It was a cold dark night for hundreds of people from Canterbury to Wellington, forced to flee their homes after a strong earthquake struck just after midnight.
The 7.5 magnitude earthquake struck near Hanmer Springs at 12.02am.
The Ministry of Civil Defence and Emergency Management confirmed there had been two deaths from the earthquake.
Sarah Black and her family live in Hanmer Springs near the quake's epicentre.
She said it sounded like a steam train hitting.
"Just the noise and really violent shaking, it seemed to sort of shake one way and then another. The quake itself seemed to just go on and on really, and probably for about 20 minutes once all the aftershocks just seemed to mould into one and it just kept going and going."
Marlborough resident Bella Swarbrick said her house had a lot of internal damage.
She lives near Waiau and said there was a thump before a roll and shake after the initial quake and it was horrendous.
"Just broken everything, everywhere, just everything off the shelf. The microwave in the kitchen shot out of the shelf, the little cubby-hole it sits in and it's hanging down. The freezer shot open and all the meat shot out of there under the fridge. The food in my pantry is all just probably waist deep."
A family from Rarangi which is a small coastal community in Marlborough spent the night up a hill with most of their neighbours, afraid a tsunami was coming.
Victoria Greenwood-Loose eventually made it to the Civil Defence welfare centre at Tuamarina with her partner and their two young children.
She said their two-storey home rocked violently as they tried to make it downstairs to their five year-old son and 20 month-old daughter.
Ms Greenwood-Loose said they made the decision themselves to leave for higher ground. She said the quake began gently and then hit with a tremendous force.
"We've always been told if it goes longer than two minutes then you just get out. It was so strong that we just had to run - and we did," she said.
Miramar neighbours Nelma Pierce and Jill Cameron drove up to higher ground at the top of Maupuia Road, in Wellington.
They said the earthquakes had been horrifying.
"It was really, really scary, the place was really, really shaking, things were falling over. Then when you start getting the tsunami warning that's when it becomes real and you get quite scared. That's why we decided, listen to all the warnings and decided to evacuate up the hill here like everybody else it appears.
"Just hearing the smashing around us, we've never had that before and was pretty freaky and I thought it was never going to stop."
Many residents of the small Hawke's Bay coastal settlement of Te Awanga said they evacuated immediately after the quake because of the length and severity of the shake.
Hundreds gathered at Haumoana School after the quake struck, fearful of a tsunami.
"We are concerned about our home and everything that's there but our lives are more important," one resident said.
"I just went to the kids and said 'it's an emergency, we have to go, get a sweatshirt, grab some shoes, we have to go'."
The only family doctor for Cheviot in North Canterbury has been unable to reach the medical centre there because of damaged bridges and slips.
Anthea Prentice said her home, at Claverley, was severely damaged and emergency workers who visited today told the family not to stay there.
Dr Prentice said the quake was extremely violent and left cracks in the house and land outside.
"We just woke up and haven't been back to sleep and it's just complete chaos, every single thing upside down, tipped out, glass and crockery and paintings and furniture and there was just no way."
She said paramedics had set up a command centre at the Cheviot medical centre.
The owner of Culverden's only supermarket has a big job ahead of him cleaning up smashed bottles of red wine and other groceries thrown onto the floor by the earthquake.
The North Canterbury town is one of the closest to the epicentre of the 7.5 magnitude quake and is still without electricity.
While most buildings there only sustained minor damage, the Culverden Four Square is in a mess.
Owner Andrew Whittleston, who has only been running the business for three weeks, said he was confident he could get the store back operating.
"All going well the staff will be coming in as per usual and we'll just chip away row by row and see how we go, but I hope nobody's after red wine but apart from that, that's probably the worst I'd say. Yeah you can smell that from outside the shop, unfortunately."
Earthquake jolts tourists
A Belgian family touring New Zealand said they were not sure when they would be able to cross to the North Island, with earlier ferry sailings cancelled.
Eric Hannen said they had hoped to get on the return crossing to Wellington today, but that did not look likely.
Mr Hannen said the family had just finished touring the South Island and were in their campervan in Havelock when the quake hit, and they were not sure what it was.
A British tourist camping on the Picton foreshore said the quake felt like she was rocking on a comfortable water-bed.
Pippa Try from Birmingham was spending her first night in the South Island.
She said she knew fairly quickly it was serious when campers were evacuated, and while it was a swift response she was left wondering what to do next
"Oh yeah the campsite owners just came around and went, 'We're leaving, you should leave too', and I was like, 'Well where do I go?' and they just said head towards Blenheim and that was it really."
Ms Try, who has been in New Zealand for two weeks, spent the night on the side of the road before making her way to Tua Marina Memorial Hall and the Civil Defence emergency centre.
Anna Barrett, who was on holiday from Bangkok with her Australian husband and her daughter, was at a hotel on The Terrace in Wellington when the quake struck.
The Thai holidaymaker said she had never experienced anything like it.
"I thought that I was dreaming or something and then the bed was shaking so I woke up, I ran out and then I tried to get my daughter, I said 'Earthquake!' She said 'No, I'm sleeping, I'm sleeping.' I said 'Get up earthquake! Get out from the hotel'. Oh my gosh the building is just like swinging you know."
Ms Barrett is cutting short the family's trip, cancelling their South Island plans due to the ferries being stopped and roads damaged.
Access the biggest concern for farmers
A Central Canterbury farmer said many of his friends had lost their homes but the local community was pulling together.
Tim Anderson, a sheep and beef farmer on the Conway River said roads had holes and cracks and the railway line was buckled.
He said his chimney had come down and trees had fallen over.
Mr Anderson said there were some pregnant women in the rural community - about 45 minutes from Kaikoura, but the Rural Support Service was strong and they would be looked after.
A Hurunui dairy farmer said he would probably have to dump a couple of thousand litres of milk if the tanker could not make it to the farm because of damaged roads.
Nick Ensor milks about 600 dairy cows near Cheviot and said the earthquake upset his herd, but because he had a generator he could still milk this morning.
However, he said milk could not stay in the vat more than 24 hours.
"Fingers crossed that we can get our milk picked up, if not it will get dumped. And we can carry on on generators for probably two to three days max and then we'll run out of water so we'll just have to re-address things then. But at the moment we're just sort of focussing on the now. Probably not focussing too much on the next couple of days."
Fonterra said the number of dairy farms impacted by the earthquake was low.
A spokesperson said there wuold be some collection issues where roads were closed or access limited.
She said there were reports of 12 farms that could not milk due to rotaries jumping off their rollers in the Kaikoura and Culverden region.
Federated farmers North Canterbury president Lynda Murchison said her farm in Weka Pass had no access by road, but everyone in the area was okay.
She said they were worried about farmers further north.
"We've had no communication with anyone in the Federated Farmers network north of Cheviot so far."