Storm sweeps down country

WILD WEATHER: This tree fell down in in Whangarei, temporarily trapping two boys underneath it.
WILD WEATHER: This tree fell down in in Whangarei, temporarily trapping two boys underneath it.

A storm battering the country has left hundreds of cruise boat passengers stranded overnight in Canterbury, uprooted trees and caused power outages as it travels across the country.

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About 800 passengers from the Sea Princess cruise ship are taking shelter in the Akaroa Area School gymnasium, as the rough conditions have made it too difficult for them to return to the ship berthed in the harbour.

Bruce Hyland, owner of the Maison de la Mer lodge, said he had been contacted by the cruise company to see if any of the passengers could be accommodated tonight.

"The ship came in this morning like it usually does, and the tourist all did their usual thing, looking around the area.

"But by 10am the weather was looking pretty nasty. Their ship is right in the middle of the harbour so it would be tough to get them on board in this."

Christchurch and Canterbury Tourism spokesperson Caroline Blanchfield said hundreds of passengers were being accommodated overnight in Akaroa and Christchurch. Blanchfield didn't have an exact figure of how many passengers were affected but said about 200 beds in Christchurch were required for the night.

Blanchfield said the situation was being handled well and that the Akaroa community had rallied together to accommodate the passengers.

Trees have come down "all over the place", including in rural Hamilton and west Auckland, police north communications sergeant Dan Weir said.

Police were advising people to avoid travelling unless necessary, but the wild weather has already forced many people across the country to spend their Saturday inside.

Strong winds also buffeted the Coromandel peninsula this afternoon, cutting power to Thames around lunchtime.

Thames resident Grant McBride said power was cut around 12.30pm after he heard "a couple of loud bangs".

While the centre of Thames did not entirely lose power, the houses in the area behind the hospital were without power for around six hours before it came back on at about 6.30pm.

Winds in Wellington have also picked up this evening, with Metservice expecting the evening's southerly change to lower temperatures for the night. 

There have also been reports of power outages on the North Shore in North Canterbury.

But strong winds and heavy rain aren't only affecting the North Island, with vehicles forced to pull to the side of the road on the South Island's West Coast as gale-force winds batter the country.

Surface flooding was also forcing vehicles to pull over and anyone driving a caravan, campervan or motorcycle was urged by police to postpone their trip if travelling on the West Coast.

Auckland firefighters have been under the pump answering more than 30 call outs around the city.

Fire communications manager Scott Osmond said many of the jobs involved shifting trees which had blocked roads but there had been some more delicate operations where they had fallen on to powerlines and one incident in Glen Innes where a tree had hit a house.

Heavy rain and winds lashed the South Island overnight, causing several avalanches and slips in Milford Sound.

It moved north this morning and was expected to bring heavy rain to most regions, with large downpours due in the Central Plateau, Taranaki, the Tararua Range and the Bay of Plenty, according to MetService.

Another 100mm of rain may still accumulate in the ranges of Westland, Buller and Nelson.

Severe gales which have swept north across the country could reach 130kmh between Marlborough and Gisborne.

Southwest gales with severe gale gusts were also expected in Banks Peninsula and the Kaikoura Coast.

While the high winds and heavy rains in Wellington were set to fade slightly tonight, so would the temperatures, MetService forecaster John Law said.

An evening southerly change would bring more - colder - winds to the capital.

''Essentially it's a very unsettled day.

''The central parts of the North Island has the chance of some very heavy falls. In Wellington it's the wind that's the main issue. We've got northerly winds across Wellington. We are expecting gusts up to 130kmh - that's severe gale gusts.''

''It'll stay windy throughout the day [and] it should still be pretty blustery in the morning.

''They [the wind gusts] will still be powerful [tomorrow], but from a different direction.

''It's not feeling very pleasant.''

MetService warned that rivers and streams, especially on the West Coast, may rise rapidly and slips and surface flooding could occur.

The strength of the wind had the potential to bring down powerlines and uproot trees.