Relieved tourists have been flown by helicopter from Kaikoura to a Red Cross Centre in North Canterbury this morning.

New Zealand Defence Force choppers have been taking the tourists to Woodend School, 30 minutes north of Christchurch.

Kaikoura remains unreachable by road because of massive slips and damage on State Highway 1 after a magnitude 7.5 quake hit just after midnight on Monday morning.

Among the grateful tourists were Francois Stofberg and his partner, of Whangarei Heads, who had spent just one night in Kaikoura.


Stofberg is due to fly to Antarctica in a couple of days and had intended to leave Kaikoura yesterday.

He was content to stay in the town but when his partner found out they were able to leave, they took the opportunity.

He said last night not many people were aware the Red Cross was arranging flights out of Kaikoura, but the news spread quickly.

This morning there were hundreds waiting for the choppers. Red Cross prioritised people who had to catch other flights.

Woodend School principal Graeme Barber said ​the helicopters were coming in to the Woodend recreation ground which the school used as a playground.

The kids were excited to see helicopters but understood they needed to stay away. The school was running as usual.

Helicopter crews from across the South Island, including All Blacks legend Richie McCaw, have been busy flying people out of quake-damaged areas.

Sarah Stuart-Black, director of Civil Defence, has provided an update to media from a bunker below the Beehive in Wellington, and said progress was being made.

Asked how soon everyone stranded in Kaikoura could be taken out of the area, Stuart-Black indicated it would be soon.

"We are hoping with the amount of helicopter trips in and out today ... that we will be able to get quite a number of people out today. The exact number is still to be confirmed."

By noon today there were 34 people who had been airlifted out, Stuart-Black said.

Authorities were starting to receive generous offers of support, but at this stage asked that goods not be donated.

The biggest challenge was getting essentials like water into isolated communities.

The Defence Force has deployed four Air Force NH90 helicopters to help evacuate tourists and residents from Kaikoura.

Air Commodore Darryn Webb, the Acting Commander Joint Forces New Zealand, said the priority today was to evacuate people being accommodated at the local marae and various community buildings.

About 5000kg of aid supplies destined for Kaikoura is currently at Christchurch and includes food, water, hygiene products and jerrycans of diesel.