The first snow of the season has fallen on South Island ski slopes, with a little help from some fancy new Italian machinery.

The Mt Hutt skifield is scheduled to open on June 10, and on Monday night temperatures dropped as low as -8C allowing staff to try out the new snow guns that arrived from Italy last week.

"We had up to 3cm of natural snowfall," ski area manager James McKenzie said. This was complemented by the three tonnes a minute of snow spread across the main trails by the snowmaking system.

At Queenstown's Coronet Peak the snowmaking system was also switched on as temperatures dropped to -7C on Monday night. And Cardrona skifield staff said it had been snowing on and off and the field between Queenstown and Wanaka will open in three weeks. Whakapapa and Turoa on Mt Ruapehu are due to open on July 2.


A new low is set to hit the country today with more rain moving up the West Coast and showers likely around the North Island. Temperatures will be back to May averages for many places, or even a bit below.

The South Island's ski fields were not the only ones hit by a change in temperature this week.

Staff and patients at Omahanui Private Hospital in New Plymouth had a narrow escape on Monday night when a ceiling caved in during a big hailstorm. Nurse aid Marie Kay said she was forced to take evasive action as water dripping from the ceiling suddenly caused it to collapse.

And passengers on board a white-knuckle flight during Monday's storm screamed in terror as a landing at Wellington Airport was suddenly aborted and the plane was flown into a turbulent thunder cloud.

Carol-Ann Herbert, of Blenheim, said "it was just massive lifts and drops, ups and downs, with a lot of banging and crashing and lots of squealing".

Wild weather continued to lash the Wellington region yesterday, with some ferry services being cancelled or cut back. And Auckland motorists heading across the harbour bridge were warned to take extra care because of strong wind gusts.

There were about 30,000 lightning strikes around the country over 24 hours, thanks to the severe weather hitting the west coast. Wild winds brought down power lines and lifted roofs off houses in Christchurch as emergency services battled to combat the fierce conditions.