Cyclone Cook: New Zealand told to 'batten down hatches' as country braces for worst storm in years

New Zealanders are bracing themselves for what is anticipated to be one of the country's worst storms in years.

The South Pacific island's met service has warned people to "batten down the hatches" with Cyclone Cook set to hit on Thursday.

Winds of up to 150 km/h (93mph), rising sea levels of up to five metres, flooding, landslides and damage to power lines, houses and trees are all expected.

People on the North Island's Coromandel Peninsula, particularly those in low-lying areas, have been urged to evacuate to higher ground by the country's civil defence.

Air New Zealand has suspended flights from Tauranga Airport, while the military has placed 500 troops on standby.

Heavy rains had already begun falling across the country on Wednesday.

Weather experts predict downpours will continue throughout the day, while precipitation could exceed 100 millimeters (4 inches) in some places.

"Cyclone Cook's arrival in New Zealand is a very significant event due to the severity of the storm and people are advised to take extreme care," one meteorologist warned.

"People should prepare for the possibility of flooding, landslips, wind damage to powerlines, property and large trees.

"People should be prepared to change their travel plans if necessary as driving could become hazardous during the severe weather period."

Most regions in New Zealand are expected to remain with severe weather warnings in place until at least Friday.

Parts of the country are only just recovering from another extreme weather cycle which hit last week, Cyclone Debbie.

The town of Edgecumbe, in the Bay of Plenty on the North Island, was flooded when a river burst thanks to heavy rainfall.

More than 2,000 people were forced to evacuate while water flooded hundreds of homes.

Edgecumbe was flooded in Cyclone Debbie last week. Credit: AP

A met service warning on Cyclone Cook, issued on Wednesday, read: " This is an extreme weather event and people should not take this warning likely.

"Please consider securing property, moving animals to safety, and cancelling or postponing travel where possible."

It added: "Soil is already saturated after last week's rain event, so, add the rain from the Tasman Low and then the wind and rain from Cyclone Cook and you have the ingredients for large scale damage such as fallen trees, landslips and rapidly-rising rivers and streams."

Heavy rain has been ongoing in New Zealand for over a day. Credit: EBU