New Zealand tsunami threat passes after 'extraordinary morning'
The largest waves triggered by a trio of powerful earthquakes in New Zealand have now passed, authorities say.
Thousands of people who were evacuated from their homes to higher ground on the northern coast of the North Island are now safe to return.
But officials have warned the threat has not passed entirely and are telling people to stay away from the beaches and shoreline if they are in the North Cape, the Chatham Islands and the northern part of the East Coast.
"Coastal inundation (flooding of land areas near the shore) is no longer expected as a result of this event," New Zealand's National Emergency Management Agency said in a statement.
"We are advising people to move out of the water, do not go to the coast to watch the unusual wave activity."
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Meanwhile in Samoa, the tsunami watch has been cancelled entirely.
What appeared to be the first series of tsunami waves to hit the New Zealand coastline now appear to be the only surge.
Locals from New Zealand's Tokomaru Bay were awestruck and terrified to watch what appeared to be a tsunami approaching the shoreline.
The entire township was atop a hill overlooking Tokomaru Bay when the surge came in.
"Everyone's sitting up on the hill at the moment, and we're starting to bake, it's 32 degrees, the tar is starting to melt and there's no shade up here," local Chris Beard told Stuff.
A 7.3-magnitude earthquake struck at 2.27am (12.27am AEDT) at a depth of 10 kilometres under the ocean, about 178 kilometres north-east of the city of Gisborne and near the Kermadec Islands.
Another 7.4-magnitude quake hit at 6.40am local time and a third - the largest at 8.1-magnitude - struck at 8.28am.
There have been no reports of any fatalities or injuries, and no buildings appear to have been damaged by the earthquake.
People living in New Zealand's Bay of Islands to Whangarei, Matata to Tolga Bay and Great Barrier Island were told to evacuate immediately and move as far as inland as possible.
Minister for Emergency Management Kiri Allan praised New Zealanders for their response to the earthquakes and the subsequent tsunami alert.
"This has been an extraordinary morning for New Zealanders up and down the country," she said.
"We saw New Zealanders literally adhere to the advice. They felt the 'long or strong' earthquakes and, they knew to grab their bag and head into the highlands.
"I can only but thank and acknowledge the tireless efforts of the men and women from up and down the coast who knew how to act, when to act, and what to do."
She said many people have done "exceptionally well" to stay calm in an anxious time.
Video footage has shown long lines of cars, with locals standing and waiting at higher ground.
A 64cm tsunami has hit the coast of Norfolk Island, with warnings still current for the Australian territory.
"Further tsunami waves are possible," the Bureau of Meteorology said in a statement.
"Please follow all advice from local police and emergency services."
The bureau has warned of dangerous rips, waves and strong ocean currents, as well as the possibility of localised overflow onto the immediate foreshore of the island.
"While evacuations are not necessary for Marine Threat areas, people in these areas are advised to get out of the water and move away from the immediate water's edge," the bureau stated.
Long-time Gisborne resident Karen Clune said the first quake made her feel physically ill and she hadn't been able to sleep thanks to as many as 20 aftershocks.
"It was awful. The house was shaking and a few of my things on the shelves fell off," she told 9news.com.au.
"It was similar to the one in 2009 that did a lot of damage."
Even though the quake struck in the middle of the night, people took to social media to report feeling it almost from one end of the North Island to the other.
"She was a beauty, it really shook," Rex from Gisborne told Newstalk ZB.
"I'm quite frightened, I've got no idea if there's going to be a tsunami. It was massive.
"It's the biggest I've felt in a long, long time and I'm 80."
Wairarapa MP Kieran McAnulty felt the quake as far south as Masterton, near the bottom of the North Island.
Multiple Twitter users said they felt the tremors in Auckland, to the north-west of the quakes, while archaeologist Brigid Gallagher said she didn't feel anything on her "sand dune" at Waihi Beach, closer to the epicentre.
Residents of Gisborne reported light to moderate shaking, the US Geological Survey said.
A magnitude 6.3 quake hit the city of Christchurch in 2011, killing 185 people and destroying much of its downtown.