A major Auckland shopping mall was evacuated after a man took a woman hostage at knifepoint for more than an hour, sparking lengthy police negotiations.

The woman, who is from Christchurch, had been at the shopping at Manukau Westfield with her daughter when she was grabbed in the foodcourt early this morning.

Police were called at 8.50am and successfully defused the situation, with the arrest of the man about 10am.

A photo taken by a witness shows the man, dressed in a red hoodie and baseball cap, holding a knife to the woman near Burger King inside the food court.

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A manager at one of the mall's stores told the Herald she saw the man run towards the end of the food court and grab the woman by the neck, holding the knife against her.

A security guard ran towards the manager and said: "You need to move, you need to get out."

She said another woman was yelling, "He's got a knife, he's got a knife".

People were frozen as they watched on in fear, she said.

"Everybody wanted to know what was going on."

The manager believed the altercation started about 8.30am.

Mariam Waled, a customer services representative for Westfield Manukau, said it appeared to be a random attack.

"He was holding the knife and telling the security guards to move out," Waled said.

"Then he saw the lady and put the knife to her neck."

Waled spoke to the victim's daughter and ascertained they were up from Christchurch.

It's thought the man took the woman outside with him, and security followed.

A video of the scene shows police officers trying to negotiate with the man.

He was seen waving his right arm and knife at police.

The police helicopter hovered over the mall, a witness said.

Another witness said she was about to start work at the mall when she and other staff and shoppers were told to evacuate.

The 26-year-old said the incident began about 8.40am but it "didn't really become an issue" until about 9am.

She knew something was amiss when she saw a police officer running to the corner of the foodcourt, so she also went over to get a closer look and began filming a short video.

The witness said she understood the woman was unknown to the armed man.

The woman was set free and walked out of the building about 10am.

"It looked like she was really upset, she was crying and looked really scared."

When the witness first began filming she said she thought the guy was "just another idiot".

But then as the incident dragged on and police arrived with guns, she knew it was more serious.

"Then I thought OMG I hope nothing happens."

The mall has reopened and people have returned to work.

Police issued a statement at 10am, saying the man was in custody and speaking with officers.

The woman was uninjured, they said.

"Police inquiries are ongoing into the incident and we will provide further
information when we are in a position to do so."