HMNZS Canterbury is sailing to Kaikoura loaded with aid supplies and will bring back tourists and residents.
Air Commodore Darryn Webb, acting commander joint forces New Zealand, said the vessel would leave Auckland tonight for Kaikoura, picking up emergency supplies en route.
Hundreds of defence personnel and at least six aircraft supported Civil Defence and emergency services in quake-ravaged North Canterbury today.
The Defence Force sent a seven-member team to help assess the damage in Kaikoura and an Air Force P-3K2 Orion spent seven hours surveying the damage to the main transport routes between Picton and Christchurch.
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Another aircraft flew Prime Minister John Key and Acting Civil Defence Minister Gerry Brownlee to Kaikoura and police officers were taken to quake-hit areas in an A109 chopper.