It paid to be in Alexandra last year - with almost the same amount of rain falling there all year as Mount Taranaki experienced in one day.

NIWA's annual climate summary, released today, paints a picture of a slightly drier year for much of the country, but also with cooler temperatures.

Alexandra tops the list for the driest place in the country, with 378mm of rain falling all year.

Mt Taranaki had 336mm fall in one day on July 15 - the highest rainfall recorded anywhere in the country in one day last year.


"It would have been quite funny if someone from Alexandra was visiting someone up in Mt Taranaki - their entire annual rainfall fell in one day,'' Niwa principal climate scientists Andrew Tait said.

Alexandra was always a dry place, but Dr Tait said it was probably a bit drier last year, "but not by much''.

Despite Mt Taranaki recording the wettest day last year, the west coast of both islands recorded below normal annual rainfalls for the year.

Wanganui recorded its driest year on record.

"The coolness really came from having more easterly type airflows than what we normally get, and those easterlies coming off the water tended to be a bit cooler and cloudy and damper over on the eastern side, but over on the western side it tended to be a bit sunnier and warmer and drier.''

Annual rainfall in eastern areas of both islands was generally near normal or above normal, the report said.

Dr Tait said records of the west coast being drier than the east coast probably happened "as often as it happens the other way around''.

"This was just one of those years where it was a bit drier.''


A cool start to the year influenced the overall annual temperatures, he said.

Mean annual temperatures were below average in the north-east of the South Island, Wellington, Wairarapa, parts of Manawatu, and between the Tararua District and Waikato.

Mean annual temperatures were generally near normal or slightly below average everywhere else.

Last year was the sunniest year on record for Te Kuiti, New Plymouth, Paraparaumu, and Greymouth.

By the end of the year, soil was extremely dry for much of the North Island, as well as for Nelson and Buller.

Dr Tait said this year has started much the way last year had started.


"We started the year with some concern over soil moisture, particularly in eastern areas, so farmers were keeping a very weary eye on the skies at that stage, but that eased back in February, March with some reasonable rainfall.''

By the numbers in 2012:

* Whangarei had the highest annual average temperature (15.8C), followed by Kaitaia with 15.7C and Cape Reinga and Whangaparaoa, both with 15.5C;

* the highest recorded extreme temperature of the year (34.5C) occurred at Gisborne on December 19, followed by 33.5C recorded at Middlemarch and Clyde on December 25, and 33.3C at Christchurch on December 17;

* the lowest temperature of the year was -11.8C recorded at Darfield on June 7, followed by -11.5C at Lake Pukaki on the same day, and -11.3C observed at Ranfurly on 2 July;

* the nationwide average temperature for 2012 was 12.5C;


* the strongest confirmed wind gust was 206km/h recorded at Cape Turnagain on December 2, then 185km/h experienced at both the Rock and Pillar range, Central Otago, on 31 January, and at Cape Turnagain (on October 18 and 25);

* the lowest rainfall was recorded in Alexandra with 378mm of rainfall recorded for the year, followed by Clyde with 417mm, and Cromwell with 455mm;

* the wettest spots last year were Cropp River (West Coast) with 9630mm, Doon River (Fiordland) with 7410mm, and Tuke River (West Coast) with 7175mm;

* Whakatane was the sunniest location, recording 2602 hours, followed by Nelson (2584 hours) and Lake Tekapo (2562 hours); and

* Of the six main centres, Hamilton was the wettest, Christchurch the driest, Tauranga the sunniest, Auckland the warmest, and Dunedin the coolest and cloudiest.