30 Sep 2020

Snow's melted, but challenges remain for some

From Checkpoint, 6:14 pm on 30 September 2020

A sense of normality has started to return to the lower South Island after a polar blast turned spring into a winter wonderland.

Livestock holding out on a farm near Waihola, Otago as the frost kicks in during a wintry blast on 29 September, 2020.

Photo: RNZ / Tess Brunton

While the snow is melting, for some there are still challenges ahead.

Over on the Chatham Islands, Flowerpot Bay Lodge co-owner Brent Mallinson was expecting to welcome guests this morning.

The weather had other plans.

"For the last 24 hours, it has been gale force sou'westers with skiffs of hail and snow. But this morning is actually settled on the ground," he said.

Mallinson had only seen snow settle one other time in his 14 years on Pitt Island.

"Well it's been quite a mild winter so I guess it had to come and the place is still relatively dry so yeah, hopefully this is the last cold snap before some nice spring weather arrives," he said.

Back on the mainland, Simon Davies - the Federated Farmers Otago president - said the snow was melting, but farmers around Moa Flat and Tapanui weren't out of the woods yet.

The losses were unclear, but at roughly $100 per lamb, he said many individual farmers could take quite a financial hit.

"To give you an idea if it's as bad as I suspect it is up around Tapanui, you're probably looking at 30, 40, 50 percent of the lamb crop depending at what point they were through their lambing," Davies said.

But for now, those farmers are focused on getting through each day with as many of their livestock as they can

Davies spoke to one Tapanui dairy and beef farmer who was already preparing for the potential flooding threat from a nearby river.

But he said they were a resilient bunch who knew their farms, their stock, and could adapt.

As a former North Islander, he said driving through more than 10 centimetres of snow was a unique experience on his coastal farm at Toko Mouth.

"I was driving up my ridge and in some areas it was very shallow, and in other areas - drift areas where the wind had obviously blown it into hollows - literally I drove into a metre of snow," he said.

"On a four-wheeler that can be an interesting experience cos you just disappear."

While the snow has wreaked havoc for some farmers, it was a welcome dump on Otago skifields.

NZ Ski chief executive Paul Anderson said it was the best storm they've had all winter - they just had to wait until spring to get it.

"At the Remarkables, we've had 55 centimetres of light, dry powder. We've got about 2500 people on the mountain today just absolutely loving it," he said.

To celebrate the powdery downfall, season pass holders were welcomed back to Coronet Peak for a special, single morning reopening today.

The heavy snow would keep the slopes primed for the rest of the season, Anderson said.

The only highway to Milford Sound reopened today after parts of the road were covered by more than 50 centimetres of snow during the spring dump.

Cruise Milford welcomed the first day they could get visitors on the water this week with two full cruises.

Its sales executive Sarah McDonald said the road closure wasn't how they hoped to start the school holidays.

"But we were really lucky because a lot of people were able to wait, spend more time in Te Anau and head into Milford Sound today rather than being unable to ... lucky that it's school holidays and people are a bit more flexible," McDonald said.

She commended the Milford Road Alliance workers who cleared the road, but said people still needed to be aware of black ice.

"It will be a winter wonderland in there. The snow and the mountains are looking amazing and cruising on Milford, there will be snow on the mountains around there too so it will look really good."

Metservice said the best of the weather was forecast for tomorrow before north-westerly winds pick up.