Five years on from the first massive tremor which sparked a devastating two-year earthquake sequence, Canterbury's $40 billion recovery is going "pretty well", the Prime Minister says.

At 4.35am on September 4, 2010 the landscape of Christchurch and its surrounding areas changed forever.

The terrifying magnitude 7.1 earthquake, centred at Darfield, was the first of thousands of shakes and aftershocks.

The devastating 2010 Christchurch earthquake. Photo / Geoff Sloan
The devastating 2010 Christchurch earthquake. Photo / Geoff Sloan

It was followed by the big Boxing Day quake and the deadly February 22, 2011 jolt which claimed 185 lives.

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The Garden City's central business district was flattened.

Its eastern suburbs were wiped out.

Large swathes of land in suburbs like Bexley, Dallington, and Avonside have since had to be cleared of cracked and damaged houses.

They are now fenced off and natural grasses are slowly springing up.

Inner-city glass offices are rising again amid boarded-up, battered buildings and multiple makeshift parking lots.

While Prime Minister John Key today acknowledged the many frustrated homeowners still battling bureaucracy, red tape and insurers, he claimed that five years on the region is recovering well.

"Actually I think we are making a lot of progress," he said.

"You look around the world at countries or cities which have had such significant events, we're doing pretty well.

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"That is, of course, cold comfort for people who don't have all the answers or resolution to the issues they face, but it's not for the want of trying."

The Government has vowed to pour $16.5 billion into the rebuild.

As Mr Key opened a new city centre hotel today, he said the money and work going into the rebuild will "pay real dividends".

"As somebody who regularly visits here I can see the progress that is being made, but I can also understand their frustrations and we are genuinely doing all we can," he said.

"A lot of Cantabrians I meet do feel the momentum that's happening, they do feel a lot more confident.

"Yes, there are some unresolved issues but those as every day goes past reduce and are resolved."

Cantabrians have been invited to mark the five year anniversary at a sunrise ceremony at New Brighton beach from 6.10am tomorrow.

A short ceremony near the library will be held ending with a shared watching of the sunrise at approximately 6.50am.

"This is the time, on the dawn of the fifth anniversary of the earthquake, to gather together as a community to reflect on our city's journey," Mayor Lianne Dalziel said.

"It is a chance to remember what we have been through since September 2010 and, as the sun rises, to look ahead to what the future may hold."

Other community remembrance events are being held across Canterbury over the next few days.