A spokeswoman for the US embassy in Wellington tonight confirmed the USS Sampson would head straight to Kaikoura.
It's not known how long the ship would stay in the quake-ravaged town, nor when it will arrive.
The ship was due to arrive in Auckland tomorrow as part of the 75th anniversary of the New Zealand Navy.
It will be the first time a US warship has docked in New Zealand since the ANZUS security alliance break up.
The HMNZS Canterbury is also on its way to Kaikoura from Auckland and is expected to dock on Wednesday.