An Air NZ flight leaving Auckland tonight for Papeete, on Tahiti, has been turned around after being struck by lightning.

Flight NZ42 left Auckland Airport at 6.10pm tonight as a thunderstorm coming in west from the Tasman Sea was bearing down on Auckland.

Air NZ confirmed flight NZ42 has "returned to Auckland this evening after encountering lightning".

"The aircraft will be inspected by engineers," a Air NZ statement said.

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"Lightning strikes are not uncommon. Aircraft are designed with this in mind and our pilots train for this scenario."

"Customers will be accommodated on alternative services."

It is understood the plane landed at Auckland Airport around 8.30pm.

A passenger on board NZ42 took a picture of the plane's travel trajectory on their seat monitor, showing the flight journeyed well past the east coast of New Zealand before turning back.

Passengers also reported on social media that the plane was dumping fuel on its way back to Auckland Airport.

"Pilot was calm and professional handling the situation," one passenger tweeted.

A large thunderstorm was hitting West Auckland around 7pm tonight, with many residents experiencing a heavy battering of hail.

MetService reported that the west of New Zealand has been hit with 13,000 lightening strikes over the last 48 hours.

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