Snow and ice has forced the closure of several South Island roads, leaving motorists stranded.
The Automobile Association said South Island roads closed this morning included State Highway 85 between Ranfurly and Alexandra, SH8 between Alexandra and Roxburgh, SH6 between Haast and Makarora, and SH8 between Omarama and Tarras.
The Kawarau Gorge (SH6) between Queenstown and Cromwell was closed temporarily but re-opened early this morning.
A Queenstown police spokeswoman said it was the first time in years she had heard of snow forcing the closure of the Kawarau Gorge.
Motorists were reported to have become stuck in heavy snow in some areas and police were urging others to be aware of closures and warnings.
A tow truck was used to pull free a car-load of tourists on State Highway 6 near Cromwell at 3am.
Three schools in Cromwell and others in Alexandra and Omakau were closed on what is the last day of the term.
A Cromwell College teacher said it snowed in the town yesterday afternoon, and while it had since stopped, freezing temperatures had left roads iced over and treacherous.
She said it was the first time in about three years that schools had closed for a full day.
Snow and ice have made other roads throughout central and southern parts of the South Island treacherous, while in the North Island the Desert Rd is closed between Rangipo and Waiouru.
Cold rain has been falling in parts of Southland and eastern Otago and that was expected to continue moving north today.
The MetService said snowfalls in the central South Island were expected to accumulate up to 30cm over 800m and farmers above 400m were being warned to expect disruption.
Meanwhile, strong wind gusts were expected to hit the Bay of Plenty and part of the East Coast today, with rough weather likely throughout much of the North Island.
Weather ambassador Bob McDavitt said a howling wind from the Tasman Sea was moving across northwestern parts of the North Island last night and was expected to reach Bay of Plenty this morning.
"This active front will bring squally showers, which includes the possibility of dangerous gusts, maybe tornadoes, on the northern coasts."
The front is expected to move quickly over the North Island before clearing East Cape by noon today. Some sun may peak through the gloomy weather this afternoon, but bouts of rain are expected throughout the weekend.
Mr McDavitt said the unsettled weather could create hazardous driving conditions, especially with extra travellers on the road for the start of school holidays.
Weatherwatch analyst Philip Duncan said conditions would be poor for skiers, but heavy snowfall at all ski fields would create promising conditions when the weather became drier next week.
- NZPA, NEWSTALK ZB, NZ HERALD STAFF