A tornado-like waterspout has ripped through central Auckland's waterfront, toppling at least one shipping container and wreaking havoc on yachts, ships and cars.

Vehicles were swept into the ocean and a yacht was struck by lightning as the storm left a trail of destruction on Monday night.

A shipping container toppled on to a car at Jellicoe Wharf near Tinley St, trapping the driver. They were tended to by emergency services and taken to hospital in a moderate condition.

Several yachts at Westhaven Marina lost their moorings and a catamaran was overturned in the turmoil.

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The moment a transformer in downtown Auckland was hit by a tornado during last night's storm. Photo / Larryn Rae @shadowandshadenz
The moment a transformer in downtown Auckland was hit by a tornado during last night's storm. Photo / Larryn Rae @shadowandshadenz

Coastguard duty officer Hemi Manaena said the winds had caused "significant damage" to a large number of recreactional vessels at Westhaven.

The Sealink Ferry also lost its mooring at Wynyard Quarter and needed to be retrieved.

"We'd like to reiterate that there's a large amount of debris in the harbour," said Manaena.

"Mariners should remain vigilant when navigating the area, especially around the Princes/ Hobson Wharf area - a shipping container has fallen into the water there."

Furniture was knocked over after high winds blasted through Wynyard Quarter restaurants tonight. Photo / Sam Sword
Furniture was knocked over after high winds blasted through Wynyard Quarter restaurants tonight. Photo / Sam Sword
A capsized boat is seen in the harbour after the fierce storm passed through downtown Auckland. Photo / Hayden Woodward
A capsized boat is seen in the harbour after the fierce storm passed through downtown Auckland. Photo / Hayden Woodward

There were reports of other containers floating in the harbour and a car had also gone into the water near the entrance to the Viaduct. Other cars were being retrieved by a tow truck.

Photo / Sam Sword
Photo / Sam Sword

Tornado 'sucking up all the plants'

Road cleaner Fine Kaufusi, 40, was on the graveyard shift when it started to rain heavily late last night.

"It was around 10 o'clock. I was in my buggy on the other side. I was about to start my work when it started to rain, so I waited.

Auckland Council road cleaner Fine Kaufusi, 40, was working late last night when he and his co-workers saw the tornado. Photo / Vaimoana Tapaleao
Auckland Council road cleaner Fine Kaufusi, 40, was working late last night when he and his co-workers saw the tornado. Photo / Vaimoana Tapaleao

"All of a sudden I saw like a light and then a tornado - it was sucking all the plants and branches into it.

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"Lucky I didn't come over here with my buggy because that would've been me sucked up."

Kaufusi, of Otara, said after the tornado had passed, he and his co-workers came out to survey the damage.

"There were branches everywhere and the [construction] fences were down.

"My mate came with the compactor and just cleaned it all up.

"I'm still cleaning - still some leaves left," he laughed.

'Too scared to open door'

A witness described seeing a tornado rip through lower Queen St and said she was too scared to open her door. Other reports suggested it was a waterspout.

St John said it attended an incident on Quay St - with two ambulances and a Jeep there.

Officers were also at the Jellicoe Wharf incident.

Thunderstorms rolled across the city on Monday night, bringing torrential rain and high winds.

Sheet lightning repeatedly lit up the Auckland sky, accompanied by claps of thunder.

High winds had ripped through Auckland's waterfront with witnesses saying it looked like a tornado.

"I was honestly too scared to open up the door because everything was just flying around," said an NZME employee, who lives on the Viaduct.

"Roofing is flying around and there are a lot of ambulances out there."

The storm ripped through the Wynyard Quarter. Photo / Leo Kao
The storm ripped through the Wynyard Quarter. Photo / Leo Kao

The witness, who was at Princess Wharf, said it looked like everyone was being evacuated.

She said there were a lot of emergency vehicles at the scene and she understood several people had been injured.

One ambulance and two ambulance Jeeps were on site. There were also four fire trucks further along the wharf.

Debris thrown into the water by the storm. Photo / Leo Kao
Debris thrown into the water by the storm. Photo / Leo Kao

Nearby resident Emily Cordwell described seeing a huge flash of lightning strike a yacht near Auckland's Harbour Bridge.

This portacabin was thrown into the harbour by the force of the storm. Photo / Hayden Woodward
This portacabin was thrown into the harbour by the force of the storm. Photo / Hayden Woodward

"As soon as it hit we just saw all these emergency services go rushing towards it. I was crazy, I've never seen anything like it."

She also watched as the storm ripped across Auckland Harbour Bridge.

"We filmed the storm from our flat on Nelson St. Suddenly it went dark and disappeared and sounded like a freight train coming through."

Henderson resident Andy Robinson in West Auckland said his property was pelted by large hailstones.

"The windows were ricocheting so hard it was like rocks being thrown. I can't see any broken panes [amazed] but cracks can form a day or so later.

Hail the size of golf balls pelted a West Auckland man's house tonight. Photo / Supplied
Hail the size of golf balls pelted a West Auckland man's house tonight. Photo / Supplied

"A lot larger than pea-sized, the largest were approximately golf ball sized. Certainly the largest hailstones I can remember seeing."

MetService severe weather forecaster Allister Gorman said there were all the ingredients for a tornado in Auckland.

"It could be severe gusts from the thunderstorm which happens when it collapses and all the air rushing out, it can be strong enough to blow containers over.

"There definitely was some strong winds recorded around Auckland's harbour bridge at the time.

"Temperatures dropped two or three degrees in a short time which is always a good indicator but we can't confirm it was a tornado at this stage."

Earlier the MetService issued a severe thunderstorm watch for Taranaki to Northland until midnight tonight.

Damage after the storm to the roof of The Cloud events centre on Queens Wharf. Photo / Jason Oxenham
Damage after the storm to the roof of The Cloud events centre on Queens Wharf. Photo / Jason Oxenham

It followed a wild 24 hours of weather, which saw the roofs of homes blown off in St Heliers, a house hit by lightning in West Auckland, The Cloud on Auckland's waterfront ripped to shreds and a tornado rip through properties in Taranaki.

Focus: Fierce winds and heavy rain leave Auckland’s Cloud in tatters. Video / Jason Oxenham

A woman suffered a broken collar bone when the twister threw her against a wall and another woman's caravan was tipped on its side by the ferocious winds.

Roofs were ripped from St Heliers Homes overnight after severe weather affected the region.