Traffic chaos is beginning on Auckland's Southern Motorway as residents begin to escape the big smoke for Christmas.

Traffic is backed up heading south on the Southern Motorway and and Southwestern Motorway around the interchange at Manukau.

Traffic is heavy from the interchange through to Karaka.

The New Zealand Transport Agency has urged holidaymakers to plan ahead and drive safely in an attempt to reduce traffic madness.

And, with a fine day expected for most of the country, today is the perfect time to hit the road and head to the beach.

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NZTA's nationwide map of holiday hotspots and times to avoid travelling showed traffic on Auckland's Southern Motorway, heading out of the city, is set to be at its heaviest between 11am and 6pm. Northbound traffic is also set to be bad from 11am to 4.30pm.

Those travelling north on State Highway 1 should leave before midday, when the traffic between Puhoi and Wellsford is expected to become heavy.

Commuters reported cars crawling to get onto the Auckland Harbour Bridge yesterday. Photo / File
Commuters reported cars crawling to get onto the Auckland Harbour Bridge yesterday. Photo / File

The State Highway 2 Maramarua Interchange with State Highway 1 is also expected to be busy from 9.30am.

The annual Christmas rush kicked off yesterday afternoon with gridlock traffic heading out of Auckland and Wellington, made worse by a number of crashes.

A person was taken to Auckland Hospital with serious injuries after a car hit a tree on Whangaparoa Rd in Red Beach, Auckland. Crashes on the Northern and Southern Motorways, both heading towards Auckland CBD, also caused disruptions to traffic.

Traffic on the Central Motorway Junction was also heavy southbound due to minor incidents along with the onset of holiday traffic.

Commuters reported cars crawling to get onto the Auckland Harbour Bridge yesterday.

Traffic was also heavy around some of the key malls, including Sylvia Park in Mt Wellington, as people did their last-minute Christmas shopping.

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Meanwhile, those heading out of the capital on the Kapiti Expressway faced delays of up to 30 minutes. Commuters should expect more delays in the area for most of today.

Waikato Police urged people to be more careful on the road over the silly season following three fatal crashes in the region this month.

Senior Sergeant Pete van de Wetering said early indications were that the deaths could have been avoided.

"We are doing our best but the public, the people driving cars and trucks and riding motorcycles, have to be on board with us," he said.

"Whether it's speed, impatience, fatigue, distractions, alcohol or poor vehicle conditions, when things do go wrong because of bad choices, we go to clean up the mess and worst of all, tell a relative.

"It's up to you to decide to drive well, to stop for rests, to not use your cellphone, to be patient."

For a full list of holiday hotspots click here.