A tremor in the dead of night set nerves on edge after a powerful jolt struck the middle of the country almost a year after the deadly Kaikoura earthquake.

The 4.8 magnitude quake, which was felt widely across central New Zealand, hit Cook Strait, 30km west of Wellington, at 11.58pm.

Geonet said the moderate strength quake was 36km deep.

It was described variously as starting with a rumble before a quick and sharp jolt while regions closest to the epicentre experienced a noisy, long spell of violent shaking.

Advertisement

More than 11,000 people in both islands reported feeling the tremor with many in the Wellington and Marlborough fearing they were about to relive last year's catastrophic 7.8 magnitude quake that rocked the regions 364 days ago.

"Felt that in Alicetown. Almost the one year anniversary....I was definitely hoping it would not get any bigger for sure," Karen Campbell said.

Many said the quake had set their nerves on edge as they quickly took evasive action.

Nichola Oakenfull wrote: "Felt like it was going to be huge! So scary."

"Had my family heading to the door to get out in Raumati South - kapiti," wrote Rowena Kirkwood.

"Felt like that one had more to go.... made us move to the kids rooms," posted Peta Brodie.

A Fire and Emergency spokesman said there were reports of damage.