Back to top

Tsunami in Hawke's Bay

If you are in any of the tsunami evacuation zones (red, orange or yellow) you need to be ready to self-evacuate following an earthquake. If you feel a Long or Strong earthquake: Drop, Cover and Hold. Once the shaking stops, quickly get to a safe location uphill or inland by foot or by bike. DO NOT WAIT FOR AN OFFICIAL WARNING. The first tsunami wave may arrive within 15 and 40 minutes so leave as soon as the shaking stops and go as fast as you can; every step towards safety counts. Remember to make room for those evacuating behind you. If you are already inland, do not go to the coast to sight-see - it could be fatal.

Tsunami evacuation zones

Our interactive mapping tool provides information about tsunami evacuation zones. Static maps of these zones are also available on our Facebook page.

Check if you are in a red, orange or yellow zone. Find out what these zones mean below.

An earthquake will be the only natural warning of a tsunami – don't wait for sirens. It is vital to use your own initiative in any evacuation, so evacuate to areas where you feel safe. (For an example of this, read the story about Kamaishi).

If there is an official Civil Defence warning, evacuate from the zones (red, orange or yellow) stated in the warning.

The three evacuation zones are based on a variety of hazard models that aim to include all possible flooding from all known tsunami sources, including 'worst case' rare scenarios for Hawke's Bay for tsunami coming from both a very large local earthquake, or from across the Pacific Ocean.

These maps provide communities tsunami information required for community response plans for how they will respond to emergencies.

If you are in a tsunami evacuation zone feel a long or strong earthquake, drop, cover and hold. Once the earthquake shaking eases, quickly get to a safe location uphill or inland by foot or by bike. The first tsunami wave may arrive within 15 minutes so leave as soon as the shaking stops and go as fast as you can: every step counts. If you are already inland, do not go to the coast to sight-see – it could be fatal.

Find out what you need to know, how to prepare, what to do when it happens, and what to do after the event.

Boat Safe Distance Map

The Boat Safe Distance Map shows the safe distance for boats to evacuate in a near-source tsunami. In a local tsunami, you will have only 10 minutes on the water to take the correct action. See Boat Safe Distance Map 


A tsunami is a series of fast traveling waves caused by large disturbances on the ocean floor, such as earthquakes, landslides or volcanic eruptions. In the deep ocean, tsunami pass almost unnoticed, but as they reach shallow coastal waters nearer to land, they change dramatically - a wave of one-to-two metres at sea can grow into waves measuring more than 30 metres in height. A tsunami is made up of very turbulent water – even a small tsunami wave can knock you off your feet.

Hawke's Bay's is at risk from:

Near-source tsunami: Our biggest is risk is from the Hikurangi subduction zone (sometimes called the Hikurangi Trench), just off our coast – this is New Zealand’s largest active fault. If the subduction zone ruptures in a large earthquake, it may  rapidly send a tsunami towards our coast. If you feel a Long OR Strong earthquake, it may mean the subduction zone has ruptured and a tsunami is on the way. If you live in a tsunami evacuation zone (red, orange or yellow): Get Gone.  There will be no other warning so evacuate immediately and use every minute wisely. Do not waste the time trying to find information online.

Regional and far-source tsunami: Because of New Zealand’s position in the Pacific Ocean, the east coast is also at risk from tsunami travelling from much further away. In this case, you will not feel an earthquake and there will be enough time to get expert advice, issue warnings and organise an orderly evacuation.

For a near-source event natural warnings, like any of those below, will be the only warning of a tsunami, so don’t wait for official warnings, go immediately to high ground or, if the surrounding area is flat, go as far inland as possible. Evacuate all tsunami evacuation zones (red, orange and yellow), if any of the following occur:

  • A STRONG earthquake which is hard to stand up in
  • A weak, rolling earthquake which is unusually Long; a minute or more
  • You see unusual sea behaviour, such a sudden sea level fall or rise, or the sea is making loud and unusual noises, especially roaring like a jet engine.

First, check if your home, school or workplace is in a tsunami evacuation zone here.

Understand what that zone means

All zones (red, orange and yellow) must evacuate if there is a Long or Strong earthquake.

In the case of tsunami coming from far away, providing lots of warning time, specific zones may be asked to evacuate by Civil Defence Emergency Management.

Plan your evacuation route

Walking, running or biking are better than driving, because roads may be damaged in the earthquake or there may be too many cars on the road, causing traffic jams. The aim is for you and your family to be safe.  There is a route guide for those who live or work along the Napier and Hastings coastline: Plan your route - it can be difficult to know in which direction it is best to head in some of these areas.

Remember you may have to take this route at night. Know the route, practice it with your family, and have a torch. Aim to have more than one route too, in case you need to change route on the day.

If you are in a coastal tsunami evacuation zone and there is a Long OR Strong earthquake don’t wait for an official warning. There will not be time. Go immediately to high ground or, if the surrounding area is flat, go as far inland as possible. 

If you are in the water, get out immediately and move to higher ground or inland – staying in the water is very dangerous.

We get a lot of queries about vertical evacuations during a tsunami. ‘Vertical evacuation’ means evacuating to a high floor of a building, instead of leaving the tsunami evacuation zone.

Japan has structures specifically designed for vertical evacuations, and the US has building standards for them. Those include foundations that are very deep and reinforced to a higher standard than most buildings, and an open ground-floor level to allow water to flow through.

While New Zealand adopted building standards for vertical tsunami evacuation structures in December 2020, this is for new especially-designed buildings and so we can’t say that any existing buildings in an evacuation zone are a safe place in a tsunami.

We advise you to leave evacuation zones, making sure you carefully exit any building, while being aware that there may be failing debris, and follow your route to a safe location.

But we understand that there may be some rare situations that require different decisions. They may include that:

  • You are not sure you will be able to get out of the tsunami evacuation zone to a safe location in time. If there is a multi-level, sturdy building on your evacuation route that you can access, you could choose to go up – look for reinforced concrete or structural steel buildings.
  • Those who are in a high-rise building may decide to stay there. They may feel uncomfortable leaving their building and making their way through streets – possibly in the dark, and with damage from the earthquake. This is something you and your household or workplace will need to discuss and decide.

While vertical evacuation could be an option in some circumstances, you need to be aware the building might not withstand the impact of a tsunami. You could also be isolated in a building for days before help can get to you, and there is the risk of fire. If you choose to evacuate vertically, you should go to at least the third floor. If your building doesn’t have a third floor, staying is not a good option.

Each option has risks and we cannot advise one over the other. You need to be comfortable with your own choice.

Whatever you decide works for you, we strongly recommend you spend some time putting together an Emergency Grab  Bag (one at home and one at work if both are in evacuation zones), and practice the route you would take if you have to leave your building. Knowledge is power: the more you prepare for this now, the better.

Our message for tsunami remains: If you are in any of the evacuation zones and feel an earthquake that is either longer than a minute OR strong enough that it’s hard to stand up, then get to high ground as soon as the shaking stops. If it’s Long OR Strong - Get Gone.


Once you are in a safe place, search on radio or online for information on the situation. Remember, the first tsunami wave may not be the biggest and there are likely to be many waves. Wait for an official 'all clear' before returning to a tsunami evacuation zone. 

Check the Boat tsunami advice for the appropriate safe distance for boats to evacuate during a near-source tsunami, remembering that if you are out on the water in a local tsunami you only have 10 minutes to make a decision and take action.

Why are we at risk?

New Zealand’s entire coast is at risk of tsunami but the East Coast of New Zealand has been identified as having the highest tsunami risk because of the subduction zone marked by the Hikurangi Trough.

tsunamimapScientists have confirmed the subduction zone could generate severe tsunami from earthquake sizes of Magnitude 8-9.  This means in the future we could see tsunami like those in the Indian Ocean in 2004 and in Japan in 2011.

Everyone should be familiar with the Hawke’s Bay tsunami hazard maps which can help residents and councils prepare for the impact of a large tsunami. These maps show the worst case scenarios – a tsunami from a very large 2,500 year return period local earthquake or one coming across the Pacific Ocean.   Our risks include destruction of homes, businesses, productive land and infrastructure in inundation zones, along with injuries and loss of life, environmental devastation and the slow process of recovery.

In Hawke’s Bay we have been assessing our coastal hazards from Clifton to Tangoio. Find out more on this website

In 2015 a project also began studying the Hikurangi plate boundary as the source of earthquakes and tsunami. Find out more on this website.

Local-source tsunami

Several moderate-size tsunami have been observed along the Hawke’s Bay coast in the 160 years or so of written historical record. On several occasions, the lives of Hawke’s Bay people have been threatened.

3 February 1931: the largest earthquake in the Hawke’s Bay’s history, the magnitude 7.8 Hawke's Bay earthquake, initiated a moderate tsunami:

  • At Waikokopu Beach, near Mahia Peninsula, three waves deposited fish and shellfish on the beach.
  • A three-metre surge was reported racing up the Wairoa River shortly after the earthquake.
  • A large wave was reported in Waikari River. This appears to have been caused by an earthquake-triggered landslide on the other side of the estuary. The wave destroyed a wool shed and deposited fish on grass about 15 metre above high tide level.

26 March 1947: the worst effects of a tsunami were experienced on the coast north of Gisborne, where the waves were 10 metres high. In Hawke’s Bay, Mahia Peninsula was affected.

Distant-source tsunami

Tsunami from far-off locations have caused damaging tsunami surges in Hawke's Bay. The 1868, 1877 and 1960 tsunami generated by large earthquakes in South America have had the greatest impact. The surges lasted several days in each case, the largest of the surges generally occurring within the first 24 hours.


Near source tsunami: An earthquake will be the only natural warning of a local tsunami – don't wait for official warnings or instructions – there will not be time. It is vital to use your own initiative, as every minute counts. Everyone in all tsunami evacuation zones must move quickly to areas where they are safe – uphill or inland. (To see how self-evacuation saves lives, read about Kamaishi School, in Japan).

Regional or far source tsunami: If a tsunami is coming from much further out to sea, you will not feel an earthquake and there will be an official Civil Defence warning. Evacuate from the zones (red, orange or yellow) as advised in the warning.


Although there are few written records of tsunami striking Hawke's Bay, the geological record shows that the area has been impacted by large tsunami in the past, on average approximately once every 900 years. Visit the NZ Paleotsunami Database to learn more.

February 2010 – Chile Tsunami

Just after midnight on Sunday 28 February 2010 a magnitude 8.8 earthquake in Chile generated a tsunami. Napier Port evacuated all vessels and some coastal residents self-evacuated. At 09:37 the first wave arrived at Napier with a height of 0.2 metres, followed by a surge of waves around the Ahuriri Harbour. Along the coast the tsunami was around 1 metre high. In Waimarama a local fisherman was swamped by the metre-high surge of water, followed by two more waves and was sucked 20 metres out into the ocean. He managed to swim ashore and suffered cuts and bruises.

Changes in water levels on the floating pontoon in the Inner Harbour at Napier 28 February 2010 were measured by Jeff Lynex as show

tsunami water levels

ing a 1.42 metre drop after 18 minutes.

Changes in water levels on the floating pontoon in the Inner Harbour at Napier 28 February 2010 were measured by Jeff Lynex as showing a 1.42 metre drop after 18 minutes.


May 1960 – Chile Tsunami

Serious damage at Ahuriri Estuary in Napier and at Te Awanga resulted from the tsunami generated by the 20th Century’s largest earthquake, a massive Magnitude 9.5 in southern Chile. The tsunami was responsible for the deaths of several thousand people in Chile and several hundreds in total in Hawaii, Japan and the Philippines.

The first wave struck Napier without warning after 1am on 24 May 1960. 50 metres of a footbridge across Ahuriri Estuary was torn away, breaking the power and gas lines along it. A number of boats were damaged, some swept out to sea. Buildings and a caravan were flooded and moved, endangering the lives of the Napier Sailing Club’s caretaker and his family.

Around 17000 cubic metres of sand was scoured from the boat harbour. At Te Awanga, 8 people at the campground were swept from their tents and across the road, while seaside cabins were battered. At Clifton Domain, a sea wall 3 metres above high tide mark was damaged. H

Descriptive accounts suggest water levels reached at least 3 metres and possibly over 4 metres above high tide mark. High seas were noted at Porangahau and Pourerere, but people were unaware a tsunami had occurred and no damage was done.

Two days later on 26 May 1960 a large aftershock in Chile resulted in the broadcast of a nationwide warning on radio in New Zealand. Although some communities were evacuated on the east coast in the North and South Islands, in Napier it was reported “the effect of the warning, which was broadcast at frequent intervals during the afternoon, was to drive people towards the beaches rather than away from them. All afternoon seafronts at Marine Parade and Westshore were thronged with larger numbers of people than usual at this time of year” (The Times 27/5/60). Not the right thing to do!

Frequently asked questions

Showing search results for ""

Everyone in ALL of the tsunami evacuation zones – red, orange and yellow should evacuate, preferably on foot or by bicycle. Check if you are in an evacuation zone here.

1)      Check whether you live, work or play in a tsunami evacuation zone here, and determine your fastest routes to safety.

2)      Make a plan with your household which includes where you will go and how you will get there. Keep your emergency grab bag in an easy-to-find place.

3)      Practice your routes regularly – tsunami hikoi week is a great excuse to encourage family, friends, and colleagues to walk your evacuation route together.


Have grab bags ready for everyone in your household. Include water, essential medicines, lightweight snacks, a torch, copies of important documents and photo ID. Pet food if applicable – remembering you have to carry the bag as you evacuate so don’t make it too heavy.  Visit for more advice on what to pack.

There will not be time to get expert advice and a large earthquake is likely to damage power, internet, and cell phone systems.  There will be very little warning of a tsunami if the earthquake is near our coast (the Hikurangi Subduction Zone).  

Every minute will count, and by the time Civil Defence Emergency Management has got a warning out it will be too late. There are more than 30,000 properties within Hawke’s Bay’s tsunami evacuation zones, so getting a ‘door knock’ is not possible.

Evacuating immediately after a Long OR Strong earthquake is your responsibility. Be a leader and encourage those around you to follow.


By the time Civil Defence Emergency Management gets a warning up and you search it on-line, it will be too late. Every minute counts so: Long OR Strong – Get Gone.

The zones are used if a tsunami is generated at a distant source like Peru or Chile and is heading our way. In those circumstances, you will not feel the earthquake and Civil Defence Emergency Management and the emergency services will have time to inform and if necessary, evacuate only the affected zones, such as orange or red in an orderly manner.

Encourage them to work out what emergency supplies they need – in an emergency, they may be stuck at home for three days or more – the website has a list of supplies to help you get through.

During an earthquake, remind them to ‘Drop, Cover and Hold’ until the shaking stops.

They may be able to provide you with shelter if you have to evacuate following an earthquake. Ask them and make them part of your plan.

 Once you are in a safe place, listen to a radio or search online for information on the situation. Remember, the first tsunami wave may not be the largest. Do not return to any of the tsunami evacuation zones until an official ‘all clear’ has been given.

Hawke's Bay Emergency Management - Copyright © 2022 Hawke's Bay Emergency Management

Disclaimers and Copyright
While every endeavour has been taken by the Hawke's Bay Emergency Management to ensure that the information on this website is accurate and up to date, Hawke's Bay Emergency Management shall not be liable for any loss suffered through the use, directly or indirectly, of information on this website. Information contained has been assembled in good faith. Some of the information available in this site is from the New Zealand Public domain and supplied by relevant government agencies. Hawke's Bay Emergency Management cannot accept any liability for its accuracy or content. Portions of the information and material on this site, including data, pages, documents, online graphics and images are protected by copyright, unless specifically notified to the contrary. Externally sourced information or material is copyright to the respective provider.

© Hawke's Bay Emergency Management - / +64 6 835 9200 /