So, the first real polar blast of winter is racing up the country. It's expected to be 0C in Christchurch overnight and - heaven forbid - 6C in Auckland.

Well, that may be a little chilly, my New Zealand friends, but really, it's nothing.

Let me tell you a little about winter in my home town: Astana, Kazakhstan.

The first winter chills usually start in mid-October with the temperature starting to get down to 6-10C during the day and falling to just below 0C at nights. With autumn rains and night frosts, roads in the morning look more like mirrors - you're able to see your reflection in them.

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This is the time to change your car tyres to a winter set if you don't want to look like a cow on an ice skating rink - and if you don't want a ticket for being a hazard on the road (this is also "ka-ching" time for all mechanics and panel beaters).

Winter proper starts in November, and by proper I mean snow, blizzards - and the temperature dropping to -25C. Astana is positioned on the steppe, so with blizzards, everything passes through the city. Usually we have major motorway closures, when you simply are not allowed to drive out from the city due to limited visibility and lots of snow on the roads. This is also the time to get your second set of thermals out (the first one is already on!)

Winter proper starts in November, and by proper I mean snow, blizzards - and the temperature dropping to -25C. Photo / Yelena Khalevina
Winter proper starts in November, and by proper I mean snow, blizzards - and the temperature dropping to -25C. Photo / Yelena Khalevina

The winter temperature is usually around -23C to -30C, with occasional wind blasts and temperature falling to -43C (and several times to -48C). This is the time when you don't feel the cold on your face, instead you feel thousands of pins and needles poking to your skin: eyelashes, hair, beards - everything turns white and every single person on the street walking for longer than 10 minutes looks like Santa.

When the temperature drops to lower than -25C (with winds), the Department of Education officially cancels schools, starting from elementary (at around -33C high school is cancelled). There is nothing more intriguing than turning on TV first thing in the morning waiting for the breaking bar informing you that school is cancelled. Adults' work doesn't get cancelled though, so this is a whole different story when it comes to finding a babysitter. And of course school cancellations don't stop kids running outside and spending half a day playing snowballs in the freezing cold.

Photo / Yelena Khalevina
Photo / Yelena Khalevina

In December, you can start spotting ice castles popping up around the city, with lots of slides, mazes and ice sculptures of famous cartoon heroes. This is about the time when river Ishim freezes up and the council makes a big ice skating rink in the heart of the river.

Almost everyone has auto starters on their cars, so during abnormally cold nights, cars are programmed to automatically start several times for 10-15 minutes. This hopefully ensures you will be able to start your car in the morning. The roads are covered in sand or salt to dissolve the frost and during night time you can spot the line of big trucks covering main streets in sand.

"Yes it's getting cold, but not like home. Mind you, in saying all this, I feel much colder here in New Zealand, than in Astana."
Photo / Yelena Khalevina
Photo / Yelena Khalevina

Winter in Astana lasts for 5-6 months on average, and it usually starts getting warm again at the end of March.

So, yes it's getting cold, but not like home. Mind you, in saying all this, I feel much colder here in New Zealand, than in Astana. With central heating everywhere at home, I just need to make sure I survive the 30 minutes of cold I'm outside, while here I find that you're cold everywhere, no matter where you go.

What to wear: Thermal layer (or two), two-three layers on top, warm socks, shoes with fur/wool inner layer, warm knitted/fur hat, knitted mittens/gloves with inner layer, scarf, fur/puff coat.

What to do: Ice skating on frozen river; having fun going down the slides, running through the ice maze and building snow figures in the ice castles that set up around the city; snowboarding/skiing/sliding; watching snow blizzard while having some mulled wine

Yelena Khalevina is a digital insights analyst at NZME, publisher of the Herald. She moved to New Zealand in 2011.