About 4500 homes and businesses have lost power after gusty winds created havoc in the Queenstown Lakes and Central Otago areas, as cold southerly system blankets the South Island.

Gusty winds are playing havoc in Queenstown, with reports of multiple trees down in the area, which comes a day after a tree toppled onto a group of people at Shotover Jet, injuring five.

In a statement this evening, Aurora Energy said severe wind gusts and heavy rain caused widespread damage and power cuts in multiple areas across the electricity network in Queenstown Lakes and Central Otago.

The number of homes and businesses without power was estimated at around 4500.


"Aurora Energy's response crews have been mobilised and are working to repair damage where it is possible and safe to do so.

"While every effort will be made to restore power as quickly as possible, this may take some time.

"We urge electricity customers in Central Otago and Queenstown Lakes to conserve power to lessen the chance of further power outages during the evening peak."

It urged people to treat any downed lines as live and stay "well clear".

A Fire and Emergency New Zealand spokesman said there are multiple severe weather events across the Queenstown and Frankton area.

"We are advising people not to travel if they do not have to and be careful on the roads."

Meanwhile, emergency services have been forced to close State Highway 73 Arthur's Pass due to a rockfall.

The road will remain closed between Arthur's Pass and Otira while contractors work to clear the road, NZ Transport Agency reports.

Trees down on Speargrass Flat Road, near Queenstown. Photo / Matt Pitt
Trees down on Speargrass Flat Road, near Queenstown. Photo / Matt Pitt

MetService forecaster Andy Downes said Queenstown's strongest official wind gust was recorded at Queenstown Airport at 4.57pm as 105km/h.

Winds at that time were averaging 80km/h. By 6pm the mean wind speed had dropped to 65km/h.

He said Metservice removed a strong wind watch for westerly winds in Central Otago this morning.

It then focused on the forecast stronger southerly winds in a front heading for the east of the region.

"Unfortunately they have struck inland as well. Sometimes things happen like that. Hindsight is a wonderful thing."

That there were such sudden, strong winds was to do with the front moving in at the warmest time of the day, dropping temperatures dramatically in front of it - it was 19C in Queenstown at 4pm and 6C by 5.30pm - which caused the air pressure to rise rapidly contributing to a surge in the wind.

The relatively short-lived period of exceptionally strong winds hit Alexandra first, where the peak gust of 83km/h was measured at Alexandra Airport at 4.30pm, though other, more exposed places, were likely to have experienced stronger wind gusts.

The wind in Wanaka was averaging 57km/h and gusting at 76km/h at 6pm.

MetService was keeping an eye on North Otago and Canterbury this evening as the front moved north.

- Additional reporting ODT