Frustrated central Christchurch business owners prevented from entering the earthquake red zone to retrieve vital records are angered that a high profile property investor and hotelier was able to hire a crane to get car keys and clothes from his 13th floor penthouse.

John Butterfield, who is part owner of the South City Shopping Centre and has a number of other city business interests, was overseas on business during the February 22 earthquake and returned on Sunday March 13 to find his Victoria Square apartment was in the earthquake red zone and inaccessible.

So he arranged a crane and swung himself off a metal platform onto his penthouse balcony to pick up the keys to both his and wife Yvonne's Mercedes cars, clothes and personal effects.

He was then able to remove the vehicles from the apartment building carpark.

Mr Butterfield insists he went through "all the right channels" to get a crane into the heavily guarded red zone.

"There was no power on in the building so we couldn't go up the stairs," he told The Star.

A Civil Defence spokesperson said the incident would be investigated, but the organisation was unable to provide a response before next week.

High St printing company owner Joe Arts, who was detained by police last week during a protest by business owners angered at being prevented from accessing their premises, said he was "extremely pissed off" at Mr Butterfield's escapade.

"It only shows I need a bigger lawyer," he said.

"There are two classes of business people - those at the top and those at the bottom.

"It's unbelievable. We've been locked down now for five weeks. ."

Mr Arts said Civil Defence was preventing him from getting vital business records from his building, which was "100% earthquake strengthened" to the modern code.

"I can't even get into my building with my own registered engineer," he said.

Red-stickered graphics company Hot Pyjama Productions owner Wendy Riley, who also featured in the noisy protest last Monday, said she was beyond emotion.

"It doesn't surprise me. Desperate times call for desperate measures, I guess," she said.

"I think (Mr Butterfield) has been damned lucky and I just wish there were opportunities for other business people to get into their premises."

Mr Butterfield said he heard about the Christchurch earthquake while on an overseas trip.

"I stayed away because I knew I had no home to come home to."

But as soon as he returned to Christchurch he'd arranged a crane - through "friends in the business" - to hoist him to his top-floor apartment.

"I had no cars," he said.

"All the clothes I had were a shirt and cotton trousers. We came home Sunday afternoon, organised it on Sunday night and we were there at 9 o'clock in the morning."

Asked how he managed to get through the city cordon, Mr Butterfield said: "We applied and got all the right passes."

Mr Butterfield said other tenants in the building also managed to retrieve their belongings.

He said he loved his penthouse and wouldn't consider selling: "It wouldn't surprise me if we'd get back there within two years."