Bay of Plenty Civil Defence and other local emergency response staff are on standby to swing into action if needed as Cyclone Hola heads towards New Zealand.

Hola has rapidly intensified to a Category 4 storm and could reach Category 5 today, with winds up to 300km/h as it batters Vanuatu, then heads towards New Zealand.

MetService said Hola would continue moving south-southeast over the weekend and was expected to transition into an "extra-tropical" cyclone before approaching the upper-North Island late Sunday into Monday.

Two UK Met Office models showed Hola could hit the Bay of Plenty on Monday.

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MetService lead meteorologist Mark Todd said it was looking increasingly likely the storm would affect New Zealand.

Hola has been moving slowly over Vanuatu during the past 24 hours, and some houses had collapsed on Ambrym Island as the cyclone arrived, Radio New Zealand reported.

"If we are lucky it will pass just to the north of us. If we are unlucky, it could be a direct hit into the North Island," Todd said.

"By then it will become an extra-tropical system, as always happens, but if it does make a direct hit there will be heavy rain and high winds."

Niwa scientist Chris Brandolino told the Bay of Plenty Times it was far too early to speculate on whether the Bay of Plenty region, including Tauranga, would be significantly impacted.

"Yes there's a risk for significant damage if the then extra-tropical cyclone arrives early next week, but there is still a reasonable uncertainty about the exact path it will take."

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Tauranga City Council spokesman Marcel Currin said: "We're still in a monitoring phase until the MetService can provide us with more certainty about the impact for Tauranga.

"In the meantime, we're making sure that our contractors will have capacity and capability to respond for the duration if needed.

"We have standard heavy weather protocols and a crisis co-ordination team that kicks into place very swiftly in advance of these events."

Western Bay of Plenty District Council spokesman Alistair Gray said council staff were closely monitoring the storm's path and making sure they were prepared to respond.

"This usually involves staff and contractors preparing roads and utilities for the impending weather, and monitoring and responding to any issues," Gray said.

Bay of Plenty Civil Defence group controller Clinton Naude said the organisation was monitoring the situation and doing some internal planning.

- Additional reporting NZME

Advice to residents to prepare for Cyclone Hola's potential arrival

- Clear gutters and stormwater grates of any debris and secure outdoor furniture.
- Have an evacuation plan in place, including for pets – and ensure there is a supply of fresh food, water and clothes.
- Stay away from beaches and streams; avoid areas, both below and above, where there have been recent slips because the ground may still be unstable.
- Avoid travelling when possible. If driving, watch your speed and following distances.
- Keep up to date with forecasts on the MetService website.
Source: Western Bay District Council