Four people are dead and four are fighting for their lives, including a 10-month-old baby, after a horrific crash north of Taupo this afternoon.
Sergeant Fane Troy at the scene confirmed the fatalities.
The head-on smash involved two people-mover type vehicles.
The crash, described by a witness as the most serious he's seen in 20 years, happened at the intersection of State Highway 1 and Tutukau Rd around 3.15pm, and has blocked both lanes on SH1.
This crash will bring the road toll to 13 deaths in four days after a horror weekend for motorists.
This brings the road toll to 296 for 2017, up 44 on the same time last year.
At least three people were trapped with critical injuries, police said. Four rescue helicopters were dispatched.
Waikato Hospital has three patients from the accident. The 10-month-old baby is critical with multiple injuries, a 42-year-old man is critical but stable with multiple injuries and a 32-year-old woman is serious but stable with chest and abdominal injuries.
A police spokeswoman confirmed two girls, aged 2 and 3, are in Rotorua Hospital with minor injuries.
They were admitted with three women from the same crash. A 66-year-old and 17-year-old are in a critical conditon and a 41-year-old has minor-moderate injuries.
All are expected to remain in Rotorua Hospital overnight.
Other patients were transported via road ambulance.
Both vehicles are irreparable with the fronts completely smashed in and windscreens shattered. Luggage is strewn around the scene, including a child's small pink backpack.
The road is wet in patches around the crash scene.
The crash occurred on a stretch of road between two bushy areas.
St John media spokeswoman Victoria Hawkins described the crash as a "major incident that needs investigating".
Local reporter Laurilee McMichael, who was at the scene, said there was a heavy presence of police, fire and ambulance staff.
"I was told it was a two car head-on at the end of a passing lane. It's the full nine yards."
A local truck driver was told by police that the crash "was the worst thing they've seen in 20 years".
The truck driver, who did not want to be named, was allowed to drive past the crash scene to continue his journey. He said it looked like "a total mess" and the vehicles were covered up. He said police had told him a baby was airlifted to hospital.
He said the vehicles involved were a people mover and a five-seater van.
Police national road policing manager Steve Greally was saddened to hear of the four who had lost their lives and the injured who "are not out of the woods yet". But he was simultaneously frustrated with the mounting numbers of people dying on the roads.
"It's a very, very terrible time for them, their families and friends.
"Families are the most important thing we have in life. To have them so unfairly taken away from us, to be robbed of them by something so preventable, is just gutting."
He said most crashes came down to the drivers' decisions with speed, alcohol and not wearing a seat belt being the key factors in most fatal crashes. Speed could be attributed to 30 per cent of fatal crashes. An increased population and cheaper petrol meant more people were on the roads which was also affecting numbers.
New Zealand had a shameful road toll and scored near the bottom of the OECD in road safety, Greally said.
Some speed limits were too high for the road and road control authorities were looking at lowering them, he said. While there were some long-term solutions in motion, like better highways, Greally urged drivers to take their future into their own hands.
"At the end of the day you're the adult you're the one that has got to make a decision about how you drive. It's a cop-out to say it's the police or Government's fault in some way.
"We know that speed and an impediment from alcohol, drugs and fatigue and lack of seat belt are the absolute killers on our roads.
"No appointment you're traveling to is worth breakneck speed. We want people to pay attention it's bloody serious business and it's just heartbreaking."
Taupo mayor David Trewavas had been liaising with police over the "bloody tragic" crash. He was told the crash victims were New Zealanders.
"This is very sad ... Not only for the victims but the emergency services, the firsts on the scene and everything. It trickles down we'll be monitoring closely those affected."
Trewavas said a fatality had occurred in a similar spot a few years ago and that area of road was known for being a high-crash zone. He urged motorists to be more careful.
"It's a terrible feeling. We think what can we do? How can we help? How can we improve things? We keep trying to improve things.
"Taupo is always going to be here. People have just got to be so careful because we are a major connective point."
Jeff, from nearby business Commando Paintball, said he was told by an emergency service staff member that two people mover vans had collided.
The crash has blocked both lanes and motorists are asked to avoid the area if possible.
Senior Sergeant Nicky Cooney said their utmost priority was to find and notify the loved ones of the deceased. She said they were still working to establish the identities of those involved.
She believed three of the four people in the smaller vehicle had died and one person had died out of eight passengers in the people mover.
Police were investigating at the scene and looking at the vehicles, environmental factors plus weather and road conditions.
Cooney wanted to reinforce safe-driving messages to other motorists.
"Drive to the weather conditions, reduce your speed. It's the school holidays so we always expect people to travel longer journeys. But take frequent breaks and don't underestimate driver fatigue, change drivers or pull over and have a rest.
"This crash is serious and emergency services are likely to be at the scene for some time," a police statement said this afternoon.
The Hamilton-based Waikato Westpac Rescue Helicopter, the Tauranga-based Trustpower TECT Rescue Helicopter, the Rotorua-based BayTrust Rescue Helicopter and the Taupo-based Greenlea Rescue Helicopter were all dispatched.
The road was closed for hours but reopened around 9.15pm.