On the morning of 10 April 1968 one of New Zealand’s worst recorded storms hit Wellington. This storm produced freak winds of up to 230 km per hour around Cook Strait. The Christchurch–Wellington ferry Wahine was driven onto Barrett Reef, at the entrance to Wellington Harbour.
When the ship hit the reef, one of its propellors was knocked off and an engine was damaged. The Wahine could no longer be steered properly so it drifted into the harbour before leaning to starboard (nautical term for the right side of a ship). Because of the heavy list (another nautical term for a ship leaning dangerously in the water), only four of the eight lifeboats could be launched, and most of the inflatable life rafts flipped in the savage seas.
The Wahine finally capsized at 2.30 p.m. Most deaths occurred on the Eastbourne side of the harbour, where people were driven against sharp rocks by the waves. Of the 734 passengers and crew, 51 died that day, another died several weeks later and a 53rd victim died in 1990 from injuries sustained in the wreck.
It remains one of New Zealand’s worst maritime disasters, after the wreck of SS Penguin in 1905.
Want to know more?
Wellington City Libraries Heritage pages have got loads of info, photos and footage from that fateful day: https://wcl.govt.nz/heritage/wahine
Other useful sites are:
Want to read all about it?
No safe harbour / Hill, David
“Stuart and his twin sister Sandra are coming home to Wellington on the ferry. Stuart knows he’ll enjoy the trip – he’s a good sailor. But it’s April 1968 and the ship is the Wahine. As the tragic events unwind Stuart and Sandra must battle to stay alive. A vivid and compelling picture of the Wahine’s last hours.” (Catalogue)
The Wahine disaster / Corlett, Shirley
“When Debbie’s grandmother gives her a copy of her forefather’s old sea journal, she finds it fascinating. While Debbie’s own diary tells of 1960s school life and troubles with her friends, excerpts from the diary of 1841 tell of the hardships of life on an emigrant sailing ship. At home, sick with glandular fever, Debbie feels transported back in time. Is it the fever, or is her long-dead relative trying to tell her something? Following a trip to the South Island to visit relatives, Debbie boards the ferry to return home to Wellington. It is April 1968. The ferry’s name is Wahine…” (Catalogue)
New Zealand disasters : our response, resilience and recovery / Gill, Maria
“Inspiring stories of courage, resilience and determination in the face of disaster. New Zealanders have endured phenomenal natural and human disasters throughout the ages. This inspiring book documents some of these key moments in our history and, more importantly, how we responded and grew stronger; what changes/improvements were made as a result. Cyclones, tornadoes, earthquakes, landslides, floods, volcanic eruptions, fires, plane crashes, pandemics and other disasters are just some of the many themes covered in this comprehensive, vibrantly illustrated account. Includes: Outcomes, Safety Tips, and What to Do in an Emergency.” (Catalogue)