A polar blast has brought bitterly cold temperatures across New Zealand and the heaviest snowfall in decades.
MetService says snow will continue to fall in major centres overnight on Monday and the polar blast is set to last until Thursday. Hundreds are without power in the lower North Island and Canterbury.
Highways are closed throughout much of the South Island, as well as the central and lower North Island, including the Desert Road and Rimutaka Hill Road.
Though the South Island bore the brunt of the bad weather, Wellington experienced its heaviest snowfall since 1976, while Auckland has had its first snow since the same year.[image:2750:full]
Snow fell in many parts of the Auckland region, including Waiuku, Bombay, Pukekohe, the Waitakere Ranges and in the central business district. More snow showers are predicted down to 200 metres but these should ease by mid-morning on Tuesday.
In Wellington, snow fell steadily throughout Monday, including on the Terrace and Lambton Quay in the central city, and is expected to continue overnight.
Lightening and thunder also hit the capital, causing power surges.
Civil Defence is warning snow could continue in the region until later in the week and people should should ensure they have plenty of food, water, firewood, essential medicines, candles and gas cookers. People are urged to check on their neighbours, particularly the elderly.
Motorists, especially those living in Wellington's hill suburbs, are urged to take care and not to use badly iced roads unless their vehicles have snow chains. Bus services have been cancelled on Monday night.
Biggest fall in South Island[image:2754:half:right]
The snowfall in much of the South Island is the biggest so far this year. MetService says it has snowed from the Kaikoura coast down through Canterbury and into Otago and Southland. Queenstown remained cut off on Monday.
In Dunedin, 5cm of powder snow shut down much of the city on Monday. With all kindergartens and primary schools closed and buses running only on the flat, many people in Dunedin's hill suburbs did not bother to leave home. At Otago University most lectures were still on, but students said they weren't that keen to get out of bed.
In Christchurch, the second wintry blast to hit the city since July is making worse already difficult living conditions for thousands of people in the earthquake-hit eastern suburbs.
Snow has been falling since Sunday and more showers are forecast for the next few days, bringing temperatures down to below zero degrees again.
Police are asking people to avoid driving if possible. The Transport Agency says heavy snow, wind and ice are affecting roads across most of the South Island and lower North Island.
Highways network operations manager Dave Bates says contractors are working around the clock in very difficult conditions to clear snow, lay down grit and keep drivers safe.[image:2751:half:right]
State Highway 1 is closed between Waikouaiti and Dunedin, and between Kaikoura and Waipara on Monday night. Other closures include state highways 6, 7, 8, 63, 73, 85, 87, 93 and 94.
Arthur's Pass, Porters Pass and the Lewis Pass are closed and more heavy snow is expected on alpine and high roads this week.
In the central North Island, most highways are closed, including State Highway 1 - the Desert Road. Only state highways 41 and 3 remain open.
State Highway 2 - the Rimutaka Hill Road connecting Wellington to Wairarapa - is also closed.
Upper Hutt City Council has closed the Blue Mountain, Wallaceville Hill and Mangaroa Hill roads due to snow.
Main airports closed
Dunedin and Queenstown airports are closed on Monday night and the situation will be reassessed on Tuesday.
All flight in and out of Wellington Airport is cancelled and the runway is closed.
Christchurch Airport is still operating, but most airlines have cancelled flights due to the changing weather patterns.
Meanwhile, Dunedin Airport says most of the 100 people stranded in its terminal overnight on Sunday have been able to leave the city.