The earthquake epicentre was 10 km east of the remote settlement of Eketahuna, which is famous for being the home of one of New Zealand's high profile beer brands Tui. It struck at 3:52 in the afternoon local time.
Early shows show widespread damage, but there are no reports of deaths or injuries.
A giant eagle that hung on the roof of Wellington Airport as part of a Hobbit movie promotion has crashed to the ground.
Just experienced an earthquake at Wellington Airport. Giant eagle from Lord of the Rings fell from the roof. pic.twitter.com/IsEEqDzU6q— Kris Leysen (@KrisLeysen1) January 20, 2014
Trains in the capital Wellington were cancelled so lines could be checked for damage.