It came in the dead of night. With no warning and, say some who did happen to be awake, very little noise.
The 7.1 magnitude earthquake at 2.27am shook thousands of more New Zealanders awake, a jolt that lasted what seemed, for many, like a minute. There were several aftershocks.
"It's the biggest one I've ever felt. It went on and on and on. I'm in the old stone house and I didn't know where to stand because it's all rock," Chatham Islands resident Helen Bint told Newstalk ZB's Bruce Russell.
"I've never felt one so big - it must be massive across New Zealand. It died down and then went on and on again."
She called in later to say a neighbouring farmer was coming to get her; but in the meantime he was checking on his boat. "I'm talking to my son in Nelson. It's not the earthquake I'm worried about now, it's a tsunami."
Janice in Napier told ZB: "I'm still shaking. I was lying in bed... and the next minute, the quake comes in and it lasted for ages. The biggest one I've felt. This was one jolt and it kept going. I eventually got up and sat under the doorway, oh my god."
Gisborne Mayor Rehette Stoltz said it was a big shake.
"Everyone was awake, our Civil Defence teams got into action immediately to make sure everyone was safe and sound."
She said she's incredibly proud of the locals who acted fast.
"Gisborne people, Tairāwhiti people, when there's an earthquake and it is long or strong, they self-evacuate. Because you cannot wait for locally-created earthquakes, you need to self-evacuate."
"She was a beauty, it really shook. I'm quite frightened, I've got no idea if there's going to be a tsunami, it was massive," Rex from Gisborne said, adding he had not heard any warning alarms after the shake. "It's the biggest I've felt in a long, long time and I'm 80."
Harry from New Plymouth told ZB "it was a jolt".
"I felt it as clear as if it was happening underneath me."
Casey said she was a bit "shooked" up.
"I was sitting on the toilet, thinking 'that shift's me' going back and forth 'cause I'm due to have my baby on Monday. Then I realised it ain't me, 'cause the door's moving!"
Anne in Tauranga was surprised to feel the earthquake.
"I thought a house on a concrete floor base wouldn't shake."
Neville from Havelock North said he could feel it coming, and then it got loud.
"I was down in the sitting room, sitting in my chair, and all of sudden, I could feel the rolling coming. My cat shot outside, and then it hit."
In the South Island, Ian from Greymouth said there was a delayed reaction.
"The earthquake here lasted for about fifteen seconds only, enough to create a bit of noise, but we felt it at 2.31."
Harry in New Plymouth told Russell: "That was a bit of a doozy. I felt it as clear as if it was happening underneath. It woke me up... I have the map in front of me, she certainly was a jolt. To be that far away and it still got to us. If you are near the water folks, get away."
A post on the News Whakatane page said: "There is currently an exodus from Ōhope as people make their way to higher ground. Traffic is heavy on the Ōhope Hill toward Whakatāne."
Te Araroa chief fire officer Dick Cook was at the tip of the East Cape - the earthquake was centred about 100km off the coast.
"At the moment, the whole township is being evacuated and now we're just going up to higher ground and waiting for Civil Defence to get in touch with us."
Emergency officials later lifted the marine and beach warnings, and residents could return home.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern was also up early reporting on the quake via her social media pages.
"Hope everyone is ok out there - especially on the East Coast who would have felt the full force of that earthquake."
She included a map showing how many people had reported feeling the quake up and down the country.
'Scared the bejusus out of us'
Those replying to the PM's post reported feeling it strongly in Hawke's Bay, Gisborne, Whakatāne and Wellington.
Binny Huriwai said the shake had "scared the bejesus out of us".
"Here in Te Araroa (at the moment). That's one way to wake us up," she wrote.
"Some of our whānau in the township have headed to higher ground."
Nicole Mccarthy described a frightening early morning in their household. "Was definitely scary here in Whakatāne - waiting to see if we need to move to higher ground."
Nikki Rehutai said: "Bit scary. Just waiting on an update for tsunami threat. People going to higher ground here in Tauranga."
Another person reported feeling it at Middlemore Hospital, in South Auckland.