Three important areas of activity are affected by New Zealand’s climate: recreation, health and the economy.
What we choose to do for fun often involves getting outside, and the particular outdoor activity we choose is strongly influenced by the local climate. For example, the style of rugby played in Southland with its rain and muddy grounds is different from that in the much drier Canterbury. Aucklanders love to sail because of the regular winds and warm air and sea temperatures in the Hauraki Gulf, and trampers in the South Island’s West Coast can explore some of the lushest rainforests in the world because of regular rainfall there.
Gardening is a hugely popular recreation, and garden styles are influenced by the varied regional climates. The South Island, with well-defined seasons, brings the reward of spring flowers and brilliant autumn foliage. Auckland’s high rainfall and warmer temperatures allow gardeners to enjoy year-round greenery and cultivate subtropical plants such as bougainvillea and hibiscus.
Feeling the cold
How chilly do New Zealanders get before they switch a heater on? A study suggests that it depends on what they’re used to in different regions. Aucklanders in the subtropical north may feel cold at a higher temperature than frost-hardy Dunedinites down south. But wherever they are, Kiwis turn on the heat at about the same time in the autumn – when temperatures drop significantly below their local average.
A disadvantage of living in New Zealand’s mild climate is that when served up extreme weather, such as a bitterly cold southerly spell or an intense heat wave, people can find it hard to cope. The oldest and youngest citizens in particular can suffer from ill health as a result.
When the average air temperature drops below 10°C, hospital admissions in the Auckland region rise dramatically, mostly for respiratory ailments. One cause is insufficient insulation in homes designed for a mild climate, and not for the infrequent extreme conditions.
Some significant activities influenced by climate are:
- Agriculture – the difference between a good production year and a bad one, affected by a severe drought, for example, can be as much as 1.5% of GDP, or over $1 billion. The local climate affects what people grow – from citrus fruit in the warm north, to brussels sprouts in the colder South Island.
- Renewable energy – low rainfall and snowfall seasons can dramatically lower the levels of storage lakes that supply hydroelectricity, the main form of power. This forces nationwide power-saving measures. Where the climate is windy, as in the Tararua ranges, wind farms are viable.
- Tourism – many tourist activities, such as skiing, water sports, hiking, beach-going and mountaineering, are climate dependent. A low snowfall winter or a colder-than-normal summer can reduce tourist numbers drastically. Two or three bad years in a row can be devastating for many tourist enterprises.
Acknowledgments to Jim Salinger, Stuart Burgess, Jim Renwick and Michael Uddstrom