This article provides insights into the observed ground‐motion records from the 14 November 2016 Mw 7.8 Kaikoura earthquake. Specific detail is given in examining observations in the near source and those in the urban Wellington and Lower Hutt regions through a combination of time series and response spectra to help in understanding salient source, path, and site effects. Several ground motions exceeding 1.0g horizontal are recorded, as well as up to 2.7g in the vertical direction at one location. The complexity associated with multifault rupture is clearly evident in several strong‐motion stations in the near‐source region. Significant site‐effect case histories from sedimentary and reclaimed soil deposits and topographic effects are observed in the Wellington and Lower Hutt regions. To provide further insights, predictions from preliminary broadband ground‐motion simulations are examined to more directly interpret the observations.