14 Dec 2017

Sunshine hours battle too close to call

8:53 pm on 14 December 2017

The top of the South Island is getting ready to seize the Sunshine Trophy for clocking up the most sunshine hours in the country again this year.

A sunset at Tahunanui Beach in Nelson.

A sunset at Tahunanui Beach which bounds Richmond, near Nelson. Photo: RNZ / Tracy Neal

The region leads the sun scoreboard ahead of arch rivals Whakatāne and Napier, but the southern towns are also drying up faster than usual.

Earlier this week, Richmond in the Tasman District was ahead in the sunshine stakes, but Blenheim has just nosed ahead and is dusting off the mantelpiece for the return of The New Zealand Sunshine Cup.

Niwa weather scientist Ben Noll said the race was on, and it's going to be tight.

"So, breaking news here, we now see Blenheim is ahead of Richmond

Blenheim by one sunshine hour, so it's going to be a photo-finish it appears across the top of the South Island."

Up to Wednesday, Blenheim had 2422 sunshine hours this year and Richmond a fraction over 2420 hours.

Tasman mayor Richard Kempthorne - who currently holds the trophy, said that was outrageous.

But the downside to being New Zealand's sunshine capital, is drought. Mr Kempthorne said the speed of change has been dramatic from the wet winter and spring, to the current extreme dry that has led to the council imposing early stage water restrictions.

Tasman Mayor Richard Kempthorne with the NZ Sunshine Cup.

Tasman Mayor Richard Kempthorne with the NZ Sunshine Cup. Photo: RNZ / Tracy Neal

The sunshine hours trophy has bounced back and forth between the top of the south and Bay of Plenty over the past few years. Some are not convinced Richmond's score keeping is above-board, especially as Nelson city - about 10km from Richmond, recorded two weeks' fewer sunshine hours last year.

Mr Kempthorne said there was a reason for that.

"We have previously not had a recording in Tasman with a suitable gauge."

Whakatāne mayor Tony Bonne said he thought it was time resource consents were required for the equipment that recorded sunshine hours.

"Definitely. It looks like this year we're slightly behind so we'll have to do something about those sunshine recorders in the South Island."

Mr Bonne said it was tough at the top of the sunshine leader board, and competition could be fierce.

"We made a notice to Niwa that they should actually look at the Richmond recorder but we didn't get any traction there. So, we're just good sports - we know we're the sunshine capital of the North Island and we'll be ready to take it off them."

Sunset in the Marlborough Sounds.

Sunset in the Marlborough Sounds. Photo: RNZ / Tracy Neal

Mr Noll said there was no special magic in how sunshine hours were recorded, but believe it or not, most of it was to do with wind direction.

"We've had more north-easterly winds than usual across New Zealand over the last month or so and that can bring extra cloud to the Bay of Plenty.

"That is what has allowed the top of the South Island to regain control of the sunshine race."

Meanwhile, Marlborough mayor John Leggett is making room in the trophy cabinet next to all the medals for sauvignon blanc.

He said he was confident the region would keep its slim lead.

"We're looking forward to Richard Kempthorne getting on his mountain bike and bringing the trophy back to us. We had to pass it over last year and we're looking forward to getting it back," Mr Leggett said.

And while the top of the south sizzled, cloudy days in Reefton placed it at the bottom of the sunshine scoreboard followed by Aoraki / Mount Cook and Palmerston North.

Cromwell wears the crown for being the hottest place in the country after the mercury reached 33.3°C last month.

The sunshine hours winner will be named in Niwa's annual climate summary on 9 January.

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