Thousands of properties are experiencing power outages as strong wind hit parts of the North Island on Saturday afternoon.

More than 2300 properties in Tauranga, New Plymouth and Manawatū-Whanganui are without power. In Hamilton, 600 properties are without power, 580 in the Eastern Bay of Plenty and dozens in west and northern Auckland.

Across the country, firefighters responded to 20 calls on Saturday afternoon, with high winds bringing down powerlines and trees in Waikato and Bay of Plenty, as well as Auckland.

Strong wind watches were issued for Taumarunui, Taupō, Hawke’s Bay, Taihape, Whanganui, Manawatū and Taranaki.

“Westerly winds may approach severe gale in exposed places,” MetService said.

Severe wind gusts earlier caused traffic to back up on the Auckland Harbour Bridge.

Gusts reached 96 kilometres an hour at the peak and base of the bridge, MetService said by late afternoon Saturday.

The high winds in Auckland were expected to continue throughout Saturday afternoon and evening before easing overnight, going into Sunday morning.

Some ferry services were cancelled. Further south, Wellingtonians experienced squally thunderstorms and hail on Saturday afternoon.

High number of lightning strikes recorded

On Saturday morning, more than 1000 lightning strikes were recorded in two hours, sparking two fires on the West Coast.

MetService said between 5.30am and 7.30am, it observed 1300 lightning strikes over the country.

Most were recorded on the South Island’s West Coast and over the Tasman Sea, a spokesperson said.

Firefighters put out two separate fires in Greymouth that began due to the lightning strikes.

Crews were called to a report of smoke coming from a property shortly before 6am.

The two crews were then called to a commercial building in the town centre, where another lightning strike had ignited a fire.

There were no injuries and both fires have since been put out.

MetService meteorologist Dan Corrigan said by 8am on Saturday the stormy front had since moved beyond the Grey District.

“We’ve had an active band of storms work its way northwards up the West Coast, it’s just coming around upper Buller so around Kahurangi National Park is where it is at the moment.”

He said Tasman, coastal Canterbury and Otago and Kāpiti Coast to Raglan could also see thunderstorms on Saturday.