A severe tropical cyclone battering the Pacific Islands with winds of up to 225km/hr is likely to bring strong winds and heavy rain to New Zealand.

Cyclone Vania damaged buildings and brought down trees in Vanuatu's Port Villa yesterday and is expected to cause further damage when it hits New Caledonia today.

Islands off the coast of the country are on high alert and residents are preparing to be buffeted in the nation's capital Noumea.

Weatherwatch.co.nz head weather analyst Philip Duncan says the storm has grown from Category 1 to a Category 3 strength and is now generating sustained winds of 120km/hr and gusts of up to 225km/hr,

Two reliable computer models are showing it is set to strike New Zealand on Tuesday next week, causing possible flooding and wind damage, he says.

"We've seen what can happen with these storms before. There are very few places in New Zealand that would have sustained winds at that speed.

"It's likely to just be heavy rain and strong winds. But the potential is definitely there for a stronger storm."

Mr Duncan says the cyclone is likely to intensify to Category 4 level after it hits New Caledonia, then start to die down as it heads toward New Zealand.

The worst case scenario would it making a "direct hit" on the north of the country, causing damage to Northland, the Bay of Plenty, Coromandel and the East Cape, he says.

He is comparing to Cyclone Drena, which caused widespread damage to buildings and infrastructure on the Coromandel in 1997.

"It's following quite a similar path to Drena and the future track by most models appears to point at Vania moving down our western coastline before crossing over the North Island, just like Drena. If this happens it will mean more rain for those dry regions".

MetService weather ambassador Bob McDavitt says the cyclone is likely to bring wind and rain to New Zealand between Tuesday and Thursday.

He is urging holidaymakers to be cautious as they head away.

"People planning outdoor activities or travel around the North Island are advised at this stage that they may need to take this into account and should check weather updates regularly next week."

Cruise liner battles heavy seas

More than 1000 New Zealanders aboard new Auckland-based cruise liner Pacific Pearl were caught in strong winds and heavy seas caused by Cyclone Vania.

P&O Cruises spokesman David Jones says passengers experienced the adverse weather near Vanuatu.

Those conditions died down significantly as they approached their current berth at Port Villa, he says.

"The ship is doing well. I want to reassure - our message is that all is well with our ships."

The Pacific Pearl has a capacity of 1900 passengers and most on board are New Zealanders, Mr Jones says.

Three other P&O cruise liners are also in the area affected by the cyclone.

The Pacific Sun is docked at Luganville in Vanuatu after experiencing heavy seas, the Pacific Jewel is on its way to Champagne Bay the Pacific Dawn is on its way back to Australia.

All four P&O Cruises ships are now out of danger, says Mr Jones.

"Our ships were well away from the worst of the weather and they're now out of the cylone's path.