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Families of those who died in last month's Christchurch earthquake have begun arriving at Hagley Park for today's memorial service.

Thousands of residents are expected to turn out for the national memorial service to honour the people who died when the magnitude-6.3 earthquake hit on February 22.

So far 166 have been confirmed to have died in the quake, but the number is expected to rise to 182.

Early arrivals for quake service

People began arriving for today's ceremony from 9am as the fog that was engulfing parts of the city this morning slowly lifted to reveal bright sunshine.

New Zealanders will also be turning their thoughts to Christchurch today, with events taking place in Auckland, Wellington, Hamilton and Dunedin.

Four hundred seats were laid out for family members of people killed in the quake in front of the main stage, which is adorned with flowers. A pile of broken bricks and rubble sits in front of the stage.

Large screens have been set up around the park and a line of New Zealand flags have been erected on each side of the stage.

Family members, each carrying a yellow rose, began to take their seats from 10am.

ChristChurch Cathedral's Dean Peter Beck was circulating amongst the crowd, shaking hands and expressing his condolences.

There have been some criticism of the timing of the service, with some saying it was happening too soon as the final death toll had not been confirmed and not all the bodies officially identified.

Christchurch residents Peter Burke and his wife, Diane Burke, were amongst those who turned up early for the service, and said it was particularly important for them because one of their close friends was badly hurt in the quake.

"We just decided to come down to remember those that died on February the 22nd and also a friend of ours is critically injured," Mr Burke said.

"It acts like a healing process, so we can move on."

Mr Burke said he did not think the service was too early.

"Some people have said its too early, its too late, but there's never a good time to have it, but I think its pretty important for everyone to get together."

Lyn Meadows, from the suburb of Halswell, said the city had "bottled up" its grief and the service gave it a chance to grieve.

"I think it brings people together and I think sometimes you bottle up your grief but at a service like this you can just weep," Ms Meadows said.

"It just means we are honouring and respecting those ones that lost their lives in the earthquake," she said.

Another resident, Luke Herbert, said he did not think the service was too early and was glad he got arrived at the park early to be in a good position.

"It's a tough one but you do have to move on at some stage," Mr Herbert said

"It's a chance to grieve and move on and remember, a bit like Anzac Day."

Christchurch Mayor Bob Parker said this week the service was an opportunity for all in the city to stand together and grieve.