An experienced photographer has died in a "freak accident" after being hit by a car at a rally race near Hanmer Springs.

Police were called just after 5pm to Hanmer Forest, north of Christchurch. St John Ambulance was called nearly an hour later.

The driver of the car was uninjured, police said, and the Serious Crash Unit would investigate.

MotorSport New Zealand chief executive Brian Budd said the photographer was experienced and attended most events in the area.

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"All I know at this point is that a competitor's car left the road on a special stage [a stage in which the road was closed for the competition] and has collected a photographer."

Budd said he understood the photographer was set up a distance away from the spectator area.

Photographers on the course don't have a designated area to set up, but must be accredited by MotorSport NZ and are given instructions on where it is safe to be while taking photos.

Budd believed the photographer killed was in a safe place on the course.

"Unfortunately the car went off the road and managed to reach where he was standing - [that] is my understanding.

"Events run to strict safety plans. This is just a freak accident ... that's my initial thought at this point."

Budd said the police were investigating the incident, the race organisers were preparing a report, and MotorSport NZ would conduct its own investigation.

John Donaldson, chief of the Hanmer Springs Volunteer Fire and Emergency Brigade, did not attend the crash, but said he understood it occurred at Burma Ford in Hanmer forest.

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He said it was a place where the rally cars spectacularly splashed through a creek - "straight onto it, straight off" - at high speed.

Donaldson said a rescue helicopter from Nelson attended the incident.

The Royce Watson Memorial Hanmer Rally was taking place in the forest.

The event was in memorial of Kelvin Royce Watson, 54, who died on May 11, 2013, when the car he was driving in an amateur rally in Hanmer Forest hit a tree.

Coroner Richard McElrea urged Motorsport NZ to rethink design of rally courses after Watson's death.

Watson was taking part in involved a "flying finish" -- in which vehicles crossed the finish line at the highest speed possible in order to record an optimum time.

As Watson crossed the line, he lost control of his car which hit the tree on the driver's door side.

In January a speedway photographer was struck by an out of control stockcar and spent almost six months in hospital after the incident nearly took his life.

John Sprague was critically injured in the January 13 incident at Auckland's Waikaraka Park.

He suffered life-threatening injuries and the speedway community rallied around his family after the accident.