Eager shoppers hoping to beat the Christmas rush were queuing outside Sylvia Park before the mammoth-sized mall opened this morning.

Meanwhile, it's pandemonium this afternoon at the nation's other big shopping centres, many of which were heaving with shoppers.

Scentre Group, which operates St Lukes, Albany, Newmarket, Riccarton and Manukau Westfield shopping malls, started peaking at midday.

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"We're probably operating at our maximum capacity," Paul Gardner, regional manager for Scentre Group, told the Herald.

"I think we'll be at our absolute maximum between now and the end of core business today."

All their centres would be open today until midnight, apart from Westfield Riccarton which closed at 10pm.

"You'd be surprised how busy we are between 10pm and midnight," Gardner said.

"A lot of people like to take advantage of it, it's becoming an increasingly popular time [to shop]."

In total, having hundreds of thousands of people coming through their centres wasn't out of the picture, he said.

Elsewhere, Sylvia Park manager Helen Ronald told the Herald it was too hard to calculate how many people had been through their doors.

"It's too early to calculate just yet, but it's been a busy day and we're happy with the number of customers coming through the centre," she said.

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"Sylvia Park has 220 stores, including some of New Zealand's best-loved brands and most of them are fairly busy, as you'd expect."

The centre was open until midnight tonight and every day leading up to Christmas Eve when Sylvia Park would close at 7pm.

Earlier this week, Ronald anticipated tomorrow at lunchtime would be the busiest moment of the shopping spree before Christmas.

Boxing Day sales at Sylvia Park in 2017. Photo / Jason Oxenham
Boxing Day sales at Sylvia Park in 2017. Photo / Jason Oxenham

The 71,000sq m shopping centre anticipated 1.8 million Eftpos transactions would take place over the entire Christmas period, 44,000 expected tomorrow.

"For those trying to beat the Christmas rush, the first two hours after opening and the last two hours before closing are usually the quietest times," Ronald said.

Elsewhere, record numbers of shoppers had been through Westfield shopping malls ahead of Christmas this year.

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Gardner had visited each of the ASX-listed mall operator's New Zealand centres this week and said: "It certainly feels busier than ever."

As Gardner put it, there's only one place busier than Westfield Newmarket in Auckland right now, and in the month of December, and that's Auckland Airport.

Yesterday was tipped to be the busiest day for the nation's biggest airport, followed by today and then January 3, 2020.

Air New Zealand yesterday warned the airways would be heaving, as more than 60,000 domestic passengers took flights today.

Auckland Airport had also been working late into the night to accelerate work on key roads leading to carparks and terminals to help ease traffic.

But it won't just be the airways which are busy today, the nation's motorways are also set to be chockablock.

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The worst times to travel were revealed as mid-morning to early evening in most high-traffic areas earlier this week.

To help motorists beat the traffic, NZ Transport Agency developed an interactive map highlighting the worst times, days and locations to be on the move.

Overall, the weekends are the worst times to travel but any day had heavy congestion out of New Zealand's main centres - primarily Wellington.

Predicted peak times were subjected to change based on the number of traffic incidents, weather and driver behaviour.

To stay up to date with the latest updates, NZTA said commuters could check their "Journey Planner" for accurate information about road and traffic conditions.

"To help alleviate these problems we recommend planning your travel well in advance and travelling outside the busiest periods," they said.

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"[Journey Planner is] a great tool to help people plan their trips with real-time travel information, traffic cameras, and updates on delays, roadworks and road closures."

Traffic out of Auckland city inching along to the south on the Southern Motorway. Photo / File
Traffic out of Auckland city inching along to the south on the Southern Motorway. Photo / File

Elsewhere, beaches are expected to take a hammering this weekend as the weather picks up.

Auckland can expect a top of 21C today as southerly winds keep temperatures "modest" across the country, including a high of just 16C in Wellington.

But this should then give way to a spectacular Sunday, MetService meteorologist Angus Hines said.

"Lots of sunshine, not much wind to speak of, just magnifique weather."

The fine weather should carry through to Christmas Day for most of the country.

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But there is a warning for boaties to keep an eye on big swells coming up from the south.

People in and around the water over summer were also warned to know their limits by Water Safety NZ chief executive Jonty Mills.

Santa (Ian McAlpine) and Glenys Grant, pictured on Mt Taranaki. Photo / Supplied
Santa (Ian McAlpine) and Glenys Grant, pictured on Mt Taranaki. Photo / Supplied

The safety advocate's plea came after it was revealed 74 elderly people had died in preventable drowning incidents since 2014.

As of December 17, there had been 12 people aged over 65 who had drowned.

"In the last four years, the over 65s have really increased quite dramatically," Mills told the Herald.

"There are two reasons people drown: predominantly, they don't have the skills to get themselves out of trouble, but in most cases people make bad decisions."

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Earlier this month, Water Safety NZ rolled out new technology which the organisation hoped would help prevent "dumb drowning".

An artificial intelligence bot had more than 40 years of water safety data banked into its system to help it predict when the next drowning would take place.

The bot also used weather forecasts, tides, and where people could buy alcohol near the water to predict the "drowniest" days.

Mills hoped the data and insights provided by the bot would allow WSNZ to more accurately target water safety messages to New Zealanders.

Preventable drowning incidents were worst across Northland, Auckland, Bay of Plenty and Waikato, so an eagle-eye would be kept on those regions.

People in and around the water throughout summer should know their limits before getting in, Mills said.

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"For us it's about knowing your own limits, having knowledge and awareness and making good decisions around the water," Mills said.

"We're not the fun police and want everyone to enjoy the water in every way, shape or form, it's part of our culture, our DNA.

"We want people to [have fun] - we just want them to come home safely. Stop and think about it - if in doubt, don't go in."