Earthquakes: Traffic mounts as residents flee for higher ground

Residents in Ohope, in the Bay of Plenty, are facing long lines of traffic as they evacuate to higher ground.

Footage taken on Ohope Hill shows traffic moving uphill has come to a standstill after residents were told to leave coastal areas following a magnitude 8.1 earthquake near the Kermadec Islands on Friday morning.

The quake was the third of the day, and came after an earlier 7.4 magnitude shake near Kermadec and a 7.3 quake east of the North Island. 

A tsunami warning was issued following the 8.1 quake, at around 8:30am.

People located between the Bay of Islands and Whangarei, between Matata and Tolaga Bay, including Whakatane and Opotiki, and on Great Barrier Island have been told to immediately move to higher ground.

"Walk, run or cycle if at all possible to reduce the chances of getting stuck in traffic congestion," the National Emergency Management Agency said on Friday.

"The earthquake may not have been felt in some of these areas, but evacuation should be immediate as a damaging tsunami is possible.

"Do not stay at home".

Officials warned that tsunami activity could continue for several hours and the "first wave may not be the largest".

"The threat is real until this warning is cancelled".

The first wave to hit New Zealand is expected at around 10:20am.

Emergency Management MInister Kiri Allan said Civil Defence teams were working hard on the ground to assist residents with evacuations.

She said although there is a lot of anxiety and fear, people have time to react and it is important to focus on the things it is possible to control.

Earlier this morning Andy Galbraith, a local video producer in Whakatane, told The Am Show it took more than 45 minutes to move 1km in the town.

"It seems to be a good congestion on the way up the hill," he said.

He said there was also "traffic in all directions" around town, as people seemed confused about which way to go.

"Some people were driving on the wrong side of the road, they were driving fast, but for the most part traffic was smooth, it was slow going."

He said the police were also "out in force" trying to maintain order.

It appeared many people were either going to a school to collect their children or coming from their homes which led to confusion in various directions, not just on streets leading to higher ground, he said.