A tsunami warning has been issued for parts of New Zealand following a powerful 7.1-magnitude earthquake early Friday, emergency officials said.

The quake struck at 4:38 am (1638 GMT Thursday) at a depth of 19 kilometres, the US Geological Survey said. It was centred off the north-eastern coast of the North Island, some 166 kilometres from the city of Gisborne.

A series of strong aftershocks following shortly after.

The east coast of the North Island - including the city of Auckland - and Upper South Island are under a tsunami warning, the New Zealand Ministry of Civil Defence and Emergency Management said on Twitter.

"Tsunami activity will continue for several hours and the threat must be regarded as real until this warning is cancelled," the agency wrote, urging people to stay away from coastal areas.

In 2010, a magnitude-7.1 earthquake struck the South Island city of Christchurch, causing widespread damage but no loss of life. On February 22, 2011 - less than six months later - a magnitude-6.3 quake struck the city, killing 185 people and wiping out much of the central business district and hundreds of homes and heritage buildings.

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