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 round-up 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 television 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 Rēinga from the Tasman Sea. 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 Whangārei, the Kaitawa sent a Mayday call at around 9 p.m. All contact was then lost and wreckage began floating ashore next day. Investigators concluded that the Kaitawa  had probably been swamped by one or more huge waves. As the ship took on water it began to list and drifted onto the Pandora Bank. Continually hit by heavy seas, it capsized before drifting towards Cape Maria van Diemen and sinking to the ocean floor. Only the body of motorman John Wright was ever recovered.

Coronation of first Māori Queen

On 18 May the Māori King, Korokī, died at his home in Ngāruawāhia. Shortly before his burial on 23 May his daughter Piki was crowned as Te Atairangikaahu, becoming the first Māori Queen. The sixth Maori monarch since the creation of the Kīngitanga in 1858, Te Atairangikaahu is to date the longest-serving Māori 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, the White House sent its top two politicians to New Zealand in 1966. A visit in February by Vice-President Hubert Humphrey was followed in October by the two-day visit of President Lyndon B. Johnson. ‘LBJ’ was the first US President to visit this country. It was not, however, his first visit to New Zealand – Lieutenant Commander Johnson (then a congressman) 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 local artists and dancers who became household names, including the Chicks, Mr Lee Grant and Dinah Lee.
  • Don’t let It get you was just 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 and 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 Lions. The Lions played 25 matches in New Zealand, also losing to Southland, Otago, Wellington and Wanganui-King Country, and drawing with Bay of Plenty and Hawke’s Bay.
  • The new inter-island ferry Wahine arrived at Wellington on 24 July and made 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 two-party monopoly of Parliament was ended when Social Credit leader Vernon Cracknell won the Hobson electorate in the general election. National was returned with a nine-seat majority over 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.
  • On 5 March, Gisborne was hit by a magnitude 6.2 earthquake which caused considerable property damage. 
  • The first Trekka, the only vehicle to be designed and mass produced in New Zealand, rolled off the assembly line. Some 2500 of these jeep-style farm vehicles were built between 1966 and 1973.

Can you remember 1966? Add your memories and comments in the form below.

How to cite this page

'1966 - key events', URL:, (Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated 13-Jan-2022

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Tony McGuire

Posted: 07 Sep 2018

February 1966 Wellington on board the liner Durango just left port for London when the chief steward fires a few shots on board the liner i was the steward who was shot and rushed to Wellington General, many thanks to the staff for saving my life that night, Sir Walter Nash was a passenger.