New Zealand is waking to freezing temperatures, with treacherous winds and snow falling to low levels in the North Island - forcing the closure of State Highway 1, the Desert Rd, through the Central Plateau.

It was 0C in Waiouru at 5am today while towns like Taupo and Taihape were barely raising the mercury. Auckland and Wellington were sitting on just 7C, and Christchurch and Dunedin shared 6C temperatures.

As well as the closure of the Desert Rd, other roads are also dicey: snow has been falling on the Napier-Taupo Rd, on the Remutaka Hill Rd north of Wellington and on Lewis Pass in the South Island.

The MetService said snow was likely to affect the Desert Rd until 1pm today.


Heavy snowfall warnings have also been issued for Taihape, the Ruahine Range and the Tararua Range.

One truck driver told Newstalk ZB he'd faced treacherous conditions, heading south towards Taihape, through the night.

Wellington, southern Wairarapa, northern Hawke's Bay and Gisborne are also facing severe southerly gales, bringing monster waves in some parts.

Residents on Wellington's south coast were last night being advised to prepare for possible evacuation with 6m waves forecast to pound the coast.

Wellington City Council asked residents not to leave rubbish and recycling out and has had teams on standby to respond.

With snow falling early today on the Desert Rd, motorists were advised to allow an extra 40 minutes, at least, to their travel times and follow the detours in place.

SH 1 Waiouru to Rangipo (Desert Road) has closed following heavy snow. Photo / NZTA
SH 1 Waiouru to Rangipo (Desert Road) has closed following heavy snow. Photo / NZTA

It all marks a bitterly cold start to July, many regions awoke yesterday to shivery cold temperatures.

Snow flurries had begun to fall on Remutaka Hill last night, triggering a warning advising motorists to drive to the conditions and allow greater following distances.


But little if any snow was expected to accumulate in the area, a MetService warning said.

Rising wind was last night battering the capital, where gusts of to 80km/h have been recorded and were expected to strengthen overnight.

A strong wind warning was in place for the Wellington and Wairarapa regions until 9pm Wednesday, with southerly winds accelerating to a severe gale with gusts of up to 120km/h.

Trees, powerlines and unsecured structures are all in the firing line from the wind's damage and motorists are advised to exercise caution, with conditions making the roads especially hazardous for motorcycles and high-sided vehicles.

Ferry sailings were cancelled on Tuesday morning as strong winds and big swells hit the city.

MetService meteorologist Angus Hines said the large swells whipped up by the southerly winds could reach 6m in height on Wednesday evening.

A heavy swell warning has been issued for Wellington coastal communities from late Wednesday to Thursday morning.

While coastal inundation was unlikely, there was a risk of debris washing ashore on to exposed coastal roads, especially as the swell coincided with high tide overnight.

The storm warning in place prompted the Interislander to cancel several ferry sailings between Wellington and Picton today.

Northern Hawke's Bay was also expected to come in for a battering from gales.

Earlier Wednesday

Wellington central would be spared rain on Wednesday evening, which would likely hit parts of the region such as the Hutt Valley and eastern suburbs, Hines said.

Snow was expected down to 500m overnight in the hills north of Wellington, with people being warned to expect 20cm of snow to fall above 800m.

At least 25cm of snow is expected to fall around Taihape and the Ruahine Range, where a heavy snow warning is in place.

Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency has warned motorists travelling through Tongariro National Park to take extra care as the conditions worsen.

Waikato system manager Cara Lauder said that road closures were likely in the area, and urged drivers to prepare for icy conditions and snow.

"Plan ahead and allow extra time for your journeys and drive to the road and weather conditions. Maintain a greater following distance between your vehicle and the one in front, and to slow down and be prepared for unexpected hazards."

With gusts of between 65km/h and 75km/h also forecast in exposed areas on Thursday, high-sided vehicles and motorcycles should take extra care, she said.

MetService has also issued a road snow warnings for Napier-Taupō Rd, where ongoing rain through to Thursday may turn to snow or sleet near the top of the road, but was not expected to accumulate.

Scattered showers across the City of Sails accompanied a chilly temperature (by the city's standards) of 10.8C yesterday afternoon.

The South Island faced nasty winds and bone-chilling temperatures, with the temperature in Christchurch sitting at just 4C on Wednesday afternoon and frequent showers throughout the day.

Snow flurries of up to 400m were expected to fall into the hills of North Canterbury, with heavier snow to fall this evening as cold southwesterly winds batter the region.

Southeasterly winds were expected to hit the West Coast today, along with sunny periods, as cold south to southwesterly winds whipped through Southland and Otago.

Light snow flurries of up to 400m were expected in the region, with the odd showers interspersed with dry periods.

In the South Island, a heavy snow watch is in force for the ranges of Marlborough south of Blenheim from 4pm Wednesday until 3am Thursday.

Heavy snow down to 400m may approach warning criteria, MetService warned.

It will be mostly cloudy about southern Marlborough (south of the Wairau Valley), with showers at times and a risk of small hail and heavy showers at night.

A road snowfall warning is in place for Lewis Pass (SH7), where up to 8cm of snow could accumulate above 800m, with lesser amounts expected to fall to 500m.

And the bone-chilling temperatures are expected to remain until spring rolls around, MetService warned.

Across the board, many regions have recorded overnight temperatures below average for this time of year.