Heavy rain over the New Year has eased the severe drought looming in eastern Northland - but bypassed parched South Hokianga where water restrictions have been in place since December 1.

The same storm that ruined many a camper's holiday was welcomed by farmers who have been staring down the barrel of an El Nino-fuelled drought. In parts of the Mid North pasture had already taken on a shade of brown normally not seen until February.

The big dump was concentrated along the east coast, especially around Whangaroa and between Whangarei and the Bay of Islands.

According to Northland Regional Council figures the wettest place was Oakura with 202.5mm of rain between noon on New Year's Eve and 6am on January 3. Ngunguru was close behind on 191mm. Matauri Bay, Kaeo, Kaikohe, Opua, Brynderwyn and Mangawhai all recorded more than 100mm.


Hydrologist Jason Donaghy said the rain fell exactly where it was most needed, with some east coast rain gauges recording their second driest December on record. Ngunguru had its third driest.

Northland Federated Farmers president Roger Ludbrook said his sheep and beef farm at Ohaeawai received about 80mm, the first real rain since December 10. The water table had disappeared making farmers vulnerable if the dry weather had continued.

Mr Ludbrook said he was about to send 150 bulls to the works, about a third of his killable stock, but the New Year storm meant he could put off critical decisions for another four weeks. Any more rain this weekend would be a bonus.

NRC figures show Kaitaia received only 32mm but its soil moisture levels were good compared to areas further south. The place that really needed rain but missed out was Hokianga where just 13mm fell. The area had an unusually dry December and relies on small, drought-prone streams for its town water supplies.

The Far North District Council imposed a sprinkler ban in Rawene, Opononi and Omapere on December 1. Infrastructure manager Jacqui Robson said stream levels in South Hokianga were dropping rapidly and water restrictions would remain in place.

Doubtless Bay dairy farmer Tony Schluter only caught the edge of the storm and a modest 51mm of rain, about half the amount he needed. However, it was enough to halt his herd's plummeting milk production, which had halved in the past month and was falling by another 100 litres a day before the rain.

"Another 50mm this weekend would be the icing on the cake. We'd last another month on that."

Between the dry weather and low milk prices Mr Schluter said it was already his toughest season in 61 years of farming.

Another person glad to see the rain was Northern principal rural fire officer Myles Taylor. The Fire Authority had been poised to bring in a total fire ban after New Year's Eve but has instead gone back to issuing fire permits, albeit on a week-by-week basis only.

He urged anyone who had been issued a permit to follow the conditions closely and use it as soon as possible, before the fire danger increased again. All existing Far North permits were cancelled before Christmas.