Weather: Thunder and heavy rain warnings for North Island, upper South Island
A motorcyclist is dead and a major route into Taranaki closed after an accident caused by storms that are hitting much of the North Island.
Severe thunderstorms, heavy rain, and fierce winds gusting to 140kmh are bearing down on large areas of the country, causing chaos from coast to coast.
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Police have called for caution on the roads, after saying the wet weather contributed to the fatal motorbike accident.
The man died after colliding with a truck on State Highway 3, about 2km north of the Awakino tunnel around 12.40pm Friday. The road was closed, meaning the only way into north Taranaki was via Whanganui.
* Invercargill pocket park gets a mow, as wet and windy weather returns to Southland
* Cancelled flights and road closures as wild weather hits
* Thunderstorms and downpours forecast for Auckland
The bad weather has also contributed to significant delays on State Highway One between Manakau and Otaki as holidaymakers return to Wellington, NZ Transport Angency spokesman Anthony Frith said.
Frith said most of the congestion was affecting southbound traffic on the north side of the Otaki roundabout while traffic heading north was flowing relatively freely.
A truck struck a barrier closing a major highway and trucking route through the Hauraki Plains and in Auckland a crash city-bound on the Northern Motorway at Constellation Drive had traffic backed up to Greville Road.
Northern Fire shift manager Megan Ruru said firefighters had been called on to help pump out flooded properties in Titirangi and Te Atatu after hours of heavy rainfall.
A "mini tornado" hit near Picton, seeing holidaymakers pack up their tents and head home early.
Here's your 30 second forecast for the weekend, (hint: it's better than today for most!) have a great one ^NB pic.twitter.com/avNlOXfYie— MetService (@MetService) January 8, 2016
"This morning a mini tornado hit the camp ground and up lifted our tent with all its contents," camper Katherine Monson said from Parklands Marina Holiday Park on Friday afternoon.
"Fortunately we were not there at the time. There has been severe winds and rain last night and all through the day so far," she said.
Selma Lassueur, the owner of Parklands Marina Holiday Park, said it had been windy and rainy but nothing out of the ordinary. Only one tent in the camp had blown over, she said.
MetService meteorologist Lisa Murray said anyone tramping or venturing into the back country should take care.
MORE TO COME: WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW
The West Coast was the first to feel the force of the storm which has since moved over the upper South Island and onto the North Island.
Near 20mm in one hour for some parts of Auckland thanks to the thunderstorms. Did you hear them at your place?^Lisa pic.twitter.com/9bVfUkiSw8— MetService (@MetService) January 8, 2016
A severe thunderstorm was issued by Metservice covering Northland to Taranaki until 10pm Friday, which was expected to bring heavy rain. Downpour intensities could reach 45mm an hour, and winds gusts to 100kmh during the thunderstorms.
Surface water has been reported on Auckland's North Western motorway after Lincoln Road and congestion is causing delays north of Auckland on SH1 between Te Hana and Warkworth.
The NZ Transport Agency is warning drivers to be cautious of strong winds on the Desert Rd, and on SH2 over the Rimutaka Hill between Wellington and Wairarapa.
In the South Island, NZTA told motorists to watch out for strong winds on SH80 between Omarama and Fairlie, SH80 from SH8 to Mt Cook, SH73 from Springfield to Arthur's Pass and SH7 from Springs Junction to Hanmer Springs.
Areas likely to have the heaviest rain are north Westland, Buller, the ranges of northwest Nelson and Nelson Lakes, the Tararua Range, and the ranges of eastern Bay of Plenty.
'TERRIFYING' AIR TRAVEL
In Wellington, high winds forced the cancellation of numerous flights.
Planes of all sizes were struggling in the strong, driving winds, and the delays and cancellations were expected to continue for the rest of the day, Wellington Airport spokeswoman Briarley Kirk said.
"The winds are driving and then dropping off, which is causing problems to all planes across the network."
Landing conditions had caused a Jetstar flight, JQ 167, from the Gold Coast to be diverted to Christchurch. The return flight would also be affected. Jetstar said via its website Gold Coast-bound passengers could expect an update in due course.
Brisbane resident Jo Connolly and her family waited in a moving queue at Christchurch Airport, for details of a new flight to Wellington, where they were headed for a holiday.
Connolly and fellow passenger Brenda Slieker said they were "thankful" the plane had circled Wellington airport just once, before it headed south to Christchurch.
"Just terrifying," Connolly said. "It was the worst I've ever had. I've flown out of Wellington hundreds of times and never had it like that before."
The plane rocked, rolled and was thrown up and down in the turbulent weather.
"My little one screamed and then I couldn't let her go for 30 minutes after," Connolly said, of her three year-old daughter.
"I had that little moment when I didn't know if we were going to make it."
Winds are expected to be strongest in Marlborough, Wellington, Wairarapa, with other areas at risk including inland north Canterbury, Kapiti Coast, Hawke's Bay, and coastal Southland and Clutha.