Tsunami evacuation zones and routes

Find out if and when you need to evacuate.

Long or strong, get gone

If you feel a rolling-motion earthquake for longer than a minute or a strong earthquake that makes it hard to stand up, then you need to get gone.

When to evacuate

Your best warnings for a tsunami are:

  • a long rolling-motion earthquake that’s longer than a minute,
  • a strong earthquake that makes it hard to stand up, or
  • unusual ocean behaviour: loud or strange noises coming from the sea (e.g. like a jet plane or train) or sudden sea level changes.

You need to evacuate the red and the orange evacuation zones if you experience or observe these warning signs.

It is unlikely that a tsunami has been created, but it is better to be safe than sorry. Tsunami waves come in series. The first wave may not be the biggest, so you need to be prepared to stay out of the evacuation zones for many hours. If a tsunami is coming from close to our shore, there will not be any time to issue an official warning, sound sirens or to send an emergency mobile alert. The earthquake is your best warning.

An official tsunami warning can be issued for a tsunami coming from outside the Canterbury region or from across the Pacific Ocean. You will hear Civil Defence official tsunami warnings on the radio, on television, on social media, or via an Emergency Mobile Alert, telling you which zones to evacuate.

What is a long or strong earthquake?

A long earthquake is an earthquake that shakes for longer than one minute. 

The bigger the earthquake magnitude, the longer the shaking. So if the earthquake lasts for longer than a minute, you know that it is big, somewhere, probably over magnitude 7.5 which is big enough to possibly create a damaging tsunami if it was under the ocean.

A strong earthquake is when the shaking is so strong that it is hard to stand up – the sort of earthquake where furniture starts moving around and things fall over.

Why the long or strong message?

If you are near a big earthquake, the shaking will be long and strong. A big earthquake further away from you may be felt as a long but mild or moderate, rolling earthquake. 

A big earthquake far away may still have created a tsunami, it will just take longer to reach you than if it was just offshore. So this is why the message is long or strong, rather than long and strong. 

Sirens and when to return home

The sirens are to be activated in the case of a distant source tsunami and will only be sounded for regional sourced tsunami if time allows.

Sirens installed along the Christchurch coastline are intended to warn you about a tsunami generated in the Pacific Islands or across the Pacific Ocean, and if there is time, for a tsunami generated further afield from Canterbury i.e. in the North Island's east coast.

Sirens are not intended to warn you about a tsunami created close to our shore. A long or strong earthquake will be your only warning of a tsunami created close to our shore.

Safe to return, 'all clear' messages will be broadcasted by Civil Defence using radio, TV, radio, Council's Newsline(external link), and social media. 

You can also do your bit by sharing official warnings with friends and family in the evacuation zones.

Emergency Mobile Alerts

Emergency Mobile Alerts are messages broadcasted by authorised agencies to keep people safe. The alerts can be targeted to areas affected by serious hazards, including tsunami. If your phone is on, capable and inside the targeted location, you should get the alerts.

It is important that you still evacuate after a long or strong earthquake and not wait. Emergency Mobile Alerts are just one way of finding out about serious threats, so ensure you have an emergency plan and know where to find more information during an emergency.

Emergency Mobile Alerts will only be used for serious hazards that involve threats to life, health or property, or in some cases for test purposes. If your phone is on, capable and inside the targeted location, you should get the alerts. You don’t have to download an app or subscribe to a service, just ensure your phone is capable and updated.

Visit the Civil Defence website to find out if your phone is ready to receive Emergency Mobile Alerts and access Emergency Mobile Alert factsheets(external link)

Tips to evacuate safely

Residents and businesses in the tsunami evacuations zones should have plans in place for an evacuation.

Plan your route

Know what to do and where to go. Understand your evacuation zones so that you know which zones you may need to evacuate. Are there any local landmarks in your area to indicate that you’re out of the evacuation zones? Take some time today to make a plan with your family. Do you know the evacuation route that is closest to your home or workplace?


If possible, take extra passengers in your car. Check whether your neighbour needs a ride or help evacuating. Carpooling reduces the number of cars on the road and helps with traffic flow. 

If you are driving, it is best to go further than the edge of the zone, to make room for those coming behind.  

Cycle or walking routes

Sometimes evacuating on foot or bike is faster to get out of the evacuation zones because the roads can get congested easily. Look at possible walking or cycle routes near your home. Why not take the time to go for a walk and plan your walk/bike route that suits your family.

Talk to friends and family

If you need to evacuate, it’s more comfortable to go to a friends or a relative’s place who are away from the evacuation zone(s) until the “all clear” has been given by Civil Defence. Get to know any friends and family living away from the evacuation zone(s). Talk to them about you or your family visiting them during an evacuation.

Secure your home

Secure your home as you normally would when leaving for an extended period. Make sure to lock your doors and shut windows securely, and if you can, switch off any utilities like gas.

Emergency bag

A tsunami warning may be in place for many hours, because the first wave is often not the biggest. You may be out of the evacuation zone for some time, which is why you need an emergency bag. Pack anything you may urgently need and can carry. This can be personal items (e.g. medicine, glasses, and sanitary items), supplies for babies and pets, water bottle, snacks, and family documents (e.g. copy of driver licences). Make it a family discussion on what needs to go on the emergency bag for your family. Do you know where your emergency bag is kept to grab it quickly?

Check out happens.nz for what should be in your kit(external link)

Don’t forget your pets

If you are able to, take your pets with you when you evacuate. They are your responsibility. Include what your pets may need, such as pet food, in your emergency bag.  

Rock falls

Be aware that if the ground shaking is strong, there may be unstable cliffs and rock falls. 

Do not climb up onto the roof of a building. The chances of going onto the roof and falling off, especially with young children, are much higher than the chances that a damaging tsunami has been generated.

Schools and early childhood centres

Schools and early childhood centres are required to have plans detailing their response to emergency events. Ask at your school or early childhood centre what arrangements they have in place and the steps you are expected to make to collect your child (or children) following an evacuation.

Rest homes and retirement villages

Rest homes or retirement village staff may evacuate occupants to pre-arranged safe assembly areas outside the evacuation zone. The ‘pre-arranged’ safe assembly areas will be identified in the rest home's or retirement village's emergency plan.

Find out about the arrangements you are expected to make to contact your family members following an evacuation at a rest home or retirement village.

Primary tsunami evacuation routes

It is your responsibility to determine the best place for you and those with you to move to. Plan your evacuation route ahead of time with your family.

When you evacuate, take your emergency pack with you because a tsunami warning can be in place for several hours.

Primary tsunami evacuation routes are suggested driving routes by car to evacuate out of tsunami evacuation zones. For a tsunami with more than three hours of warning time (i.e. a distant source tsunami), traffic officials can assist where traffic congestion is likely to occur and an assisted evacuation may be needed.

Assisted evacuation will depend on things like road conditions (e.g. major road works), time of day (e.g. night time vs day time), season, and public holidays. It is likely there won't be enough time for an assisted evacuation when there is less 3 hours of warning time for a tsunami (i.e. local source tsunami).

Evacuation routes

If you are required to evacuate, below are the suggested primary evacuation routes to take. Depending on the warning time, assisted evacuation can be provided for routes that are likely to experience traffic congestion.

  • Harbour Road - Kainga Road - Marshlands Road (Kainga)
  • Lower Styx Road - Marshlands Road (Styx)
  • Beach Road - Mairehau Road (Northshore)
  • Bowhill Road - Travis Road (North New Brighton)
  • Hawke Street – Pages Road
  • Towards city from Wainoni Road
  • Bridge Street - Breezes Road (South New Brighton)
  • Bridge Street - Dyers Road - Linwood Avenue (Southshore)
  • Bridge Street - Dyers Road – Ruru Road (Southshore)
  • Rocking Horse Road - Estuary Road - Bridge St (Southshore)
  • Marine Parade - Bridge St (Southshore)
  • Main Road - Ferry Road (Redcliffs, Sumner)
  • Wakefield Avenue - Evans Pass Road - Summit Road (Sumner)
  • Ferry Road or Hargreaves Road (Ferrymead)
  • Bridle Path Road - Tunnel Road (Heathcote Valley)

Civil Defence Centres may be opened in an evacuation especially for orange and yellow tsunami evacuation zones. These will be set up as soon as possible and the locations will be publicly announced by Civil Defence.

Evacuation zones