It struck at 9.07pm (7.07pm AEST), and was centred 30km north-east of French Pass at the top of the South Island, at a depth of 51km, GNS Science said.
More than 44,000 people reported feeling the quake – residents from across New Zealand, including Christchurch, Motueka, Wairarapa, Raglan, New Plymouth and South Auckland.
About 44 people about the country rated the shaking as extreme, including reports from Auckland and Christchurch.
Wellington man Andrew Chen said his Air New Zealand flight from Auckland to Wellington was unable to land safely shortly after the quake.
“The captain said they would have to check the runway for damage before we could land,” Chen said.
After about half an hour of circling Wellington Airport the plane was forced to land in Christchurch when fuel ran low.
Chen said the flight was refuelled and departed for Wellington after 30 minutes in Christchurch.
“We could’ve made it to Sydney in the time it took to get to Wellington, but I understand that they can’t compromise on safety,” Chen said.
Wellington Airport confirmed one flight was affected.
John Robins in Levin said his house creaked with “moderate slowish shaking”, while John Emanuel from Richmond near Nelson described the quake as a “sharp, single jolt”.
Alison Tuck in Waikato said she mistook a “gentle rolling motion” for a dizzy spell and was glad to find she wasn’t imagining things when she read about the quake on Stuff.
David Whyte in Wellington said he was surprised to find that his wife in another room did not feel what he described as a “sharp, sideways east to west slide”.
“The cat did not move either. That is odd to me as this quake was fast and sharp. I can hardly believe she did not feel that quake,” Whyte said.
One resident in Foxton Beach said they felt a “very strong” shake, “rolling for a long time”.
Alison Armstrong, of Nelson, said the “long, strong” quake gave her quite a fright.
“It’s been a while since the Kaikōura, Seddon quakes. So [it was] quite a wake-up call,” she said.
Philippa Smith was in a Wellington hospital recovering from a joint replacement when the quake shook her room.
“I couldn’t ‘drop, cover and hold’ being attached to drips and bags,” she said.
Smith said she felt “shaken” by the event but was confident she was safe and “in a good place in hospital”.
GNS Science seismologist John Ristau said many factors could influence how a quake was felt around the country.
Ristau said the quake’s 51km depth meant it was likely to be widely felt but the seismic energy radiating from the epicentre was not uniformly even.
The type of ground and the style of building could also influence the degree of shaking someone felt.
“If you are on soft soil the shaking will be much greater than if you are on bedrock. And wood frame houses will react much differently to shaking than brick or concrete,” Ristau said.
In 2020, Victoria University of Wellington researchers mapped the density of the rock base and sediment under Wellington City after the 2016 Kaikōura earthquake heavily damaged some buildings while other areas seemed more stable.
During the study, geophysics masters student Alistair Stronach said the sediment above the bedrock of the city had an effect much like “jelly in a bowl”.
“The 2016 earthquake had particularly bad shaking in Thorndon and around the waterfront and that’s mostly due to the depth of sediment there. The deeper it is the worse the shaking is,” Stronach said.
On Friday there were no reports on the GeoNet website of significant aftershocks.