Wild winds whip south

Strong winds are causing havoc across Central Otago with a large fire developing near Alexandra and trees and power lines blown down in Queenstown.

Fire communications shift manager Andrew Norris said a large fire with about a 1km front was burning in the Fruitlands area, just south of Alexandra.

Fire trucks from Alexandra and the Central Otago Rural Fire Service were attending but wind was making it difficult to access.

It was thought to be on private land but close to Department of Conservation property.

"The fire is well up on the hillside. It may be that the farmer is there and has it under control. We've got to check that out.''

In Queenstown power lines were blown down near the town's centre this morning and a report has come through of a tree which has fallen and is blocking the road to Glenorchy.

All skifields in the region are closed due to gale force winds and Coronet Peak skifield reported lightning in the morning.

Three flights were diverted from Queenstown Airport by lunchtime due to the cross winds making it unsafe to land.

Communications manager Jen Andrews said the interruptions were sporadic.

''It just seems to be if it's gusting at the time of the approach.''


The high winds would be joined by rain to blight people's weekend plans in much of the country.

Periods of heavy rain were expected about the Southern Alps and west of the South Island until tomorrow, and should develop about Mt Taranaki today and the Tararua ranges tomorrow, MetService said in a midmorning severe weather warning.

Meanwhile gales that were hitting the south would spread north to Wellington and Wairarapa late tonight, the agency said.

Gusts hitting the south could reach 130kmh in exposed areas of Southland and Otago, and 150kmh in Canterbury, where the strongest winds were likely about the Mackenzie Country and near the foothills. They were likely to spread to the plains tomorrow afternoon.

Peak gusts could also reach 130kmh in Wellington, 140kmh in Marlborough in the lee of the Kaikoura ranges, and 140kmh in Wairarapa.

Heavy rain was expected in Fiordland, Westland south of Otira, and the headwaters of the Otago and Canterbury lakes and rivers, from about Arthur's Pass south.

In Taranaki sustained heavy rain was expected from this evening through to Sunday morning.

In the 33 hours from 9pm tonight, up to 250 millimetres was expected about the mountain, with up to 400mm possible about the summit. Places near the coast north and west of the mountain could get up to 120mm.

Rain could also be heavy in the Buller Ranges, Marlborough Sounds and Wellington hills tomorrow afternoon and evening. Northwesterly gales could also be severe about Taranaki, Whanganui and Taihape.

"In the areas affected by the heavy rain, rivers could rise rapidly and there is the possibility of slips and surface flooding," MetService said.

After temperatures in Christchurch yesterday nudged the city's July 2012 record of 22.4 degrees Celsius, the region is set for another fine, but blustery, day with a high of 19C today and tomorrow.

Average wind speed was expected to peak at 44kmh midafternoon tomorrow before falling away quickly as wind direction switched to the southwest and the temperatures dropped.

Snow could lower tomorrow to 500 metres in Fiordland and to 1500m at Arthur's Pass. In the North Island snow could lower to 1300m about Egmont and Tongariro National Parks on Sunday, and to 1000m in the south.

While the north of the country gets off comparatively lightly, Auckland was expected to have fresh northerlies tomorrow, along with occasional light rain or drizzle.

Sunday also looked likely to be wet, easing to a few showers with a southwest change.