Wellington's central business district is expected to reopen tomorrow, says the city's mayor.
A magnitude 7.5 quake struck near Hanmer Springs at 12.02am this morning, and was felt around the country. It was 16km deep and has been followed by hundreds of aftershocks.
Several buildings in the centre of the capital were damaged, with broken glass littering the streets, and people had been asked to stay away due to concerns about forecast high winds.
Wellington Mayor Justin Lester congratulated residents on the way they had responded.
Mr Lester said people appeared to have heeded the call to stay out of the CBD and the city was very quiet.
Wellington City Council teams were working hard checking infrastructure in an effort to get the city up and running as soon as possible.
Mr Lester said, considering the size of the quake, the infrastructure had held up well.
"Emergency centres have been operating since early this morning morning, [but] most buildings have coped really well. A small number have had to be evacuated and some are likely to need some work but for the most part hope I hope it will be business as usual in the coming days."
Those that did venture out this morning reflected on what was being described as a massive wake-up call.
Two visitors from Chile, Daniella and Chester, said the quake was similar to what they had experienced in their homeland and there were no real dramas at their hotel.
TJ, who lived on The Terrace, said the shaking was really intense and he could see damage occurring in businesses opposite his apartment.
"Quite a few business buildings are powered up during the night and I could see stuff flying everywhere. It was really intense.
"We went down the bottom of the building and [there were] cracked walls and everyone struggling to get outside."
Apartments in the NEC building at 40 Taranaki Street were evacuated, and the quake left rubber seals hanging off the building's windows.
Statistics New Zealand's building on the waterfront could be closed for several months due to earthquake damage.
Photos show damage inside and outside the building, including windows smashed and concrete floor tiles uprooted. Statistics New Zealand said it was reviewing its release calendar and the markets have been informed.
It said teams based at New Zealand Post would also not be able to return to work this week.
Meanwhile, efforts to make Wellington's inner city safe again were expected to be made more difficult by gale force winds forecast for this evening.
The city council's operations manager for building compliance, Chris Scott, said the extreme weather warning was of concern.
"High winds and glass and broken windows don't go together too well and we expect there could be damage to some elements of buildings or broken glass to be blown out of some of those windows in high winds."
Several people were evacuated from their homes and Mr Lester said the community and evacuation centres swung into action to help them.
"Heartfelt thanks to those evacuated and those who accommodated them. People have been very responsible, resilient and they've done very well so congratulations to Wellingtonians."
Mr Lester said his sympathy also went out to those in the South Island badly affected by the quake.
Some cordons expected
Wellington City Council emergency response manager Steve Cody said some parts of Featherston Street had buildings with broken windows and they might not be able to be repaired by tomorrow.
He said the council planned to put cordons in place to stop people accessing those areas.
Meanwhile, Parliament's buildings have been fully inspected after this morning's earthquake and cleared for occupation.
Speaker of the House David Carter said Parliament would resume sitting at 2pm tomorrow as scheduled.
He said the only complication was the lifts in Bowen House needing to be checked by engineers, and he hoped that could be completed tomorrow.