New Zealand - the world's most changeable weather?

Mike and Liz Downing
Sun 15 Apr 2012 20:03
A not untypical forecast in New Zealand:
Thursday, 12th April : Northerly 30 knots gusting 40 knots, tending northwest in the morning. Changing southwest 30 knots gusting 40 knots in the afternoon. Sea rough. Poor visibility in showers, fine spells developing in the afternoon.
It's not the strength of wind to note here, but the direction. Blowing a gale in the morning from the north; blowing a gale in the afternoon from the southwest -almost the opposite direction. It does that a quite a bit - huge variability based on hours rather than days as in most other places we've been to. Another good example was when back in Whangaroa, a couple of months after arriving in New Zealand. Whangaroa is an almost landlocked area that fans out into fiord-like valleys all with great anchorages. The forecast was for a morning gale from the northeast and an afternoon gale from the southwest - directly opposite directions. The great debate among us newcomers was which way would it go round? If the wind was going to back (anticlockwise), then we should choose the anchorage protected from the west. On the other hand, if it was going to veer (clockwise), we should choose an anchorage protected from the east. There was nothing in the forecast to say and we didn't have any weather maps to help. The morning gale came and blew 30-40kts from the northeast as forecast, but around 14.30 the wind died completely and all was very quiet for 20 minutes or so. The wind then blew 30-40kts again, from the southwest! It hadn't backed or veered, it just stopped, changed direction by 180 degrees and started again.
This type of weather doesn't really make for good cruising! It's not good for passage making where a consistent wind direction is helpful - knowing that it's going to blow somewhere from the same quadrant or hemisphere for a few days helps if trying to make miles. It's not good for anchoring as it's up anchor every 6 hours or so to re-anchor to gain protection from the new wind direction. One of the reasons the Bay of Islands is so good is that there are loads of anchorages very close together, so it's easy to find protection - 15 minutes across to the other side of an inlet is often all that's needed.
We have had a few settled spells and we're told that in most years they occur quite a lot between February and May, but not this year when they've been few and far between. However, we do hope that changes over the next few weeks!