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Heritage > The sinking of the Wahine 10 April 1968

The Wahine, listing on her side. Footnote [1.]



Though there have been worse shipping disasters in New Zealand with far greater loss of life, the sinking of the Wahine in 1968 is by far the most well known.

The tragedy can be attributed to one major cause - the weather. The storm which exploded upon Wellington was one of the worst ever recorded in New Zealand. Its ferocity was due to it being a combination of two storms which by chance happened to merge directly over Wellington.

The first storm began several days before as a minor tropical cyclone to the far north of New Zealand. It was initially expected to pass over the Chatham Islands, but on the night of 9-10 April (the limitations of technology at the time meant it could not be tracked overnight), it dramatically changed course and headed south to Wellington. At the same time a deep depression was heading up the South Island - and the two storms clashed together at almost exactly the same time as the overnight Lyttleton - Wellington ferry T.E.V Wahine approached the harbour entrance.

Massive waves and hurricane force winds led to the ship being forced on to Barrett's Reef. This resulted in the loss of her starboard propeller and the failure of her port engine, leaving the ship without any propulsive power. With capsize inevitable, the order to abandon ship was given early that afternoon. Of the 734 passengers and crew on board, 51 people lost their lives.

On shore, the storm also resulted in massive damage, flooding and injuries as people were hit by flying debris. The storm also marked the coming-of-age for television news broadcasting in New Zealand as camera crews rushed to report on events as they unfolded. The resulting footage was screened around the world as the world's media spotlight turned its attention to Wellington. Television coverage of the disaster later went on to win an international World News film award.

The disaster has also been well documented by historians and journalists. Below are a number of resources which can be found in the Central Library to help you research the sinking of the Wahine in greater detail. Some of the books may also be available in branch libraries - each book title links through to the libraries' online catalogue so you can check location and availability.

At the library

The library has many resources to help you research this topic.


Audio Material:

The sinking of the Wahine was a ground-breaking event in the history of broadcasting in New Zealand. Listening to these resources will help you gain a better understanding of the impact the sinking had on New Zealand at the time.

  • New Zealand Disasters
    Cassette 993.1 NEW
    Produced by Replay Radio (RNZ), this cassette includes archive recordings of radio broadcasts made by the NZBC during the sinking of the Wahine.
  • Great Moments in New Zealand History
    Children Cassette 993.1 GRE
    This audio cassette uses recordings from the Radio New Zealand Sound Archives to create a "sound picture" of the Wahine tragedy.

Newspapers & Magazines:

  • The Dominion and the Evening Post, April 1968
    The Central Library has microfilmed copies of these newspapers covering the Wahine disaster. They give haunting reports and on-site coverage of events as well as helping to place the disaster in a historic context. Photocopies can be made of complete pages or of individual articles. Ask staff at the 2nd floor reference desk for details.


  1. Wahine photo from The Evening Post supplied courtesy of The Museum of Wellington City and Sea. back

WCC Events Site I Heritage Links (Local History)