Five years since the first quake shook Christchurch to its core, Dave Searle still has regular flashbacks to the night he was shaken awake as their belongings crashed to the floor.

It was 4.35am on September 4, 2010. Mr Searle and his wife Lynne were asleep in their Christchurch home when the 7.1 jolt hit.

"It was very, very violent ... You sort of froze because it was so violent. You didn't really know what to do because the house was moving around," he recalled from their Katikati home on Friday, on the five-year anniversary.

The couple relocated to Katikati in March, 2011, one month after a second major earthquake killed 185 people and destroyed much of Christchurch.

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"It's an experience I don't ever want to have again," he said.

"The February one was 10 times worse."

On February 22, 2011 at 12.51pm, Mr Searle had just returned to work from his lunch break and was tending to a cricket ground.

"All you could see was the trees moving side to side. Not swaying, moving side to side. They say the ground moved a metre.

"The force of that one was enough to bowl you over. You couldn't stay upright."

The Searles were lucky their house held together and they were able to sell it to a woman and her children needing a new home.

Moving had been on their minds before the earthquakes.

"You could say we got shook into action," Mr Searle said.

Lynne Searle could remember the crashing sounds of that first night, five years ago.

"Everything was thrown off the shelves. There wasn't much you could do. I think we just huddled on the bed and wondered what was going on."

But nothing could prepare them for February.

"I was doing the dishes. It was just after lunchtime.

"Everything flew out of the sink, all of the water flew on to the floor."

The five years felt like a lifetime ago, she said, now happily settled in their Katikati home.

"When you go back and see how people are still living and things that still need doing."