The 1960s

Page 9 – 1966 - key events

NZ’s longest running TV show debuts

The first episode of Country Calendar screened on the evening of Sunday 6 March. The 15-minute show was intended as a roundup of news for country folk. New Zealanders' identification with their rural heartland and traditions ensured that even 'townies' embraced Country Calendar, which has consistently been one of the most popular locally made television shows. It is believed to be the second-longest-running series in the world – after the English soap-opera Coronation Street.

Kaitawa tragedy

On the evening of 23 May all 29 crew on board the MV Kaitawa died when the ship was lost in heavy seas as it approached Cape Reinga. This was one of New Zealand’s worst shipwrecks of the 20th century. On a routine run with a cargo of coal from Westport to the Portland cement works, near Whangarei, the Kaitawa sent a Mayday call around 9 p.m. All contact was then lost and wreckage began floating ashore the next day. Investigators concluded that the Kaitawa was most likely swamped by one or more great waves. As the ship took on water it began to list and drifted on to the Pandora Bank. Here it was smashed by the heavy seas and capsized before drifting to a point closer to Cape Maria van Diemen, where it sank to the ocean floor. Only the body of motorman John Wright was ever recovered.

Coronation of new Maori Queen

In May the Maori King, Koriki, died at his home in Ngaruawahia. Shortly before his burial on 23 May his daughter Piki was crowned as Te Atairangikaahu, becoming the first Maori Queen. The sixth Maori monarch since the creation of the Kingitanga in 1858, Te Atairangikaahu is to date the longest-serving Maori monarch. She died in August 2006, shortly after celebrating her 40th jubilee as Queen.

The White House comes to New Zealand

In a bid to shore up support for the war in Vietnam, New Zealand received two high-profile visitors from the White House in 1966. A visit in February from Vice-President Hubert Humphrey was followed in October by the two-day visit of President Lyndon B. Johnson. ‘LBJ’ was the first President to visit this country. It was not, however, his first visit New Zealand – he had been stationed here (and in Australia) during the Second World War.

Other events of 1966

  • The local television music show C’mon made its debut. Hosted by Peter Sinclair, it showcased a number of local artists and dancers who became household names including the Chicks, Mr Lee Grant and Dinah Lee.
  • Don’t Let It Get You was only the third New Zealand feature film since the end of the Second World War. Made by John O’Shea for Pacific Films, it starred Howard Morrison, a heavily brylcreemed Lew Pryme and a young Kiri Te Kanawa.
  • Maria Dallas won the Loxene Golden Disc Award for Tumbling down. These awards were the forerunner of today’s Tui Awards or New Zealand Music Awards.
  • The Socialist Unity Party was established by the pro-Russian faction of the New Zealand Communist Party. With strong trade union ties, the SUP established itself as the most powerful extreme left-wing group in the country.
  • The All Blacks completed a 4-0 clean sweep against the touring British and Irish Lions. The Lions played 25 matches in New Zealand, also losing to Southland, Otago, Wellington and Wanganui-King Country. Bay of Plenty and Hawke’s Bay drew with the visitors.
  • The new inter-island ferry Wahine arrived at Wellington on 24 July 1966, making its first voyage to Lyttelton on 1 August. Its sinking at the entrance to Wellington Harbour in 1968 is one of the enduring images of New Zealand in the sixties.
  • The 20-year-old two-party monopoly of Parliament was ended when Social Credit leader Vernon Cracknell won the Hobson electorate in the 1966 general election. National won the election with a nine-seat majority from Labour.
  • The state monopoly on commercial radio broadcasting was challenged by pirate station Radio Hauraki’s first transmission from the vessel Tiri in the Colville Channel.
  • The poet James K. Baxter was awarded New Zealand's premier literary residency, the Robert Burns Fellowship.
  • Gisborne was hit by a magnitude 6.2 earthquake on 5 March with considerable damage to property.
  • The first Trekka, the only vehicle to be designed and mass produced in New Zealand, rolled off the assembly line for the first time. Some 2500 of these jeep-style farm vehicles were built between 1966 and 1973.

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How to cite this page

'1966 - key events', URL:, (Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated 13-Jan-2016

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