Heat's on for later summer break

CHARLES ANDERSON
Last updated 05:00 06/01/2013

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Imagine a summer holiday that really meant it. One that lived up to its reputation. One that was absent of drenched campgrounds, cancelled flights and soggy, windswept miseries.

It could all be so easy. Even the minister for holidays Peter Dunne says so. Just move the holidays a month back into the golden weather.

"I've long felt this is the next step," said Dunne, who pushed for Mondayising holidays and for the lengthening of daylight saving five years ago. "There are obstacles but it is not impossible."

He said a discussion was needed, considering that the country gets its best weather in February.

"Especially over the last week or so as we have had this pretty lousy weather."

Holiday plans for thousands were ruined last week when a wild climate stranded holidaymakers around the country.

Data compiled by the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research for the Sunday Star-Times confirms that February comes out as the best of the summer holiday months. The data shows that over the past 30 years February has come out on top in terms of mean temperature, lowest rainfall and fewest rain days for the whole country.

Although the average temperatures for January and February are the same at 22 degrees, the average rainfall is considerably less in February than in January, with 19mm less rain. In January the average number of rain days is 8.2. In February it is 7.5.

Niwa principal scientist Mike Revell said there was a two-month delay between high temperatures and the longest day of the year in December.

"Although the sun is shining hotter in December it takes a while to bring the local area up to the hottest temperature," he said. "It's like heating a pot of water - it takes a while to heat up."

But not everyone agrees with the prospect of shifting the holidays - notably school principals who say the shift would cause major disruptions for exams, end-of-year accounts and the difficulties associated with shortening the academic year.

Schools in Britain and the United States break for only about two weeks over the Christmas period before heading back to study in early January.

However, principals do concede that having students locked up in the classroom during the hot February days is not ideal either.

"February can be very difficult to teach students," said Secondary Principals Association president Pat Walsh. "Most classrooms don't have air conditioning and to have the students sweating and looking out the window wishing they were at the beach is not ideal."

Vice-president of the Principals Federation Phil Harding, who was caught in the bad weather on the West Coast of the South Island last week, said there would have to be a huge consultation to work through the problems. The bigger problem might come if the holidays were changed and the first year there was terrible February weather and brilliant January weather. "It would flip the argument on its head," Harding said.

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Dunne said it was difficult to ascertain the public perception about the idea but a poll conducted by Research New Zealand in 2007 found that 44 per cent of people thought the summer holiday period should be moved compared to 51 per cent who thought it should be left alone. Five per cent were undecided.

The change would likely come in the form of an amendment to the Holidays Act, Dunne said. In 2007, daylight saving was lengthened by three weeks after a petition led by Dunne and Nelson City Councillor Mark Holmes gained 42,000 signatures.

While some traditionalists would not like the idea of moving the school term, it had been done before. In 2011, the Ministry of Education changed school terms to coincide with the Rugby World Cup and before that school terms were extended from three to four.

Business NZ chief executive Phil O'Reilly said on a personal level he would support the change because of the weather but he knew that it would be very difficult for businesses to adjust.

For those companies doing business internationally it would be difficult for overseas trading partners to understand why they were taking a holiday in February. More logical would be August when Europe takes its summer holidays. "But that would defeat the point."

The change might be beneficial to the tourism industry but if it was implemented it would cause "two rushes" - one for the Christmas period and then another for the summer break. O'Reilly had spoken to several Americans who underwent a similar process for their Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays and found it difficult to motivate themselves through the period.

"It's a nice idea, I suspect, but quite a lot harder to execute."

- Sunday Star Times

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