Southbound traffic out of Auckland was reduced to a crawl as holidaymakers heading to Waikato and the Coromandel tried to make up for lost time.
While the country was lashed with the final offerings of former Cyclone Ita on Thursday, with heavy wind and rain, conditions eased yesterday and motorists making the most of it caused a huge gridlock on State Highway 1.
Senior Sergeant Pete van de Wetering, of Waikato police, said drivers delayed travelling due to Thursday's storms.
The result: nose-to-tail holiday traffic.
"Indirectly it has come about because people no doubt heeded the warning and stayed home, so we've got a bigger movement of traffic [yesterday] morning," van de Wetering said.
Former Cyclone Ita lashed the region and delayed access to the Coromandel Peninsula as holidaymakers prepared to flock to the holiday destination for Easter.
"There are holdups in the sense that traffic has slowed on the main route to the Coromandel out of Auckland.
"It is moving but it is slow; but it is going to require patience and good temperament from our drivers."
Hamilton woman Donna Walsh said the massive backlog of traffic was "insane" as she and her family headed to Auckland for the Easter break.
The queues began in Huntly and went a couple of kilometres to the start of the motorway, before it continued bumper to bumper again from Te Kauwhata up to Meremere.
Meanwhile, the Easter road toll had already reached three 12 hours after the official holiday period began.
One person died in a four-vehicle crash on SH16, west of Auckland, on Thursday night and several others were seriously injured.
Two people died in separate incidents in Canterbury - a 44-year-old Twizel woman crashed on SH8 in South Canterbury and an 80-year-old male pedestrian was struck by a vehicle about 3am yesterday.
Police also released the names of two Opotiki men killed before the official holiday period began.
The tow-truck they were in rolled down a bank in a remote area east of the town on Thursday.
They were driver Gordon Douglas Nelson, aged 67, and Frederick Michael Ruff, aged 70.
Police are enforcing a reduced speed threshold of 4kmh until the end of the extended holiday period, at 6am Monday, April 28.
The New Zealand Fire Service received 1071 emergency 111 calls between midnight and 4pm on Thursday.
The bulk were weather-related - 844 - with 432 calls from Waikato, Bay of Plenty and Auckland.
In Cambridge, Victoria Rd near the intersection with Bellevue Rd was closed after trees and powerlines came down.
Falling trees also closed SH5 from the intersection with SH1 south of Tirau through to Rotorua.
Power was also cut to more than 1000 Waikato customers, Wel Networks customer services manager Brendon Maloney said.
Feeder power outages at both Gordonton and Tamahere cut electricity to 500 customers each and there were a further 98 individual properties without power, he said.
There were reports an errant satellite dish had blocked one lane of the Waikato Expressway at Horotiu.
Van de Wetering said the constable in Kawhia was out putting the chainsaw to use clearing roads.
Trees or branches had also come down in Hahei, Whitianga and Raglan.
Trees fell on both SH30 near Benneydale in the King Country and at the bottom of the Kaimai Range on SH29.
The city council was flooded with calls as strong winds tore branches down and toppled trees around Hamilton.
The weather was expected to be a mixed bag for the rest of the weekend, with occasional showers each day but relatively mild temperatures.
- Waikato Times