Reports have been rolling in from around the country after a strong earthquake this morning rattled windows, toppled artworks and sent pets scampering for cover.

The magnitude 5.8 magnitude quake struck 37km, 30km northwest of Levin, at 7.52am.

It was categorised as "strong" and almost 37,000 people reported to Geonet that they felt shaking.

Despite its epicentre being offshore there is no tsunami risk, Civil Defence says, and the fire service has not had any callouts.

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Upper Hutt's Prue Rodgers told the Herald her three Birman cats had run and hid before the first two strong jolts hit.

"Very quickly after there was what seemed like a long shake with rattling, items in my house moving," she said.

"Must have been 30 seconds, felt like bloody longer though!"

Gordon Brown ducked for the door frame in case the quake proved severe, while Hawera's Jodi-Anne Munden said her bed shook "for ages". New Plymouth's Alexandria Norgate felt the shaking very strongly, calling it "one effective alarm clock!".

Wellingtonian Mike Cagney had just pulled up to an intersection near the Wellington railway station when he thought "Why the hell is my car rocking?"

He initially thought there was something wrong with his car or it was being buffeted by wind.

"It was jumping quite strongly and it was like holy cow - it was only later I realised it was an earthquake," he said.

Cate, who felt the shake in Petone, said it was the strongest she had felt in her six years living in Wellington, while Sumitra Sarkar, in Wellington's Crofton Downs, called the shaking "long and strong".

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John Frizelle felt the shaking across the Cook Strait in Richmond's Redwood Valley, while Christine Couchman in Feilding saw her double glazed windows rattling.

In Kāpiti, the quake was felt strongly. Rosalie Willis said "pictures fell off my walls" and said the shaking lasted about 10 seconds - with "a rumbling" continuing for a lot longer.

A ceramic
A ceramic "Aroha" fell from a wall during the shaking in Kapiti. Photo / Rosalie Willis

Jaimee Simpson, manager of The Mothered Goose in Bulls, said usually they do not feel earthquakes inside the cafe but as she was putting muffins in the oven she got a huge fright.

"I'm absolutely petrified of them and I was in here on my own so I had a bit of a meltdown." Everyone was safe and there was no damage, she said.

On the other side of the globe, Bettyann Feasey was in a Zoom call with her in-laws from Levin when she saw the earthquake on screen.

"It was such a frightening thing to witness," she said, adding she hoped everyone in New Zealand was safe.

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Politicians on shaky ground in capital

Jacinda Ardern was live on television this morning when the earthquake struck. Most MPs don't return to Wellington until tomorrow morning but the Prime Minister was in the Beehive.

"We're just having a bit of an earthquake here," said the Prime Minister to Newshub host Ryan Bridge as the screen began to shake.

"Quite a decent shake here," she continued as the Covid-themed backdrops quivered behind her.

National MP Amy Adams was in a meeting at Parliament when it started to shake - causing all five people in the room to get under the table.

"We sort of all looked at each other and then everyone was getting under the table."

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She did not expect it to last as long as it did - about 30 seconds, she guessed.

"It was a decent length and it certainly rolled around."

No one was hurt, she said, and nothing in the room had fallen.

Asked whether new National Party leader Todd Muller was in the meeting at the time, she said no.

Adams said being from Christchurch, she had experienced and lived through "thousands" of earthquakes and dubbed that one "pretty strong".

Nothing compared to Christchurch

But the owner of a beachside Four Square in the town closest to the quake said it was nothing compared to the Christchurch earthquake.

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Frank Tylor, who has owned the popular Waitarere Beach Four Square for more than 20 years, was on holiday in Christchurch when the big one hit in 2011.

He still remembers stepping outside to see a big concrete wave during the Christchurch earthquake, so the Levin quake was a little rattle in comparison.

"I lost a bottle of mayonnaise off the shelf. That's about it," he said. "It wasn't a problem."

The earthquake struck as a group of more than 20 school children were waiting outside the convenience store for the school bus to take them to either college and primary school.

"They wait inside the shop when it's cold," he said. As it was raining, all the schoolchildren were inside the store at the time. While there was no doubt there was an earthquake, he said they were all fairly subdued and just waited for the shaking to stop.

"No one was screaming, put it that way," he said.

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A number of aftershocks have occurred in the area as well.

All are being categorised as "weak" earthquakes on the GeoNet website. The latest reported a 3.7 magnitude quake 30km northwest of Levin at a depth of 31km.

No reports of damage - yet

Fire and Emergency NZ said it had not received any quake-related calls. A police spokesperson said no reports of major damage had been received, but officers were making inquiries around the lower North Island to assess any damage to property.

Metlink has suspended train services, with limited bus replacements along the Hutt Valley and Kāpiti Line. Commuters are advised to use alternative transport.

Meanwhile council staff and emergency services around the North Island are checking for damage.

Horowhenua mayor Bernie Wanden said there was none to report of significance thus far.

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"In most situations it's been business as usual already which is great to hear."

Kāpiti Mayor K Gurunathan said there had been no initial reports of damage in the Kāpiti Coast, but they had just started checking facilities.

He was also relieved to hear Levin had no reports of significant damage, and hoped it stayed that way. It served as a timely reminder there were other hazards to be aware of than the pandemic.

Whanganui District Council mayor Hamish McDouall said quake was "very jittery" but he had heard of no reports of damage so far in the district.

He was impressed that his children automatically went under the breakfast table.

"It's a good reminder that we live on fairly seismic active land and we just have to make sure we have enough water for three or four days and the things that can fall over are tied back."

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Rangitikei mayor Andy Watson said he hadn't received any damage reports "as yet" but was expecting them.

"It was enough of a roll to cause some damage. Let's wait and see.

"When it struck, I thought 'uh oh, I hope this isn't Christchurch', because that would have been huge."

Wellington councillor Fleur Fitzsimons was on the phone to mayor Andy Foster -coincidentally talking about earthquake strengthening - when the quake hit.

"We were talking about quake strengthening to do with the Wellington central library - we're deciding this week - when I said: 'Andy! I think there's an earthquake'!"

"He said: 'I can't feel it, I'm driving'." Fitzsimons described the event as "quite full on".

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"They're usually short and sharp. But this was a long rattle. It lasted a decent 20 seconds. The doors were shaking and the kids were yelling out: 'What's that noise'?"