Australia fires: Smoke turns New Zealand skies 'eerie' yellow

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Media caption,

Winds carried smoke from the fires as far away as New Zealand across the Tasman Sea

Smoke from huge bushfires in Australia is drifting as far as New Zealand, 2,000km (1,200 miles) away, leading to haze and a burnt smell in the air.

Australia is grappling with a bushfire crisis fuelled by record-breaking temperatures and months of drought.

The smoke first reached New Zealand's South Island on 31 December, turning skies a murky yellow.

Since then, the south's famous glaciers have vanished in haze and even North Island has seen its skies turn "eerie".

At least 18 people are confirmed to have been killed by the bushfires, which have burned vast areas of several Australian states.

Several people are still missing and conditions are expected to worsen over the coming weekend.

Image source, Alpine Guides
Image caption,
The view of Mount Cook over the past days vs on a clear day

Blue skies turned yellow

"I have never seen anything like the haze over the past 48 hours," Arthur McBride of glacier tour company Alpine Guides told the BBC.

Tourist flights up to Tasman, Franz Josef and Fox glaciers are a popular way to experience New Zealand's stunning mountain scenery.

But in recent days visitors have endured a thick yellow haze, instead of the white snow and bright blue skies expected.

"Wednesday afternoon was particularly bad," Mr McBride says, "and the smell of woodsmoke is still distinct."

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"It's been hazy for the past 36 hours, it's been a smoky haze," explains Dan Burt of Mount Cook Skiplanes and Helicopters.

"In fact, we've seen some discolouration on the glacier since a few weeks ago - so that was actually already before the haze of the past days."

Image source, Mount Cook Skiplanes and Helicopters
Image caption,
There's a layer of brown dust on the usually pristine glacier

His company runs tour and flights to several glaciers in the region, including the main Tasman glacier.

Over the past days, a few trips had to be cancelled, he said.

"It still would have been save to fly, but it just wouldn't have been a great experience to be up there."

An Australian woman visiting Franz Josef photographed how dust from the bushfires had "caramelised" the mountain snow, turning it brown.

Image source, Rey
Image caption,
Australian tourist Rey photographed mountain snow turned brown by dust

The tourist, who calls herself Rey, posted pictures on social media on New Year's Eve, saying the snow had been white on the previous day.

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'Twilight' over Dunedin

Australia and New Zealand are separated by around 2,000km (1,242miles) of the Tasman Sea.

Satellite images released by Weather Watch show exactly how the smoke was moving across the Tasman Sea from Australia's shores to hit New Zealand.

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The peaks around the tourist city of Queenstown, further south from the glaciers, were also covered in haze.

Over the past days, the people of Dunedin on South Island woke up to a noticeably darker sky, according to local media, and there's been a strong yellowish twilight over the town.

Pictures from Akaroa near the south's main city of Christchurch also showed an striking sky with the hills shrouded in haze.

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'Eerie' sky over Auckland

By Thursday, the haze and burnt smell had also reached the North Island.

"The air doesn't smell in Auckland, but the sunrise and morning light was eerie," Auckland resident Ena Hutchinson told the BBC.

"There was a strange, golden glow on the sea, the sky was cloudy, and when the sun broke through it was orange."

She said that while there'd been some haze 10 years ago during earlier Australia fires, things had never been this bad.

"It's certainly not something that's happened like this before - virtually blanketing the South Island and now heading northwards today."