Wellington City Libraries

Te Matapihi Ki Te Ao Nui

The Sinking of the Wahine 10 April 1968


The Wahine, listing on her side
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 to help you research the sinking of the Wahine in greater detail. Some of the books may 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 - have a browse below, or come in to your local library and ask a librarian for assistance.


The Wahine Disaster / by Max Lambert and Jim Hartley
910.453 LAM
Probably the most detailed book written for the general reader on the disaster. It also includes a number of dramatic photographs of the event.

Please note: The full text of The Wahine Disaster, by Max Lambert and Jim Hartley is available online at the New Zealand Electronic Text Centre (including many of the photographs)

New Zealand's Shipwreck Gallery / by Steve Locker-Lampson and Ian Francis
910.45 LOC
Has a brief write-up of the disaster and a dramatic photograph in its section on the Wahine.

The Wahine Disaster / by Kevin Boon
910.453 BOO
A well-illustrated introduction to the sinking of the Wahine especially written for younger readers or for those for whom English is a second language.


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

Video & Audio

From Radio NZ

Survivors of the Wahine disaster tell their story 50 years on (full article & video)

From NZOnScreen

1968 New Zealand Broadcasting Corporation coverage of the disaster

See also this Collection of Documentaries about the Wahine Disaster

From NZHistory

A Radio broadcast from the day of the Wahine disaster
Hear a radio broadcast from the day of the disaster, together with transcript

Images & Ephemera

From Museums Wellington

An image collection that is a special tribute to the TEV Wahine. Covers the launch of the ship, its interior, the ship in dock, the disaster and sinking, and the salvage of the wrecked ship.

From Digital New Zealand

A curated image search from selected institutions


NZHistory - Wahine Disaster
A good overview of the disaster

Wellington City Archives
City Archives are the repository for the Wellington Harbour Board and the Union Steamship Company records, containing original source material relating to the Wahine disaster

From Digital New Zealand
A curated search from selected institutions (all results)

Heritage Links (Local History)