Frenchman Luca Zappula worried a tsunami was on its way when Sunday's big quake hit - instead debris from cliffs surrounding the Wairau Bar near Blenheim put on a slow-moving slip for him.
The 20-year-old had been building a fire with friends at the coastal spot, which is an archeological site famous for dating Maori habitation to 1300AD, when the magnitude 6.5 quake hit shortly after 5pm on Sunday.
Mr Zappula, on a working holiday, feared the worst. "The earthquake started shaking and I was looking out to the ocean watching for a tsunami. I see a lot of dust and the hill start to collapse into the water and then I start taking the pictures. It was crazy.
"What I was thinking was 'You're so small compared to nature. If she's really angry we can do nothing.'
"I've been saying 'I love you' to all the people I really do - I didn't before."
The White Bluffs, also known as the Vernon and Te Parinui o Whiti which border the bar near Blenheim, were falling away. He said he was so stunned he couldn't say how long the slip lasted.
The earthquake hadn't changed any of Mr Zappula's plans to stay in the country for another six months. He has some building experience and is heading to Christchurch to help in the rebuild if he can. "I will be pleased to help people in Christchurch."
Paul Leedon, the property manager of The Vernon, a station which runs along the bluffs, was unavailable to comment last night. GNS scientists have visited in the past couple of years to study faultlines in the area.