The evacuation of Kaikoura has begun.

The first load of 50 tourists is heading out to the HMNZS Canterbury, which is docked off the coast.

NZ Navy Lieutenant Commander Matt Kaio said given the low tide, which is lower because of the seabed rising at South Bay, Whalewatch boats cannot be used as they're grounded and unable to move until high tide.

Instead, the Navy's inflatable boats and the Coastguard will carry 10 passengers each


The landing craft can hold 100, and the HMNZS Canterbury holds up to 800.

Kaio said they were keen to get as many people as possible out today because the weather is forecast to deteriorate tomorrow.

He said the New Zealand Navy would tomorrow be supported by other visiting war ships including the USS Samson, HMCS Vancouver, HMNZS Endeavour which will be led by HMNZS Te Kaha.

Civil Defence aims to evacuate at least 600 stranded tourists from Kaikoura today.

About 1000 tourists have been stuck in the small coastal town since Monday morning's violent shake.

Civil Defence announced outside Takahanga Marae this morning it would try to get at least 600 tourists to Christchurch.

The HMNZS Canterbury, which has now arrived, will transport most of them, and the rest will be taken by helicopter.

It's unclear how the passengers will get on the boat, but helicopters may be used.

It was welcome news for Spanish tourists Michelle Tout, 34, Victoria Diaz, 36, and 35-year-old Elena Sanchez who "just want to get home".

Spanish tourists, from left, Elena Sanchez, Michelle Tout and Victoria Diaz are keen to leave Kaikoura soon. Photo / Mike Scott
Spanish tourists, from left, Elena Sanchez, Michelle Tout and Victoria Diaz are keen to leave Kaikoura soon. Photo / Mike Scott

"We have changed everything to go back as soon as possible," said Tout. We don't want to be here anymore. I don't feel all that scared now but we aren't going to be able to enjoy the holiday because we're not sure if we can go anywhere far from Christchurch."

Their families were also worried watching reports of the quake on the news.

"Our family is really worried because they are seeing all of these great big things getting all broken and they think it's worse than what it is for us because we're okay."

But Tour said they could cope if they have to wait for evacuation: "If not it will be another night more and [we have to] just be patient."

However, the quakes won't spell the end of the holiday for Astrid and Ruudmak Marigs, of the Netherlands.

They've spent nearly four weeks in New Zealand and just as this morning's Civil Defence meeting finished got told their travel agent had booked them on a flight to Wellington this afternoon.

Geroen Van Ameijde, 30, Chantal Van Wingerden, 28, also of the Netherlands, will be on the same flight.

The group met while staying at the same accommodation in rural Kaikoura.

Van Ameijde said "of course" they would continue their holiday.

British man Les Bruce was pleased with the evacuation news, too, more so for his wife Karin who had been on edge since the quake.

"I've got a wife that is nervous about every after shock. We will probably just go straight home."

The Warwickshire couple were supposed to spend two weeks in New Zealand after arriving on Friday.

Fellow Brits Hugh and Linda Jarvis, of nearby Rutland, say they will re-evaluate their plans later day when they hope to get to Christchurch.

Jarvis had nothing but good things to say about the people of Kaikoura and for everyone who was helping make their lives a little more comfortable since the quake.

"We've been very impressed with our resort team and the effort and give the residents of Kaikoura our best wishes."