An American woman flying to Wellington has described the moment her flight was "whisked away" from landing at the capital's airport following the Taumarunui earthquake.

Air New Zealand flight 6140 from Christchurch arrived into the capital 29 minutes late at 3.44pm after the aircraft initially wasn't cleared for landing.

Amy Gonzales told the Herald the plane was making its descent into Wellington when she felt the jets fire up again.

"We were whisked away, back up in the air to circle around until we were cleared for landing," she said.


"The head flight attendant came on and said something along the lines that we have to make another approach.

"Then, less than 10 minutes later the captain came on and said, 'there's been a major earthquake and we haven't been cleared to land'."

The quake struck magnitude 6.2 with the epicentre around 25km southwest of Taumarunui in the central North Island, at a depth of 207km.

Gonzales, originally from San Diego, said most people remained calm on the flight, despite only being told New Zealand had been hit by a "major earthquake".

"I'll admit, I cried thinking my parents are hearing about this 'major earthquake' in New Zealand and we didn't know how bad it was or wasn't," she said.

"And from circling around, we couldn't tell if the city was in shambles until we got closer.

"Two women seated in the aisle across from me held hands and looked upset. Guess this is par for New Zealand but not for a visiting tourist."

A spokesperson for Air New Zealand told the Herald a small number of flights were temporarily delayed from landing in Wellington as a result.


"A small number of flights were required to circle while the Wellington Airport runway was checked following the earthquake," they said.

"This delayed their arrival into Wellington and there may be some minor delays across our domestic network this afternoon as a consequence."

Gonzales said the flight circled three or four times before the plane was finally cleared to land at Wellington Airport.

"My one complaint would be that the captain gave no other information, like how far away the earthquake was. Or if there was ground damage," she said.

"Without the internet, we couldn't look for ourselves. Maybe he didn't know, but we were completely unaware up there."