New Zealand's tourist numbers continued to grow in January, with more Chinese and Australian visitors touching down in Aotearoa, suggesting the country's tourism trade was normalising before the latest Christchurch earthquake.

Visitor arrivals rose 3 per cent to 265,600 in January compared to the same month a year earlier, the highest recorded for any January month, according to Statistics New Zealand.

That was driven by a 54 per cent increase in the number of visitors from China in the month to 14,500, as well as increases from Australia, up 1.8 per cent to 97,440. British visitors sank 9.2 per cent to 34,290, continuing a decline that started in April 2007.

On an annual basis, arrivals from China hit a record high of 127,800 in the January year, with increases also recorded from Australia, Korea, Japan, Taiwan and India.

"Figures prior to the quake had been showing some encouraging signs of improvement after a challenging period following the global financial crisis," said ASB economist Jane Turner.

"Nonetheless, we expect the Rugby World Cup to provide a much needed boost to tourism later this year."

Net migration stayed positive, with 777 more people entering the country than leaving in January, but that was still down on the net gain of 2539 recorded in January last year.

On an annual basis, net migration was 8700 in the year ending January 30, well down on the 22,600 recorded in the previous 12-months, with 22,400 New Zealanders leaving for Australia, up from 16,000 in the previous year.

"Much of the increase in departures over the past year has reflected New Zealanders heading across the Tasman, attracted by Australia's stronger job market," Turner said.

"The recent earthquake is likely to add to this momentum, with fed up Cantabrians likely to find better job prospects abroad than locally.

The data showed that New Zealand residents left on 117,000 short-term trips in the month, up 10 per cent from the same month previously, the highest number of short-term departures for any January. Kiwis took more trips to Australia, India, and New Caledonia.