Thousands of people were given a terrifying early morning alarm call when the earthquake struck near Methven, 100km west of Christchurch, at 6.48am, but so far no damage or injuries have been reported.
The magnitude 6.0 earthquake is nonetheless one of the biggest tremors to strike New Zealand since 185 people were killed in the Christchurch disaster in 2011.
New Zealand natural monitoring service GeoNet classified the quake as “severe” and happening at a depth of 5km around 35km north of the town of Methven, near Arthur’s Pass. It initially classified the earthquake as magnitude 6.4 before revising it down to 6.0.
The earthquake was felt by people as far away as Waikato, around 900km away on the North Island, to Southland, on the southernmost tip of South Island. Nearly 3000 people in Christchurch reported feeling the quake.
Geonet said more than 30 aftershocks measuring up to 4.2 were experienced within four hours, and warned of more to come.
“In typical aftershock sequences we can expect the largest aftershock to be up to magnitude 5.0,” it said in a statement.
New Zealand is prone to earthquakes as it sits on the edge of the so-called Pacific ‘Ring of Fire’, where the collision of continental plates causes frequent seismic and volcanic activity. The country experiences around 20,000 tremors a year – but on average fewer than three of them are at a magnitude 6.0 or higher. Much of central Christchurch was destroyed by the 2011 earthquake, and the city is still rebuilding.