Panic hit after residents' phones received the Civil Defence Alert to evacuate around 8.30am yesterday.
While the evacuation warnings were for Matata to Tolaga Bay in the area, people from around Tauranga flocked away from the seaside.
Queues had begun to form at the Tara and Domain Roads roundabout heading on to State Highway 2 around 10.30am.
These cars were heading either to Pāpāmoa Hills Regional Park or continuing further inland.
A woman who spoke on the condition of anonymity said on her way to the hills, she saw a group from a preschool, pushing a cot and carrying children to higher ground.
As she got to the overpass, she saw more children and babies with their teachers, being picked up by their families.
A full operation had been set up at the entrance of the hills.
The main carpark had been blocked off by road cones, with several people in high-visibility vests directing people where to park in the worksite area usually out-of-bounds for the public.
This was an unofficial operation, made up of workers who were instructed by their bosses to evacuate and head towards Pāpāmoa Hills.
One of those people was Levi Toleafoa, who admitted he found the whole situation nerve-racking, having never experienced anything like it.
But that didn't stop him and others from helping to keep a sense of order as vehicles streamed in.
"Some workers from the other sites have decided to take it on themselves to start directing traffic," he said yesterday morning.
"Whatever workers were around with high-vis, just asked [them] to come and monitor and help out."
The space in the official parking for the regional park was being opened up for elderly people, he said, to get them as close to the base of the hill as possible.
Vehicles streamed in and parked up quickly on the gravel, with different levels of preparedness apparent as some slung bags over their shoulders, while others began walking toward the hill in jandals.
Couple Lindis McMurray and Joe Noon had a boot packed with everything they needed, but it was by accident.
They had a gift box of treats, clothing, and toiletries as they were ready to head to Hawke's Bay to celebrate McMurray's 30th birthday this weekend.
They were in Bayfair when they got the alert - which put them in a "panic" and they immediately evacuated and headed to the hills.
McMurray said they were fortunate they had their boot packed for the trip.
Another couple well prepared were Alessandro Lacchini and Adreanne Weiczorek, who had emergency packs made up when they moved here three years ago, including their passports, clothes, water and a laptop.
Another family had a different idea on essentials for the hills, carrying up two McDonalds bags and two trays of drinks.
Like the level of preparedness, the way panic was being handled ranged from groups laughing and strolling to those who were snapping at each other or quiet, and tense.
However, there was a notable difference in the level of tension to those on the path heading up to the hills compared to the carparks - more people were chatting and smiling, and shoulders seemed more relaxed.
Babies, children in their uniforms, families, elderly, dogs, and even a cat on a leash made up the hundreds who headed into the regional park.
People were scattered at various levels of the track, with the most popular spot being at the first gate.
About 200 people were sat there around midday in perfect view of the ocean stretch from Mauao to Maketū.
Pāpāmoa East resident Barbara Lynn was perched on the hillside after heading straight there, taking just a sip of her morning coffee after the alert.
She went out to ask her neighbour what they should do.
"Get out of here," he said to Lynn, and she did just that and was met with "queues and queues of cars" heading out of Pāpāmoa.
The peak of the track had a smaller crowd, with about 10 small groups scattered.
Mount Maunganui's main street was completely different as people strolled along the strip, having a drink and a lunch in the sun.
Some stores were closed with a notice on the front about the tsunami, but the majority remained open.
Marine Pde was similar, with a few small cafes and an icecream shop shut, while the restaurant was open.
The beach was empty and no one was in the water but people were walking along the boardwalk or watching the sea from the beach edge.
Trinity Mohi was lying on the grass beside the beach and said while he was worried when he woke up, but this was diffused with the information from the Government and Civil Defence.
He kept an eye on the official information and said he would do what he needed to.