Stranded cows rescued from quake island near Kaikoura

A Kaikoura farmer has told Newshub he rescued his now world-famous cows with pick and shovel after they became stranded on a quake-made island.

Two beef cows and a calf became worldwide sensations after their predicament was filmed by Newshub following the devastating magnitude-7.5 quake centred near Culverden on Monday.

The farmer said the three cows were part of a larger group of 14 they rescued from the property, which was relatively flat before the earthquake.

He says those cows were lucky to have survived, considering the untold loss of stock his farm suffered due to the earthquake.

"We did lose stock, there were stock losses, but the whole hillside fell during the earthquake and we had a lot of stock on there - we don't know what we've got."

The bovines' recovery was delayed for safety reasons, as the group of rescuers wasn't sure the earth below them was stable.

"The problem was we weren't sure if there was going to be another earthquake, and we weren't sure if it was going to continue to slide - that's why we delayed going in. It wasn't because we didn't want to."

"We dug a track with a number of people - the soil was quite soft because it had all been tipped over and bumbled around, we managed to get a track in and bring them out," he says.

"They desperately needed water, cows don't like living without water so that was the first requirement, and I think one or two had lost calves in the earthquake so they were a bit distressed."

He said the fault line runs right underneath his farm, and the quake lifted part of his land by three metres.

"It was very steep limestone bluff covered in lovely pasture a week ago and now it's all in the gully."

He says the very "docile cows" are now safe.

Newshub camera operator Chris Jones, who filmed the cows while in a helicopter, says they didn't want to spook them as they flew by.

"We didn't want to scare them off by getting too close in the helicopter, hence why the shots are taken from a while away," he says.

As they took in the new lay of the land, Jones says the hillside had slipped.

"It was clear that the cows had slipped down on this big chunk of land. The cattle had obviously ridden these islands of land, and there's this group of cows suspended 20 feet in the air," he says.

He estimated the island to be between 50m and 80m across.

His footage of the stranded cows became the focus of international media attention.

"We've done a good deed by filming them - but it wasn't just me, it was a team effort," Jones said.