A popular beach was blasted by rain and blustery winds yesterday, causing some campers to cut short their holidays and leave, while others waited inside for the sun to return.

Mt Maunganui endured a day of strong northerlies gusting to 50km/h. The beach, packed with 3000 people the day before, was empty in the morning except for a lone kite-surfer, who flew 10m in the air off messy waves.

Holed up in a tent at a campsite by the beach, mother of three Tougheeda Hartley said her family had endured a restless night.

"Oh, awful. The tent was flapping. I thought the gazebo was going to blow away. I woke up four or five times," Ms Hartley said.

It had been the first night of their holiday, and it already made them miss the comforts of home, she said.

Her friend and fellow camper, Shawneez, said an awning on her tent had broken in the wind.

"My husband said, 'If the weather goes on like this tomorrow, we're going home.' But we won't get our money back so we have to stay. We spent the whole year planning and saving for this holiday."

Campers woke up in the middle of the night to hear other tents being unzipped around them to check for damage.

Chris Boyce, 15, said he had been "soaked" overnight after "half a cup" of rain flooded his pop-up tent.

"The water was dripping on my face."

Three families checked out of the holiday park ahead of schedule after the rough night. One had a baby frightened by the storm.

Most campers, however, were in caravans with satellite television or other luxuries, and they said they were happy to sit tight for a day.

Richard Lee had come home from Britain for a six-week holiday. Even the lousy day at Mt Maunganui was brilliant compared with Heathrow airport, he said. "We got out of the snow, so this is fantastic."

Head lifeguard James Roy said the beach was open for swimming and the usual rules applied, but he knew early on it would be a "real quiet" day.

With the beach an unappealing prospect, many families headed for hot pools within the campground, where a queue stretched out the door.

Sienna Williams, 4, was teary-eyed as she stood in the windy carpark.

Nearby, Abigail Smith, 6, took to her colouring book in a caravan with her grandparents.

Meanwhile, Karl Humphreys called his 17-year-old nephew Aaron Halliuell, from Darwin, a "princess" for not wanting to get in the grey, choppy sea. As a result, most of the family ended up in the water that afternoon, the only swimmers on the beach.

Wes Langelier, who has been camping at Mt Maunganui for about 10 days, said yesterday had been a windy day, but it was better than last week.

"That was a miserable first experience."