Richie McCaw, who has been airlifting stranded tourists out of Kaikoura, says the devastation of yesterday's quake looks "pretty crazy" from the air.

The former All Black captain, who now works as a commercial chopper pilot, has been flying rescue and reconnaissance missions since the deadly 7.5 magnitude quake struck early yesterday.

He described the damage to Newstalk ZB this morning.

"You sort of see, as you fly up the coast or down the coast, all the destruction of the road. It's been pretty crazy, really," McCaw said.


Read more: All Blacks great Richie McCaw joins deadly earthquake rescue efforts

"It's been a pretty full-on 24 hours, really."

McCaw said he had been taking firefighters into the area yesterday "to have a first look".

Since then, he had been airlifting tourists out.

"They're obviously trapped here in Kaikoura. [We're] trying to get them back to carry on with their holiday. I don't know what they're going to do, but [we'll] get them on their way."

A group of Chinese tourists was among those McCaw had been helping.

Asked if the former rugby great had brought smiles to their faces, McCaw responded with a laugh: "I'm not sure if they really understand, really. But I think they've just got a smile to get out of Kaikoura."

Yesterday, McCaw told the Herald he had been woken by the quake at midnight "like everyone else".

He described the deadly quake as "a bit scary".


McCaw has been working tirelessly in the quake response since first light yesterday, when he first flew search and rescue teams in.

"Just from a selfish point of view, it's nice to be able to fly but you'd like to be able to do it in better circumstances," he said yesterday.