New Zealand Surf Season, Surfing Conditions New Zealand- Waterways Travel

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In 1992 Kiwi band Crowded House had a hit single with the song Four Seasons in One Day: Even when you’re feeling warm/The temperature could drop away/Like four seasons in one day. While Tim Finn claimed he wrote the sound about Melbourne, Australia, all citizens of New Zealand are familiar with the concept of a place that can see winter, spring, summer and fall all in the course of 24 hours.

New Zealand is intensely green in a temperate, grassy plains and pine forest sort of way, and that lushness didn’t just bubble up out of the ground. Those “long white clouds” that inspired the Maori name for this joint also bring a lot of rain, but weather also brings surf, and New Zealand is lacking in neither water from the sky, or swell energy from the ocean.
The northern tip of New Zealand is at about 34° south and around the same latitude as Sydney. Northern New Zealand is sub-tropical while the southern tip at 46° South extends well into the Roaring Forties and can feel like a stepping stone to the Antarctic. But because New Zealand is surrounded by oceans, it has a temperate “marine” climate, similar to California from Los Angeles up to Oregon – with the Alps running up the middle.

New Zealand’s weather is determined by two main factors: wind and the mountain range that runs down the spine of both islands. Of the four strong winds effecting New Zealand, the most important are the westerlies – also known as the Roaring Forties - which move west to east from below Australia and cross the Tasman Sea, picking up heat and moisture before sweeping across New Zealand, dropping rain on the west coasts and offshore winds to the east coast. The westerly winds are strongest ????

Northerlies come south from out of the tropics, cooling down and picking up moisture as they move across the Tasman Sea and into the Pacific. The northerlies are strongest ??? and cause the most flooding damage in New Zealand.

Southerlies are cold winds moving straight up from the Southern Ocean, which bring fierce weather, including snowfall at sea level.

Easterlies are usually tropical northerly or Antarctic southerly winds that have changed direction as they approach New Zealand and sweep in from out of the Pacific. A northerly wind transformed into an easterly brings rain to the east coast and offshores to the west coast, while a southerly air stream that turns easterly will often be dry and cold.

Summer months from December to February are the hottest, with air temperatures ranging from the middle 50s to the mid-70s, and water temperatures ranging from ??? in the south island to ??? in the sub-tropical north.

Winter is coldest from June through August, with temperatures ranging from the low 30s to the low 60s. But those are coastal temperatures, and if you go skiing in the South Island in the middle of their winter, bring all the Patagonia gear you can get your hands on, because those winter storms are bloody cold!

The same goes for surfing the South Island in winter. This is 5/4 with a hood territory. Make no mistake, it’s cold.
The one aspect of New Zealand you really have to be careful about is sun exposure. Because it is so far south – and under the ozone hole - New Zealand has one of the world’s highest UV ratings. Stick your face in the sun too long and you will feel like you just pulled it out of a microwave oven. Those New Zealand sunburns have a toxic feel, so whether you are surfing or skiing or just walking in the sun, using sun cream is crucial down there, under the ozone hole.
Because New Zealand extends below 40° S the prevailing winds are the westerlies – also known as the Roaring Forties -  which blow up from the Tasman Sea and across New Zealand. For the New Zealand summer from December into April, the westerlies stay to the south creating calmer weather conditions.

From May to August, cold fronts from the Tasman Sea sweep over all of New Zealand. Mountain ranges block rain-carrying clouds, dumping the bulk of it on the west side of the island and starving some eastern areas. Auckland on the west coast of the North Island receives about 50 inches of rain a year, while Christchurch on the east coast of the South Island receives about half of that.

Up in the northern hemisphere, the “New Zealand swells” that we all know and love are created by low pressure systems moving from southwest to northeast, following low pressure “troughs” that come , on either side of New Zealand but usually along the west coast. These storms from March to August during the New Zealand winter throw raw, powerful swell along the west coasts. During the winter, it is not uncommon for high pressure systems to park over New Zealand bringing clear skies, cool days and offshore winds.

From August to November, a phenomenon called the “equinoctial westerlies” cause the westerly winds to blow the strongest. The west coast gets most of the wind and rain this time of year, while the east coast is warm, dry and very often the winds are offshore. The ideal situation for the east coast this time of year is for tropical cyclones to spin down from the tropics and then sit a couple hundred miles offshore and throw swell at the points and coves of the east coast.

Sometimes New Zealand gets the best of both worlds, with tropical cyclones showering the east coast at the same time as a low pressure in the Tasman Sea is lighting up Raglan and Shipwreck Bay. Then it becomes a tale of two coasts, and how fast can you get from one side to the other to get it all.