Two Hawke's Bay students were plucked from quake chaos after being left shaken and stranded on their road trip back from Dunedin.

Bella Smith, 20, and Phoebe Mill, 20, abandoned their car in Kaikoura before they were rescued and helicoptered out of the quake-damaged town on Monday night.

"It was one of the scariest experiences I have ever been in. Everyone was saying get to higher ground with the tsunami warning but we didn't know where that was," Ms Smith said.

The pair were heading back to their Napier and Havelock North homes and arrived in Kaikoura for a pit stop at 9.30pm on Sunday.

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At 12.02am the bed in their backpackers was thrown from the centre of the room to the wall, as the 7.8 magnitude earthquake struck.

"We ran outside once the quake had stopped to find no one in reception telling us what to do. Since we arrived when it was pitch black we had no idea where to go or where the sea was," Ms Mill said.

There was no Wi-Fi, power or reception so they packed up their things and followed the line of cars heading towards the hospital.

"We were so lucky as a local who lived by the hospital invited us in to their home and gave us a cup of tea and some biscuits. They had their radio going so we could finally understand what was going on," Ms Smith said.

A few hours later after going to Red Cross the girls were told Kaikoura was cut off.

"I think this is when we went in to mish mode and it really hit us, as officials said we could be here for weeks."

Ms Mill said they went around the backpackers and motels to find accommodation and the only place they could get was a conference room in a hotel.

"All the places along the sea had been emptied out and it was so eerie but luckily this woman set up some mattresses for us so we had somewhere to stay other than inside the car."

It was not until Monday afternoon that power was restored and the girls sat down and had a proper meal.

"A restaurant cooked up some delicious lamb shanks but the only thing is we didn't have knives and forks so we had to scoop it up with bread," Ms Smith said.

"We loved it and got amongst but the foreigners weren't so keen so we had to keep telling them this was a Kiwi classic," Ms Mill said.

The aftershocks continued, with the girls sitting by their car hoping the day would be over.

"It did get pretty exciting though, as the 6pm news team set up by us and John Key walked right past us. That was probably one of the highlights other than the helicopter ride," Ms Smith said.

Following the news the girls heard that helicopters were coming to Kaikoura and taking those stranded to Christchurch.

They added their names to the list and within 10 minutes of arriving at the centre they were whisked off in the chopper.

"It was pretty crazy looking down on the town, as you didn't realise the extent of the damage," Ms Mill said.

"The crew left the doors open for five to 10 minutes when we took off and you could see the slips left, right and centre and all of the cracks," Ms Smith said.

Both girls said the support from Kaikoura locals was amazing.

"With everything going on in their own town and their own families the amount they did for us visitors was unreal. Although we were stranded they never made us feel alone," Ms Smith said.

Ms Mill's car is still in Kaikoura and she does not plan to go back and get it anytime soon.

"I think the car is the least of my worries, we were just so lucky to have so much support and get home when we did."