The Oceanic country is still coming to terms with the damage caused by the 2011 6.3 magnitude earthquake in Christchurch which claimed the lives of almost 200 people.
Researchers are now warning New Zealanders to brace themselves for a quake which could measure 8.0 on the Richter Scale in the coming years.
The experts behind the study say that a collision between the Pacific and Australian tectonic plates – a 500 kilometre stretch known as the Alpine Fault – takes place every 300 years or so, with the last one happening in 1717.
When the collision does happen, the fault will rupture in “an extreme magnitude 8 earthquake in the coming decades”, the team from the Vitoria University of Wellington wrote in their study published in Nature.
Rupert Sutherland, professor of tectonics and geophysics at the Victoria University of Wellington, wrote in an article for The Conversation: “It is expected to rupture in a major earthquake in the next few decades and, even though this may not happen in the next 30 years or even 100 years, we know that the fault is at the end of its seismic cycle.
“Other projects around the world have drilled into major faults, but usually just after a major earthquake.
“The Deep Fault Drilling Project, which involved more than 100 scientists from 12 countries, gave us an opportunity to take a close look at a fault as it builds up to its next rupture.
“It is the first time this has ever been done on a major fault that is due to fail in coming decades.”
As part of the project that saw them drill into the fault, the researchers found that there are “extreme hydrothermal conditions.”
The team detected 100-degree groundwater which could become a valuable energy source along the fault-line.
Prof Sutherland explains: “The extreme underground conditions we discovered may result in substantial economic benefits for New Zealand by providing a sustainable and clean geothermal energy resource that could be used by industry and local communities.“