A "severe" 5.8 magnitude earthquake rattled the South Island this afternoon, leaving many people shaken but causing no reported damage.

The quake was initially reported at magnitude 6.0, but GeoNet later downgraded it to magnitude 5.8.It hit mid-afternoon 30 kilometres north-west of Wanaka, the epicenter five kilometres below the Treble Cone ski field.

GeoNet recorded the earthquake as "severe" and hundreds of people reported they felt the tremor.Otago and Southland felt the full force and it was reported as being felt as far north as Wellington.

Nick Noble, marketing manager for Treble Cone, said his and other businesses' offices in the centre of Wanaka were evacuated during the earthquake.Mr Noble said staff up the mountain reported they had felt the earthquake, but there were no obvious signs of damage to the ski field.

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New Zealand Ski general manager Craig Douglas said there was no risk of avalanche on the ski fields as it was too early in the year for sufficient snow build.

"There's virtually no snow on the ski slopes at the moment."

Meanwhile in the city, a number of bottles fell from the shelves at Wanaka New World, the resort's only supermarket.

However, staff said there was little significant damage and there were no plans to close the store.

There was similarly little damage bar a few fallen bottles at the local Four Square, but duty manager Papi Cooper said there had been some customers found it upsetting.

"We had a lot of people from Christchurch [in the shop] and they are quite shaken up."

Officials reported minimal damage over the area.

Police advised there had been a small number of broken windows and no major reported incidents, while Queenstown Lakes District Council communications manager Michelle Poole said the quake did not seem to have caused major damage in the area.

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"The important thing is there have been no reports of injury of structural damage."

Queenstown Lakes Deputy Mayor Lyall Cocks was at the golf club in Wanaka when it hit.

"Like I say, it was a rolling earthquake."

Otago Daily Times Wanaka reporter Lucy Ibbotson said the ODT building "shook a lot".

"We were panicked. The intensity seemed to build up."

The earthquake lasted about 40 seconds, she said.

People working outside heard it coming. "There was a roar from the direction of Treble Cone."

Meanwhile, it was an odd experience for Newstalk ZB's Chris Diack in Ashburton.

"I was on the phone to somebody in Gore at the same time and within about 30 seconds of us having a wobble here in Alex, we had somebody down in Gore who was sitting in a truck who was feeling exactly the same thing.

"So I can only assume that it was working its way down the country."

The quake struck 30 kilometres north-west of Wanaka. Photo / Geonet
The quake struck 30 kilometres north-west of Wanaka. Photo / Geonet

-NZME.

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