Joan Dodson spent the night in a four-wheel-drive vehicle and has not been back inside her damaged home since Sunday's quake.
Mrs Dodson, and husband Rex, decided against returning to their wooden villa on Cable Station Rd, near Seddon, after the quake forced the couple, in their 70s, on to their lawn.
The couple's home is one of the closest to the epicentre of the quake in Cook Strait.
Mr and Mrs Dodson, who have worked for several international organisations in conflict areas around the world - including Syria, Israel, Bangladesh and Nigeria - said the magnitude-6.5 quake "blew the wind" out of them.
Mrs Dodson said the force of the quake had initially prevented her from leaving the villa's lounge.
"I tried to open the glass door ... and as fast as I opened the door out, it pushed me inwards."
Part of the ceiling in the couple's home, about 1.5km from the coast, had fallen in. Books and ornaments were also strewn across the living room.
Mr Dodson, a former New Zealand Army officer, spent the night in their caravan on the driveway. Mrs Dodson preferred to stay in their four-wheel-drive vehicle.
"Don't get me wrong, I'm not scared - I'm just not game. I must be getting old," she said.