The exodus from quake-hit Christchurch hit a peak yesterday with thousands using the two-day break to get away from the horror around them.

Holiday spots reported big crowds with queues out the door of Hanmer Springs Thermal Pools and accommodation booked solid.

Though many quake refugees in places such as Hanmer said they were looking for a temporary haven, experts believe a good number will depart the damaged city - and maybe the country - for good. Christchurch Airport had 30,000 people a day fly out since Wednesday.

Mt Pleasant resident Barry and his wife Sue were two of those at Hanmer.

"We were fortunate to get a hotel in Hanmer Springs on Thursday night and drove out wearing the same clothes we were wearing on Tuesday morning. We weren't feeling like pleasant people when we got there."

Barry said he was surprised he didn't have to drive far from Christchurch before finding no evidence of an earthquake. "It was like transitioning into a different world."

Their Mt Pleasant home was destroyed, the roof and walls had collapsed, the chimney was leaning on an angle and concrete foundations were cracked. They had been waiting for an EQC assessor to arrive to check the damage from the September 4 quake when the bigger shake hit.

"The house went berserk and the noise was unbearable. It seemed to be rising up, down and sideways by one metre.

"We staggered out of the house ... my grandson was bleeding from under his eye. We got on the lawn with rugs from the car and huddled together while the earth leaped up and down around us." Grandchildren Henry, 4, and Ella, 8, were fine now physically. They weren't sure what was next. "We'll spend the next few days thinking where we go from here. We just have to take one day at a time and stay positive." Frayed nerves from quake victims were obvious to see, according to Andrew Miller, assistant manager of Clear Ridge Apartments at Hanmer. The pools were packed and lifeguards he had spoken to described people as being "short-fused". Locals did not take it to heart as they realised the stress people were under.

That stress is also what might force people out of the city for good.

University of Auckland head of sociology Dr Tracey McIntosh is expecting Canterbury's population to decline and people might even leave New Zealand.

"People have experienced what is known as a reality rip, where everything we are confident and secure about is suddenly ripped open and unsettled - it makes us wonder what we can count on."

She said some people would be resilient and prepared to invest back into the region but others would say "enough's enough" and decide it wasn't worth it.

"People will want to move themselves away from a sense of ongoing trauma - the visual and aural triggers which remind us of the event. Some may look at moving to other parts of New Zealand but others will want a complete break." Australia was the logical destination.

Those who had suffered only material loss would be more likely to leave than those who had lost friends or family.

Already there was evidence of the exodus. Apart from the thousands queuing at the airport, 235 Cantabrians had reported in for help at the Nelson Work and Income branch.

Timaru District Council said several hundred people from Christchurch were staying in the town, with 500 passing through its welfare centre on Friday and many placed with locals. About 1700 beds had been offered in Auckland.

Chief executive of Christchurch and Canterbury Tourism Tim Hunter said people were having to consider travelling as far south as Dunedin to get accommodation.

About 6200 emergency Civil Defence payments had been made to residents since Tuesday, totalling just over $1m. Nearly 50 evacuees had claimed their money in Wellington and 36 in Auckland.