Cyclone Gabrielle touches down in New Zealand: What you need to know

1:00 pm on 14 February 2023
Debris from the storm surges on Ōrewa Beach, north of Auckland.

Debris from the storm surges on Ōrewa Beach, north of Auckland. Photo: Supplied/Chris Newson

After several days' warning, Cyclone Gabrielle is here, bringing severe weather to the North Island - particularly Northland, Auckland, Coromandel and Tairāwhiti.

For the latest on Monday, check RNZ's live blog.

Here's what has happened so far, and what to expect over the coming days.

Despite being downgraded from a tropical cyclone as it started to affect New Zealand, officials have said Gabrielle should not be taken lightly. Ahead of its arrival, MetService warned: "Based on the position and intensity of Gabrielle, this system poses a very high risk of extreme, impactful, and unprecedented weather over many regions of the North Island from Sunday to Tuesday."

On Sunday, Gabrielle was positioned north of Cape Reinga, bringing gusts up to 133km/h overnight. As of Monday afternoon it had moved south, the eye sitting north of Great Barrier Island and to the east of Whangarei.

The Far North and eastern parts of Northland have been hit heavily, with fallen trees, slips, flooding and loss of power recorded across the district. Of the approximately 46,000 properties that lost power on Monday, about half were in Northland.

East to southeasterly gale-force winds turned into southerly and southwesterlies on Monday afternoon.

The impacts were also expected to spread through to northern parts of the South Island later on Monday and Tuesday.

As of Monday 6pm, red heavy rain warnings were in place for Northland (until at least 3am Tuesday), Coromandel (6am Tuesday), Gisborne, from Tolaga Bay southwards (4am Tuesday) and Hawke's Bay (7am Tuesday).

Rain in these areas may cause dangerous river conditions and significant flooding. Authorities warn that slips and floodwaters are likely to damage roads, possibly isolating communities.

Orange rain warnings were in place for Waikato, Wairarapa, Tararua and Eastern Marlborough south of Blenheim (including Kaikōura Coast).

Red wind warnings were in place for Northland (until 9pm Tuesday), Auckland (midnight Tuesday/Wednesday), Coromandel (9am Tues) and Taranaki (6pm Tuesday). The rest of the North Island and top of the South Island had orange-level wind warnings.

People in these regions have been advised to stock up on three days' worth of supplies.

Auckland Emergency Management duty controller Rachel Kelleher warned just because some areas had not yet been hit hard, they were not necessarily out of the woods.

"Don't think that because you haven't felt it yet that it's not going to come for you," she told Checkpoint on Monday afternoon.

Cyclone winds have caused major damage to the Northpower network, much of it from trees falling through lines.

Cyclone winds have caused major damage to the Northpower network, much of it from trees falling through lines. Photo: Supplied / Northpower / Facebook

States of emergency have been declared in Northland, Auckland, Coromandel, Ōpōtiki, Whakatāne, Waikato, Hauraki District and Tairāwhiti.

Evacuations have been ordered in Whakatāne and parts of Tairāwhiti.

It was feared a high tide set for around 2am Wednesday would cause flooding in Tauranga, Bay of Plenty.

Great Barrier Island may feel the full impact of Gabrielle, which is forecast to come very close to the island early on Tuesday morning.

States of emergency have been declared in Northland, Auckland, Thames-Coromandel, Waikato, Hauraki, Bay of Plenty, Whakatāne, Ōpōtiki and Tairāwhiti.

The government on Monday announced an $11.5 million package to support NGOs and community groups.

Trains in Auckland have been cancelled until at least midday on Tuesday, with rail replacement buses running hourly in their place on the Western, Eastern and Southern lines. The Onehunga line, not in operation due to planned work, is still running its normal replacement buses.

Auckland Transport (AT) on Monday afternoon said its buses were running "largely as scheduled", but changes were possible, particularly if the Harbour Bridge is closed due to high winds. AT's website was being regularly updated with the latest.

The Harbour Bridge temporarily closed on Monday. It was open Tuesday, with reduced speed limits in place.

Ferry services were cancelled on Monday evening, with many services cancelled or replaced - where possible - with land-based replacements. Again, check AT's site for the latest.

The Interislander ferry, which connects the North and South Islands, will not run for 24 hours from 2am Tuesday.

Most schools in Northland and Auckland have closed. Non-essential services in Auckland, including libraries, community centres, early childhood education centres, and active recreation centres are all shut. Tairāwhiti Civil Defence said its schools would shut on Tuesday, and businesses were encouraged to have employees work from home, if possible.

All Auckland rubbish and recycling kerbside collections were cancelled for Monday and Tuesday.

More than 60 cell sites across Northland, Coromandel, Auckland and Waikato were down, Vodafone reported on Monday afternoon. Only slightly more than half were still operating on battery backup.

A number of emergency shelters and civil defence centres were open across Auckland on Monday - see Auckland Emergency Management's site for the locations and current status.

Northland Civil Defence said there were pre-set locations currently being put on standby across the region if required. Their locations were being advertised via radio, local council websites and its Facebook page.

Thousands of people were without power across Northland, Auckland and the Coromandel Peninsula overnight on Monday. The numbers of those affected are constantly rising. On Monday afternoon, Northpower said about a quarter of its customers were without electricity.

Businesses and residents in Auckland remain anxious of further property damage after last week's weather, which left thousands of homes damaged and the ground sodden and prone to slips.

Major routes across northern regions are expected to be closed as the storm intensifies through Monday evening and into Tuesday. Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency said the SH1 between Brynderwyn and Waipu was closed due to large slips, with detours in place. Look out for updates on the Waka Kotahi website.

Northland Regional Council's hydrology team on Monday morning said most of the rain at that point had fallen on the east coast, from Kaeo in the north to the Brynderwyns in the south. The highest totals over the 30 hours from 9pm on Saturday to 3am Monday had been near Whangarei, with 188mm recorded by the Glenbervie rain gauge, 174mm at Water Street in Whangārei, and 146mm recorded at Puhipuhi.

Local authorities are warning of higher tides than usual Monday.

Air travel is also impacted. Air New Zealand cancelled all domestic flights from or through Auckland, Hamilton, Tauranga and Taupō, until at least midday Tuesday. Some international flights were also either cancelled, or diverted to another New Zealand airport.

The storm is forecast to ease heading into Wednesday and Thursday. People in the meantime are being advised by authorities to bunker down, avoid any unnecessary travel and take other precautionary measures to stay safe.

The weather event was downgraded at the weekend to a sub-tropical low pressure system from a Category 2 cyclone, which passed over Norfolk Island on Sunday. The storm's most destructive winds did not hit the island, the Australian outpost's emergency management authority said.

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