Hawke's Bay can expect aftershocks for the next week after a magnitude 5.2 earthquake rocked the North Island yesterday afternoon, says a GeoNet expert.

A severe earthquake centred near Waipukurau was felt as far north as Hamilton and as far south as Marlborough, said GeoNet duty seismologist Lara Bland.

The magnitude 5.2 quake happened at 2pm yesterday, 14km southeast of Waipukurau at a depth of 40km.

Waipukurau's Leopard Hotel staff described the quake as "quick and vicious".


"It shook up our patrons. People were running outside and climbing under tables. Some stock came off the shelves in the chiller but nothing was smashed."

Countdown national communications manager Kate Porter said stock had fallen from shelves at Countdown Waipukurau "but damage was kept to a minimum".

Waipukurau New World owner Deborah Walters said there was no stock damage to report, but ceiling tiles had come loose during the quake.

"Staff and shoppers were quite shaken by it," she said.

More than 2000 people submitted the quake as "felt" to the GeoNet website, with submissions coming from as far north as Hamilton and as far south as Marlborough in the South Island.

Mrs Bland said it was "too soon to say" if the quake was a precursor for more severe earthquakes in the region and predicted "slightly increased" seismic activity over the next few days, "but it is likely it will peter out."

"The quake occurred in an area that gets clusters of earthquakes from time to time."

The earthquake was followed by more than 20 aftershocks, of varying intensities, yesterday afternoon.

Mrs Bland said the number of aftershocks was "in keeping" with the size of the initial earthquake. "A magnitude 5.2 is a significant quake and it also occurred at quite a shallow depth," she said.

"Shallower quakes often have more aftershocks, which may persist over the next few days or even a week."

Yesterday's quake was preceded by three weak earthquakes which occurred near Waipukurau on Saturday and may indicate increased seismic activity in the area.

The East Coast is an "active area" for earthquakes due to a major subduction zone offshore, where the Pacific plate was being driven under the Australian plate, Mrs Bland said.

Mrs Bland said there was "no official forecast" for more earthquakes.

"There is nothing to indicate that the quake is a precursor for something bigger, but we don't like to rule it out entirely," she said. GeoNet is the official source of geological hazard information for New Zealand.

Waipukurau fire brigade chief fire officer Gary Weaver was "shaken, not stirred," after the quake, which caused his house to jump up and down and move from side to side.

"We've had no damage reports though; it's been all quiet."

Waipukurau Police also had no reports of damage resulting from the quake.

Waipukurau School secretary Jo Baker said students had "coped well".

"The kids coped with it fine, they jumped under their desks and the principal did rounds of the classrooms straight afterwards," she said.

A total of 85 staff were evacuated from Mr Apple Waipawa packhouse as part of company procedure.

"It was a good shake. Staff evacuated the shed into the car park and there were a few white faces; people were shaken up. Some people said it was the worst shake they'd felt in years," said Mr Apple Waipawa packhouse manager Brian Edwards.

"There were aftershocks for the rest of the afternoon."

No damage was reported at the packhouse.

A Central Hawke's Bay Mail staff member based in Waipukurau said it was the worst earthquake she had felt, while another said it was as strong as some she had experienced in Christchurch.

"It was so quick I didn't have a chance to get under my desk - my heart is still pounding. It's the biggest earthquake I remember feeling in 60 years."

In Dannevirke, the first quake came as a "jolt" followed by two milder "rolling" aftershocks. "It's just given people a bit of a shock, the first one was a bit of a jolt, the second was more rolling," local reporter Christine McKay said. Yesterday's quake was one of the more severe quakes to rock the country since a 6.2 magnitude earthquake centred near the Wairarapa was felt throughout most of New Zealand on January 20 this year.