An Air NZ flight was forced to return to Auckland after being struck by lightning.

Flight NZ433 was travelling from Auckland to Wellington on Sunday afternoon when a bolt hit the aircraft, creating a flash of light.

The airline was forced to turn back and touched down at Auckland at 5.30pm.

A passenger told Fairfax the lightning strike was "something aerophobia nightmares are made of".

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The airline confirmed flight NZ433 was turned back to Auckland on Sunday as a "precautionary measure" following a lightning strike shortly after departure.

"When the lightning hit everyone screamed, the light ripped through the aircraft," the passenger told Fairfax.

Air NZ said passengers were put on later flights and the aircraft would undergo engineering checks before returning to service.