23 January 1855
Wairarapa (magnitude 8.2): This is the most powerful recorded earthquake in New Zealand and resulted from movement at least 140 kilometres along the Wairarapa Fault, on the eastern edge of the Rimutaka Range. Many Wellington buildings were damaged, slips occurred in the Hutt Valley and a tsunami in the Cook Strait and Wellington Harbour flooded buildings near the shoreline. One person died in Wellington, two died in the Manawatū and in the Wairarapa up to six were killed. After this earthquake, and an earlier one in 1848, most of Wellington’s new buildings were constructed of wood. However, masonry construction gradually returned, encouraged by city council regulations for fire resistance.
1 September 1888
North Canterbury (7.3): The earthquake hit the Amuri district, approximately 100 kilometres north-west of Christchurch and was felt from New Plymouth to Invercargill. In North Canterbury, particularly in the Hope Valley and Hanmer areas, many buildings were badly damaged or destroyed. The top 7.8 metres of the Christchurch Cathedral’s stone spire also collapsed. The earthquake was caused by movement along the Hope Fault, from the junction of the Hope and Boyle Valleys to the Hanmer Plains.
16 November 1901
Cheviot (6.9): The Canterbury area experienced an earthquake centred near the Cheviot township, which was badly damaged and one fatality occurred. Christchurch also suffered damage with the Christchurch Cathedral losing the top 1.5 metres of its spire. The top of the spire was re-built in timber and metal instead of stone.
9 March 1929
Arthur’s Pass (7.1): Damage to houses was reported in the mountain region near Arthur’s Pass. Railway lines were damaged and slips closed the highway to the West Coast for several months. The earthquake appears to have been caused by land movement along the Poulter Fault.
17 June 1929
Murchison (7.8): Nelson, Westport and Greymouth reported damage, but Murchison was the worst hit. The earthquake was caused by movement along the White Creek Fault west of Murchison, and started huge slips on mountain slopes. Of the 17 people who died in the earthquake, 14 were killed by landslides, and 2 in coal mine collapses. On 27 June 1929 when the New Zealand Parliament opened the Governor-General referred to the “calamitous earthquake”, and extended “sincere sympathy to the relatives of those who lost their lives in the disaster”. Prime Minister the Right Honourable Sir Joseph Ward indicated that the Government was acting urgently to address the disaster and outlined assistance the following day in Parliament. This included establishing a central committee to administer earthquake relief funds collected, and addressing the “most pressing need” of helping Nelson accommodate Murchison refugees through monetary relief and providing material.
3 and 13 February 1931
Hawke’s Bay (7.8 and 7.3): At least 256 people died in the first earthquake (161 in Napier, 93 in Hastings and 2 in Wairoa), making it New Zealand’s deadliest earthquake. The earthquake caused extensive damage to buildings, and a 36-hour fire in central Napier which gutted almost 11 blocks. The earthquake was produced by a rupture along the northeast-trending buried fault, probably the Napier-Hawke’s Bay Fault. Ten days later a 7.3 aftershock caused further damage.
At an emergency session of Parliament the Governor-General on 11 March 1931 referred with the “deepest regret” to the “disastrous earthquake” that caused “serious loss of life, physical injury, and widespread destruction of property” before expressing “heartfelt sympathy with those who have been bereaved or injured by this disaster”. The Hawke’s Bay Earthquake Act 1931 received assent on 28 April 1931 and gave authority to the Hawke’s Bay Adjustment Court, which co-ordinated reconstruction. The Act provided loans for rebuilding but because of the economic depression funds were limited, with much of the money for recovery coming from charity. The destruction of buildings led to a draft bylaw in 1931 which was incorporated into a building code in 1935. This recommended design and construction standards so that buildings could resist horizontal motions caused by ground shaking. The Government also began to develop a system of earthquake insurance and compensation, and civil defence strategies were enacted to better protect public safety and provide relief in future earthquakes.
5 March 1934
Pahiatua (7.6): Historically referred to as the Pahiatua earthquake, its epicentre appears to have been closer to Horoeka. The earthquake was most severe in the Hawke's Bay and northern Wairarapa, and caused widespread damage from Porangahau to Castlepoint. Landslides along the coast also occurred.
24 June and 2 August 1942
Wairarapa (7.2 and 7.0): These earthquakes caused by movement along buried faults led to substantial damage in the Wairarapa and Wellington areas. The earthquake epicentres were both near Masterton, but the August quake was much deeper and thus less severe. One fatality occurred in Wellington from the first earthquake. On 25 June 1942 the Acting Leader of the House of Representatives the Honourable Daniel Giles Sullivan referred in Parliament to the damage, and on 7 July Prime Minister the Right Honourable Peter Fraser outlined Government assistance. The Earthquake Commission (EQC) was established by the Government in 1945 to provide earthquake and war damage cover for purchasers of fire insurance. Cover for other natural disasters was later included and ultimately cover for war damage removed.
24 May 1968
Īnangahua (7.1): This earthquake was centred near Īnangahua Junction, 40 kilometres east of Westport. At Whitecliffs a limestone bluff collapsed onto a farmhouse causing two fatalities. Numerous landslides in the surrounding mountains occurred, while other West Coast towns were also shaken and structures damaged. Shortly after the earthquake, one person died near Greymouth after their car hit a section of road that had subsided and another three were killed later when a rescue helicopter crashed. Two Government Ministers visited the West Coast, and Cabinet said that “top priority” would be given by departments helping with rehousing people. Cabinet further ordered the formation of a special committee to coordinate reconstruction and rehabilitation work in the earthquake-affected areas.
2 March 1987
Edgecumbe (6.5): The earthquake that struck the Bay of Plenty region caused damage because of its very shallow nature. Industrial sites such as the Tasman Pulp and Paper Mill in Kawerau were badly affected. Moreover, a 7-kilometre-long rift appeared across the Rangitāiki Plains (the Edgecumbe Fault). A fissure up to 3 metres wide and 3-4 metres deep opened along much of the Fault. Prime Minister the Right Honourable David Lange visited and Government assistance included grants and the payment of billeting costs.
20 December 2007
Gisborne (6.8): Three buildings collapsed in Gisborne’s central business district, and there was major structural damage to others. Reports indicated that the main shock was felt from Auckland to Dunedin and on the Chatham Islands. One death caused by a heart attack was reported. The earthquake occurred within the Pacific Plate. Civil Defence Minister the Honourable Rick Barker visited Gisborne, and the Government’s response included the provision of assistance, particularly to address welfare issues.
4 September 2010
Canterbury (7.1): The earthquake’s epicentre was 40 kilometres west of Christchurch City close to the town of Darfield. It was the most damaging earthquake since 1931, and revealed a hidden west-east fault under the Canterbury Plains. Prime Minister the Right Honourable John Key made a Ministerial statement in Parliament, describing the initial response. After the state of emergency in Canterbury was lifted, the Government identified a need to extend the powers delegated, and to establish a recovery commission to assist with the ongoing response to the earthquake. The Government therefore introduced the Canterbury Earthquake Response and Recovery Bill. With cross-party support the Bill was passed and given assent on 14 September 2010.