Newstalk ZB listeners share their stories of the night.
Ron in Sydenham, Christchurch described the shaking as "like being on a ship".
"It was a very massive earthquake.
"Everything that's hanging is continually shaking like we're on the harbour, on the lake."
Newstalk ZB host Chris Lynch, who lives on the top floor of an apartment complex in central Christchurch, said the quake was like nothing he'd ever experienced.
"In terms of the motion of the quake... You felt off balance no matter what you tried to do or where you tried to escape.
"The sheer rolling motions.. I really thought it wasn't going to end."
Lynch said the motions of the quake made it particularly frightening.
"You get used to aftershocks, you just swear and laugh at them then go about your daily life.
"This one was frightening in fact it wasn't shaking just going up or down, it was all over the show like you were the tennis ball in the juggler's arm."
Beryl in Christchurch said the quake was very strong.
"It was unusual. It was rolling rather than going up and down.
"It was quite unnerving. I couldn't work out what's going on.
"I'm an old lady and I don't like it."
Wellington ZB reporter Felix Marwick was woken up by the quake.
"It started as a gentle shake and got progressively stronger then there was sharp rock and roll stuff in the middle.
"It was running for 30 to 40 seconds, knocking things off shelves."
Phil in Motueka said it was the worst shake he'd felt in 40 years.
"It went on and on and on. It was quite violent."
June in Martinborough in the Wairarapa said she felt shaking then rolling.
"I live in a 90-year-old house. I've got a lot of things hanging up like wind chimes. They were swaying back and forth by at least a foot.
"I was crouched with the dogs under the door. I felt seasick."
Max, who lives on the eleventh floor of an Auckland apartment building, felt his bed moving just after midnight.
The vertical blinds in his apartment were gently swinging to and fro.
Margaret in Hamilton said it was the first quake she'd ever felt.
"The house was shaking, the lights were flashing, my jewellery on the wall was moving back and forth."
Karin in Kapiti Coast was sitting on the couch with her two dogs watching a horror film when the quake struck.
"It was in three phases. At first, it was little and I wondered if it was an earthquake or not.
"Then it was, yes it is, oh heck, what am I going to do now. Then it was really heavy."
Bill in Lower Hutt felt the earthquake for about 45 seconds. His wooden house had no damage.
Val in Palmerston North said it seemed like it went on forever.
"It was rolling. I live in a two storey house. I freaked out."
Mary in Cambridge woke up to the ceiling fan in her bedroom rocking while Sue in Invercargill also felt things moving.