Prime Minster John Key says recovery efforts from yesterday's earthquake are well underway in Kaikoura, but the region will suffer economically for some time to come.
Kaikoura remains cut off from the rest of the country by road and rail, following the quake in the early hours of yesterday morning.
Mr Key, Acting Defence Minister Gerry Brownlee and Labour leader Andrew Little travelled to the area in a Defence Force NH90 helicopter yesterday.
Speaking to Morning Report today, Mr Key said the scale of the slips was far more significant than he had expected.
"They really engulfed the roads, it wasn't just the material on the road, it was the thousands of cubic metres above that, and there were quite a number of a fairly major order."
He said the focus was currently on making sure locals had the basic necessities.
"In the very first instance, the priority is making sure there is enough water, food and access to people. We'll fly people in and out and make sure they have got supplies."
"The second thing happening simultaneously is getting State Highway 70 open."
But he said rail was not going to work along the coast for a long time and the disaster would also cause economic damage in the local community.
"Even once SH70 opens up, because you just don't have the capacity for people to go along SH1 easily, it's got to do some pretty big damage to the local community, which is a tourist town, and this is at the height of the summer."
He said the road repairs would be more complicated than just clearing the mess off the surface.
"The Manawautu Gorge took months and months, and when people have a chance to reflect on all of it, the scale of it, and the damage to the rail network, you can't help but wonder if the Transport Agency won't say that some sort of realignment programme (is needed)."
He says he anticipated NZTA will want to futureproof the road in some way,
Mr Key also said US President-elect Donald Trump tried to call him yesterday, but he missed the call, because he was in Cabinet.
Mr Key said he thought Mr Trump's officials would be trying to get hold of him in the next couple of days.