The 2016 Mw 7.8 Kaikōura earthquake continued a notable decade of damaging earthquake impacts in New Zealand. The effects were wide ranging across the upper South Island, and included two fatalities, tsunami, tens of thousands of landslides, the collapse of one residential building, and damage to numerous structures and infrastructure. We present a preliminary overview focused on the seismological aspects of this earthquake and the corresponding seismological response effort. The earthquake rupture was extremely complex, involving at least 13 separate faults extending over ∼150 km, from the epicenter in north Canterbury to near the Cook Strait. We use backprojection and slip inversion methods to derive preliminary insights into the rupture evolution, identifying south‐to‐north rupture, including at least three distinct southwest‐to‐northeast propagating phases. The last phase is associated with a strong second pulse of energy release in the northern half of the rupture zone ∼70 s after rupture initiation, which we associate with the Kekerengu–Needles faults where some of the largest surface displacements (dextral) were observed. The mechanism of the mainshock was oblique thrust and relocated aftershocks show a range of thrust and strike‐slip mechanisms across three dominant spatial clusters. GeoNet datasets collected during the Kaikōura earthquake will be crucial in further unraveling details of the complex earthquake rupture and its implications for seismic hazard. Ground motions during the earthquake exceeded 1g at both ends of the rupture. Spectral accelerations exceeded 500‐year return period design level spectra in numerous towns in the upper South Island, as well as in parts of the capital city of Wellington at critical periods of 1–2 s, influenced by site/basin and directivity effects. Another important part of the response effort has been the provision of earthquake forecasts, as well as consideration of the implications of slow slip on the Hikurangi subduction interface triggered as a result of the Kaikōura earthquake.