It's time to rug up as central New Zealand braces for storm-force gales and snow in the coming 24 hours.

Ferry sailings have already been cancelled as strong winds and big swells hit Wellington with snow on the nearby ranges expected to add a further frigid layer to winter's fury.

In the central North Island snow is already falling with the road connecting Taihape and Napier closed overnight before reopening this morning. At this stage the Desert Road remains open but up to 20cm of snow is expected to fall over the coming 24 hours.

As a wintry blast sweeps up the country fresh heavy snow alerts have been issued for central regions, including the ranges south of Blenheim, Taihape, and both the Ruahine and Tararua Range.

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Snow is expected down to 500m tonight in the hills north of Wellington with people being warned to expect 20cm of snow to fall above 800m. At least 25cm of snow is expected to fall around Taihape and the Ruahine Range.

MetService has issued road snow warnings for the Remutaka Hill Rd, Napier-Taupo Rd, Desert Rd, and Lewis Pass in the South Island.

It's been a shivery start to July with temperatures everywhere struggling to make double digits and some places dipping below a bone-chilling 0C.

MetService has issued a strong wind warning for the capital and Wairarapa with southerly winds expected to approach severe gale in exposed places this evening. Wind gusts could reach 120km/h. Northern Hawke's Bay is also expected to come in for a battering from gales after lunch.

MetService meteorologist Tui McInnes said 5 to 6m-high waves are also expected in Cook Strait. A storm warning is currently in force.

That's prompted the Interislander to cancel a number of ferry sailings between Wellington and Picton today and tomorrow.

Executive general manager Walter Rushbrook said affected passengers and freight customers were being contacted and would be transferred to alternative sailings.

"We regret the inconvenience to some of our customers but safety has to be our top priority."

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Wellington Harbour ferry sailings are also affected with no sailings in or out of Seatoun this morning.

The Wellington City Council has been advised of the potential for big swells on the south coast, affecting coastal communities.

Wellington Harbour early this morning as rain moves in. Photo / Georgina Campbell
Wellington Harbour early this morning as rain moves in. Photo / Georgina Campbell

In April, 6m-high waves battered the area with five homes having to be evacuated, and one person ending up in hospital after being knocked over.

Road snowfall warnings have been issued across both islands with a heavy snow watch for the Taihape region from this afternoon into Thursday. Up to 20cm or more snow is expected to fall over the coming day with warnings it would disrupt travel, damage powerlines and trees and affect livestock.