Mark Fletcher was driving a 50-tonne truck towards Wellington when he found himself struggling to keep it in a straight line.
"I couldn't control the truck, it was all over both lanes."
The Taupo man was driving the 23m truck along the Himatangi Straight near Foxton about midnight yesterday.
He said his first thought was that something had gone wrong with the truck and wondered what the heck was going on.
Mr Fletcher said the earthquake "started like a wave".
The scene when he arrived in Wellington was "unreal" with the wharf area hit hard.
"It's that badly damaged we won't get on [the ferries] for at least two or three days."
He had planned to cross to Picton and travel to Queenstown but said he was now looking at unloading and heading back to Auckland.
Some areas had dropped several feet and rail tracks were "bent like bananas", he said.
"The rail lines have popped out and bent and twisted. There is a lot of damage to the buildings."
Mr Fletcher said there was smashed glass everywhere from buildings in Wellington's CBD, as aftershocks continued.
He said there was "definitely an eerie feeling" in the city.
In Rotorua many residents reported feeling the 7.5-magnitude earthquake, which hit near Hanmer Springs leaving two people dead.
A beach and marine tsunami threat was issued by the Ministry of Civil Defence for the Bay of Plenty, which was lifted later in the morning.
But group controller Clinton Naude said people in coastal areas should continue to exercise caution.
"The seas will remain unsettled for sometime yet so at this stage we are still recommending people stay out of the water and off the beaches," Mr Naude said.
The Rotorua Lakes Council strategy and partnerships group manager, Jean-Paul Gaston, said that as a result of the earthquake, infrastructure inspections had been carried out through the day with further checks still to be done.
"The inspections include buildings such as the Soundshell and Rotorua International Stadium as well as parks, reserves, roads and footpaths."
Mr Gaston said the council had not fielded any calls from the public about earthquake damage.
"However, we would appreciate it if anyone who notices any earthquake damage calls us on (07) 348 4199."
A local resident contacted Rotorua Daily Post about damaged footpaths that had been cordoned off today.
Council transport and waste solution director, Stavros Michael, said an engineer had inspected it but could not be sure if the damaged footpath along Edmund Rd was caused by the earthquake.
"We will keep all these areas cordoned off until they are fixed," he said.
Rotorua resident Jasmine Adams said the quake left her shaking.
"The house was swaying, it felt like walking on a boat. In our lounge the lights were swinging slowly, the doors were moving and we could hear the house creaking. I hit record on the camera and you can see the lights swinging more and more.
"My husband and I both get the Geonet alerts so stayed up until 3am watching the country and felt at least one to two more here in Rotorua that swayed the lights a bit."
In Wellington, local netballer Sam Sinclair's parents were evacuated from a CBD hotel.
Rotorua's Justine and Jamie Sinclair were visiting daughter Courtney, 23, who is in her final year at Victoria University.
"We had not long gone to bed and then it started. I wondered what on earth was going on. It just went on and on ... everything was flopping around in the building. It was certainly the longest earthquake I have ever felt.
"We had to be evacuated because some of the pipes were cracked. The fire brigade had to come and everything," Mrs Sinclair said.
"We had a terrified call from Courtney as she was alone in her flat. She had jumped out of bed and made sure to stand in a door frame."
But there was good news for the family this morning when Sinclair was named in the Silver Ferns squad for the first time.
"Because of everything that happened we completely forgot that Sam's selection was today. It was such brilliant news to have after the earthquake."
Former Rotorua man Zak Raphael, who now lives in Wellington, said he was woken when knick knacks on his window sill fell on his head.
A book shelf was destroyed and the mirror fell off his dresser but didn't break.
"I was asleep and I have letters that spell my name above where I sleep and they fell on my head and I heard my flatmate scream."
He and his flatmates went outside with their two dogs and were evacuated to a nearby hill.
"We saw a flash in the sky and thought it must have been a transformer as the power went out.
"Then there were the aftershocks, they weren't too bad. I was quite scared when it first happened, it was quite abrupt. I didn't get much sleep last night."
Mr Raphael was back in his house a few hours later but there was no power. He said he couldn't go to work as all residents were being warned to stay out of the CBD.
- Additional reporting Rebecca Malcolm, Ruth Dacey and Kelly Makiha.
People in coastal areas should:
- Stay out of the water (sea, rivers and estuaries, including boating activities)
- Stay off beaches and shore areas
- Do not go sightseeing
- Share this information with family, neighbours and friends
- Further updates will be provided on Bay of Plenty Civil Defence Emergency Management's Facebook page www.facebook.com/BOPCivilDefence and website www.bopcivildefence.govt.nz .