SYDNEY ? As people across the South Pacific headed for the hills on Sunday fearing giant waves, Australian swimmers and surfers did the opposite and flocked to the beach.
Australian officials said there would be "no wall of water coming over the horizon" after a 8.8-magnitude quake hit Chile and sent waves racing across the Pacific.
East coast beaches were closed, however, and people were urged to avoid the water
But scores of people ignored warnings of dangerous currents at Sydney's famous Bondi Beach and dipped into the water, and hundreds rushed to seaside outlooks along the coast to watch for giant waves.
"Initially everybody got out, however, people seem to be going back in and the tsunami warning is still active," Bondi lifesaver Jacob Waxs told AFP. "The surfers here in Bondi will still be out there when there's a shark alarm."
Bondi regular Lorentz Engdahl said beachgoers remained unconvinced of any danger, despite a Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre alert being in place for Australia's east coast for most of the morning.
It has since been lifted although an Australian warning for marine dangers remains in place.
"Nothing has happened so I think that people have decided that nothing is going to happen," he told AFP.
"The biggest danger right now are the blue bottles," he said in reference to the stinging jellyfish, which are a common nuisance on Australian beaches.
The Australian tsunami warning center said water levels rose by up to 50 centimeters (20 inches) at Norfolk Island off the east coast but added that levels could rise later.
In New Zealand, waves up to 1.5 meters (five feet) high rammed into the eastern Chatham Islands but there were no reports of serious damage.
The country's entire east coast had been thought at risk of walls of water up to three meters, but by mid-afternoon the Ministry of Civil Defense and Emergency Management said the situation had stabilized and downgraded the tsunami warning to an advisory.
In the nearby South Pacific territories of Tonga, Samoa and American Samoa, where memories are still fresh of a tsunami that killed at least 118 last September, coastal residents moved to higher ground during the early morning darkness when the tsunami warnings were first issued.
In Tonga, there was the rare sight of hundreds of people massed on the grounds of the king's hillside mansion as they sought sanctuary.
"Whole families are sleeping next to their cars and setting up a makeshift camp," AFP correspondent Mary Fonua said. They were able to return home unscathed a few hours later.
In the Cook Islands and Samoa hundreds took to the hills when the tsunami warnings were issued and returned immediately when the all-clear was given.
But in New Zealand, largely unscathed from the Samoa tsunamis, people were in no hurry to take precautions with emergency services reporting sightseers, surfers and swimmers heading for the water in areas being evacuated.
In Napier, on the eastern North Island, the Sunday market went ahead on the foreshore, while elsewhere fishermen headed out to sea in small boats or took up positions on rocky outcrops unconcerned by the tsunami warnings.
"I've got my flippers," one woman told the New Zealand Press Association.