A shooter who opened fire on police in Morrinsville with a semi-automatic weapon was still on the loose last night, and a major manhunt was underway.

Three officers fled for their lives into surrounding paddocks as the gunman aimed his military-grade weapon at them and pulled the trigger, just after midnight on Sunday morning.

It started when a red Holden Commodore was caught speeding down Avenue Rd around midnight, Superintendent Bruce Bird, of Waikato Police, said.

When the car failed to stop a police officer gave chase for several kilometres. But when they got to rural Kuranui Rd, the car stopped. A man got out and began firing at the officer's car, riddling its windscreen with around 20 bullet holes.

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The officer fled into nearby farmland and called for back-up. When a second patrol car arrived the gunman intensified his attack, Bird said.

The two officers returned fire before running into the paddocks to escape the shooter.

The area was cordoned off and the Waikato Armed Offenders Squad soon arrived to escort the officers to safety. Incredibly, none of the three was injured, although they are being offered support.

A mother who lives on Kuranui Rd said she woke to gunshots being fired "right outside" her children's bedroom windows.

She called police who told her to grab the four children from their beds, she told Fairfax.

"I was told to stay low and if the kids' bedroom was by the road, we were to go and move them to a room with the least windows," she said.

Other locals were told to stay inside and lock their doors. Craig Burmester was woken by his wife as sirens and gunshots rang out.

"It was quite a few shots," Burmester said.

"And then I woke up and then there was an awful lot of gunshots, you know, six or 10, and you could tell there were two different guns.

"It originally sounded like fireworks or a paint shop exploding."

He saw several dark figures running through the fog; when he called police he learned they were officers running for their lives.

Police at the scene. Photo / Dean Purcell
Police at the scene. Photo / Dean Purcell

The police Eagle helicopter spent much of the night searching for the man, while AOS searched neighbouring properties. Two occupants of the car - a man and a woman - were apprehended yesterday but a third remained on the run. He's believed to be the shooter.

Around 30 police staff including AOS officers continued the search last night as the town remained on high alert. A section of Kuranui Rd was expected to remain closed this morning as a scene examination continued.

It was not clear if the gunman was injured or whether he was still armed. Police had not issued a description of him last night.

But anyone who recognised the red Holden Commodore - licence plate 1 AZIF 1 - or saw it on Saturday is asked to call police.

Superintendent Bird praised the bravery of the officers and thanked locals who had helped police.

The intensity of the attack was something he had never encountered in his 40 years as an officer.

"We just don't know the mindset of this particular offender is," he said, urging locals to stay "extremely vigilant" and "if you note anything suspicious, contact us immediately".