Stranded tourists being evacuated out of Kaikoura are being put on a flight priority list according to health and travel plans.

Civil Defence predicts it will take at least two days to evacuate the 1000 holidaymakers stranded in the township, which is cut off following Monday's 7.5 earthquake.

Army helicopters are starting to ferry people 20 at a time and the navy frigate, Canterbury, is steaming south but not expected to dock until tomorrow.

Kaikoura Civil Defence welfare centre coordinator James Kirner said up to 600 people had registered with the Red Cross but at least 400 tourists were in campervans and caravans unable to get out of the region.

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CCTV footage shows this morning's earthquake shaking the Spruce Goose cafe in Wellington

"There are plans in place using army and helicopters and other resources to try and get as many tourists out as possible as they need to fly to other places today," said Kirner.

"Of course there are a lot of people. We will do that through needs first, be it medical, be it flights leaving for other places."

He said the evacuation operation was going to take time and many tourists would be forced to spend yet another night in the town.

"We won't get everyone out today but our plan is to get as many people out as possible and then look after the rest for the rest of the day and hopefully then try again tomorrow."