As Whangarei woman Jude Thompson felt two big jolts in her home, her goddaughter in Tokomaru Bay was getting the family together and heading for the hills following a magnitude 7.1 earthquake.

The earthquake struck about 125km northeast of the East Cape settlement of Te Araroa, at a depth of 22km at 4.37am yesterday and could be felt from Northland to Wellington.

Kauri woman Jude Thompson was home alone and in bed awake when she felt two strong jolts of her bed like "someone was pushing it".

"My first thought was 'I thought I put the dog outside' because we have quite a big dog so I had a look and nope it wasn't the dog. My second thought was that it was an intruder and then I came to it and started thinking clearly," she said.

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Ms Thompson, a Civil Defence controller, soon realised it must have been an earthquake and her suspicions were confirmed when she looked on Facebook.

A tsunami warning was issued following the earthquake but was cancelled about 8.30am yesterday. Northlanders were being urged to watch for strong tides and currents and to treat the ocean with caution.

Ms Thompson said it was "ironic" as she had participated in Exercise Tangaroa on Wednesday - an exercise which tests New Zealand's preparations for, response to, and recovery from a national tsunami impact.

"It is unbelievably ironic but being a local controller it's great to be able to check the systems and processes we have in place," she said.

Ms Thompson was not the only Northlander to feel the shake in the region. Others in Kamo, Kaipara, Ruakaka and Tamaterau reported experiencing it.

Meanwhile, in Tokomaru Bay, about 91km north of Gisborne, Bridget Crossley - a former Whangarei woman and Ms Thompson's goddaughter - was at home with her partner and 21-year-old son when she was awoken by the shake.

"You know in movies when there is an earthquake it is sudden jolts? This was more swaying. I could hear the fish tank and the water tipping out," Ms Crossley said.

Ms Crossley said the only thing that fell was a heavy mirror. She said the quake felt like it lasted 10 minutes but it was probably only 30 seconds. "We got up, got dressed, got the dog and the cat and headed about 3km to the top of the hills. It was so scary and you feel very vulnerable."

When the Advocate spoke to Ms Crossley she home again and said they had packed the car in case of an emergency evacuation.