residents are reporting freezing temperatures as the Antarctic weather hits.

Riccarton's Howzat Indoor Sports Centre manager Tom Coots said the Fire Service was called after strong gusts lifted the centre's guttering.

"It's constant rain and you get about five minutes of just heavy winds with it - we're a bit open sports centre and it's quite noisy, you can hear the wind and the rain.

Canterbury police said motorists needed to exercise extreme caution on the roads over the next 24 hours.

Police operations commander Inspector Craig McKay said high winds, heavy rain and the possibility of snow in hill areas would make conditions treacherous for drivers.

A very strong and cold southerly flow has covered the South Island, bringing snow to near sea level about southern and eastern areas, with heavy falls above 300 metres.

Severe gale south or southeasterlies were also expected from Fiordland to Nelson and about coastal and northern Marlborough, Wellington and Kapiti Coast today and lasting into tomorrow afternoon, MetService said.

Damaging gusts of 130km/h were possible in exposed places, but could reach 150km/h through parts of Westland. Severe gale westerlies were also expected in Northland and Auckland tonight and early tomorrow.

The New Zealand Transport Agency said alpine passes throughout the South Island would remain closed overnight.

WeatherWatch analyst Philip Duncan said air from Antarctica was still blasting across the country and tomorrow looked to be a very cold right across the country with many main centres below double digits at the warmest part of the day.

Saturday also looked colder - but sunnier weather should return to northern and western areas, he said.


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