A tornado touched down in a Northland boat yard leaving a trail of destruction toppling boats and tossing a dinghy in the air where it was left dangling in the mast of a yacht.

It was just 12 seconds but it that time the swirling column of wind blasted through the Norsand Boatyard on Fraser St, in Whangārei, about 6pm on Friday.

Boats in cradles in the yard were blown over and other left twisted in the cradles. A dinghy was left high and dry on the mast of a yacht.

Murray Wilkinson, owner of Norsand boat yard which hauls, repairs and paints boats, said he was thankful no one was injured as normally at that time there are plenty of people moving about on the site.

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"It was 12 seconds and it came down and hit the yard, did a bit of a swirl and then out. It was like a big vacuum cleaner," Wilkinson said.

"If there had been a person in its path they wouldn't have survived."

Since the tornado touched down Wilkinson and his staff have spent the weekend checking the safety of boats at the yard and cordoned off a section where it was deemed unsafe due to the precarious position of some vessels.

This week two cranes will be used to right the boats that were knocked over and reposition others that were left twisted in their cradles.

"There's a dinghy hanging in the spreaders of a yacht and we don't know where it has come from but it shows the height the stuff was during the blast," Wilkinson said.

A dinghy was tossed into the air by a tornado and became stuck on the mast of a yacht at Norsand boat yard in Whangārei. Photo / Norsand
A dinghy was tossed into the air by a tornado and became stuck on the mast of a yacht at Norsand boat yard in Whangārei. Photo / Norsand

There could be up to 117 boats in the yard and 5 or 6 were knocked over, with about four of them damaged as a result.

"It could have been a lot worse and we are very thankful no one was hurt."

Mangroves which bordered the yard and slipway were torn out as well.

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Wilkinson had just made it home on Friday when a staff member living in the yard rang and alerted him to the destruction.

"He was in his boat when it hit and the boat started to shake violently. He knew it was something serious but didn't really know if it was an earthquake or what until he had a look outside."

Wilkinson said what had given the team a lift at the yard was the numerous messages from former boaties who had previously had work completed there offering their support and best wishes.

The same weather system had moved through Oakura Bay, 50km north of Whangārei, saw a water spout develop off the coast and then move towards land, then ripped up the valley knocking over trees in its path.

Oakura Bay Store owner Travis O'Malley said a pine tree had blocked the road to the coastal settlement when the tornado went through between 3pm and 4pm on Friday.

But locals with chainsaw made quick work of cutting up the tree and removing it in about 15 minutes.

Oakura Bay locals make quick work of clearing a tree that blocked the road after a tornado ripped through the valley. Photo / Oakura Bay Store
Oakura Bay locals make quick work of clearing a tree that blocked the road after a tornado ripped through the valley. Photo / Oakura Bay Store

O'Malley said another tree had fallen on an old kauri house but fortunately it had not been damaged and there were no reports of roofs blowing off.

"It came from the east and rattled through the back section here then roared up the valley," he said.

About the same time, a tornado in Mangawhai lifted roofs and caused other damage.
Builder Samuel Garratt said he saw at least two roofs being blown off buildings, around 4pm while other Mangawhai residents reported seeing street signs and debris flying.

The freak weather event lasted only a few minutes with the first calls to residential properties on Cove and Bagnal Rds.

The MetService was forecasting showers today which could turn into periods of rain as a front moves across the region. Along with that, there could be thunderstorms and a possibility of some small tornadoes.

Meteorologist Mmathapelo Makgabutlane said from Tuesday the wet weather continued for the rest of the week.

Met Service records showed that from midday Friday to 2pm yesterday 37mm of rain fell in Whangārei, 13mm in Dargaville, 7mm in Kerikeri and 9.1mm at Kaitaia Airport.

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