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Key Points:

Police in Whangarei have taken possession of an air rifle which a woman brandished at police moments before she was fatally shot today.

Acting District Commander Inspector Chris Scahill said he didn't know if the gun was loaded when pointed at police, or what calibre it was.

Inspector Scahill said police shot dead the female hostage-taker after she pointed the firearm at officers. He said the shot was taken by a member of the Armed Offenders from around 50 metres away.

The woman, whom One News described as a P addict, had entered a Vodafone shop and held staff inside as hostages.

Inspector Scahill said several staff managed to escape but one man remained trapped inside.

He said the agitated woman exited the mobile phone shop twice, the second time pointing an air rifle at a policeman. It was then that she was fatally shot.

"Police recovered an air rifle from the scene. It will have to be fully examined by the police armourer and our forensic team," Inspector Scahill said.

Inspector Scahill says the woman has been identified and police are in the process of notifying her family, with the body to remain at the scene overnight.

Police Association President Greg O'Connor has arrived in Whangarei, saying he "wants to make sure his guys are looked after".

Mr O'Connor says many people like having a crack at the police.

He wants people to remember they are very dedicated and professional individuals who are often in situations where they have to make decisions quickly.

He hopes people do not jump to conclusions about the situation, saying there are always commentators who think they know best.

Northland Chamber of Commerce CEO Jeff Smith says police took the right action to potentially save the lives of shoppers, workers and motorists in the area.

He says it is tragic that a member of the police had to make a very quick decision and now has to live with the consequences of that action.

Earlier, police spokeswoman Sarah Kennett said the shop's owner alerted police and the Armed Offenders Squad (AOS) was called out.

The woman was seen walking in and out of the shop before pointing a firearm at police and being shot.

Ms Kennett said despite officers' attempts to resuscitate her, the woman died at the scene.

She said the Officer in Charge of Professional Standards had been notified.

NZPA reported that the woman may have known a person in the Vodafone store.

Witness reports

Nearby shop owner Colin Trobst told Newstalk ZB he heard people clambering across his roof before a shot was fired.

He later looked out his window to see AOS members performing CPR on someone - but apparently without success.

"I can see what looks like the feet or the lower legs of somebody lying on their back with what looks like blood on her sneakers," Mr Trobst said.

"So it looks like something rather tragic's happened."

Witness Michelle West, 19, told NZPA a shot was fired as the woman opened the door of the shop about 10am.

"I assume she saw the armed offenders guy across the road who was leaning on a car bonnet with his rifle," Ms West said.

"Then she just got shot. She had a gun. It didn't look like a rifle, more like a shotgun."

Ms West said she and her colleagues in the paint shop had earlier been told by police to stay back.

"They told us to get back away from the window. We were all standing at the window. They told us to get back from the window and get to the back of the store."

Ms West said the woman came out of the shop about an hour after the drama began and was "pretty nuts" just before she was shot.

Ms West said an hour after the shooting the body was still lying on the ground.

She said an ambulance arrived but left without taking the woman.

Police cordons

Cafe owner Glenn Lambert said he was having a coffee across the road from the mobile shop when they saw staff running out of the shop and police arriving.

"Saw her come out of the doors just momentarily with the gun in her hand, just obviously to see where the police were, and then she went back inside," Mr Lambert said.

"After that essentially we were evacuated out of here... and about 20 minutes after that I heard the gunshot."

Nearby shops were evacuated and the area cordoned off.

A business owner on Reyburn St earlier told "The road is blocked off at least 500m either side of the store.

"Police warned people to get inside and shut the doors."

He said that at least 20 police cars and two ambulances were outside the store.

Police are undertaking an examination of the scene.