The 1960s

Page 11 – 1968 - key events

Wahine disaster

At around 6.40 a.m. on 10 April the inter-island ferry Wahine, with 734 passengers and crew on board, struck Barrett Reef at the entrance to Wellington Harbour. Would-be rescuers stood helplessly on the beach at Seatoun as the Wahine succumbed to Hurricane Giselle, one of the worst storms recorded in New Zealand history. This country’s deadliest modern maritime disaster, the Wahine wreck would ultimately claim 53 lives.

Īnangahua earthquake

At 5.24 a.m. on 24 May Īnangahua Junction, a small community 40 km east of Westport, was the epicentre of a magnitude 7.1 earthquake. The violent shaking threw some residents from their beds. Two died when a limestone bluff collapsed onto their farmhouse. A motorist was killed near Greymouth when he hit a section of road that had subsided at a bridge approach. Three men died later when a rescue helicopter crashed.

A number of landslides were triggered by the tremors. One dammed the Buller River above Īnangahua Junction, raising the river 30 m above its normal level. With the water backed up for 7 km, Īnangahua and Westport were at risk of inundation should the dam burst. This threat forced a mass evacuation.

John Rowles breaks into UK top 10

While a number of New Zealand musicians had cracked the Australasian market, no one made the next big step until John Rowles arrived in London in late 1967. Competing against established stars like Tom Jones and Engelbert Humperdinck, the boy from Kawerau had a huge hit with his first UK release, 'If I only had time'/'Now is the hour'. This cracked the top 10 in the UK, Australia and New Zealand. His follow-up single, 'Hush not a word to Mary'/'The night we called it a day', made the top 20 in all three countries. During the late 1960s Rowles established himself as New Zealand's premier international artist. He is best remembered for the 1969 hit single 'Cheryl Moana Marie', which sold a million copies worldwide.

Death of Sir Walter Nash

Walter Nash was prime minister in the second Labour government (1957-60). Associated with the Labour Party since its creation in 1916, he had entered Parliament by winning the Hutt Valley seat in a 1929 by-election. He continued to represent this seat until his death. He was Minister of Finance in the first Labour government (1935-49) and became leader of the party in 1951.

Nash’s leadership was severely tested during the 1951 waterfront dispute. While addressing a rally in Auckland he stated that Labour was ‘not for the waterside workers, and we are not against them’. This attempt at impartiality backfired badly, and he was ridiculed by his political opponents and the press for years afterwards. In the snap election that followed Nash and Labour won only 30 of the 80 seats. But Nash confirmed his status as one of the great survivors of New Zealand politics when, at the age of 75, he led Labour to victory in the 1957 election.

Other events of 1968

  • Allison Durbin won the Loxene Golden Disc Award for ‘I have loved me a man’. These awards were the forerunner of the Tui and New Zealand Music Awards.
  • The Wattie Book Awards (forerunner of the Montana New Zealand Book Awards) began. The first winner was John Morton and Michael Miller’s The New Zealand sea shore. J.T. Salmon’s 2nd field guide to the alpine plants of New Zealand came second and Lloyd Geering’s controversial God in the new world third.
  • Wellington hosted the ministerial conference of the South-East Asia Treaty Organisation (SEATO). With the Vietnam War the major topic for discussion, a coalition of anti-war groups met at the same time.
  • The current affairs show Gallery began, hosted by Brian Edwards.
  • The New Zealand men's coxed fours won the gold medal at the Mexico City Olympics. Bronzes were won by Mike Ryan in the men’s marathon and Ian Ballinger in the men's small-bore rifle shooting.
  • For the first year (other than during a major war) the number of females in New Zealand exceeded the number of males. There were 99.8 men for every 100 women.

Can you remember 1968? Add your memories and comments in the form below.

How to cite this page

'1968 - key events', URL:, (Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated 13-Jan-2022

Community contributions

5 comments have been posted about 1968 - key events

What do you know?

ross leonard sayer

Posted: 10 Nov 2021

in 1968 whangarei had a cub day held at Okara Park Whangarei now known as northland events centre.

Malcolm Watts

Posted: 07 Apr 2021

I vividly remember the sinking of the Wahine. I was one of the lucky children who enjoyed an overnight trip on the Wahine from Wellington to Lyttelton as part of one of our family holidays (I had a cabin to myself and chose the top bunk).
The day of the sinking I left school after my 3rd form day and went to my after-school job at Tisco in Taupo where the technicians spent most of the evening sitting around one of the (repaired) televisions riveted by the unfolding events.
BTW, one of my jobs at Tisco was changing worn-out picture tubes in TVs in for repair. I must have changed a hundred or more and it was somewhat scary. The tubes were literally bombs being highly evacuated. The scariest part was removing the metal band from the periphery of the "mono/rim-vista" tubes as I was told that they eased the pressure on the tubes. I was always relieved when I screwed the rims back on. No OSH (yay!) and I never ended up having an accident.

Kath Henderson

Posted: 02 Oct 2020

You have a comment in your paragraphs about the sinking of the Wahine that some passengers "did not know which side of the ship was starboard and so made their way to the high side". This may have been so for a few people, but I was a passenger in a long line of other passengers who exited A lounge, climbed downstairs to B level, and were helped and pushed up the steeply sloping passageway of the ship to out side on port side by a line of crew in stewards coats, who must have been given orders to do so in case of an abandon ship situation.. We then did indeed find ourselves clinging to the rail on high side, exposed to the full force of the storm, and had to struggle to make our way along towards the bow, including climbing down some metal steps to the level where there was the sloping, wet deck we needed to get down across to reach the lifeboats and rubber rafts on starboard side. Meanwhile someone had realized their error in not recinding orders to get A lounge people to the port side emergency craft. So we found lines of webbing had been tied to the port side railing at top of the slope, and some passengers were able to abseil down. It is very disrespectful to repeat in an official history that the dozens of passengers stranded op on the port side deck, after being directed there by crew, did not know what side starboard was. The noise of the storm and general pandemonium after passengers listened on a transistor to the 1.00 pm regional radio news, when Relda Familton announced the ship was sinking and people were abandoning ship, meant many people never heard any official abandon ship announcement, let alone advice to go to starboard. Naturally we all did go where directed by the chain that crew formed to assist us, as they obviously had earlier been trained to do.

Bob Malcolm

Posted: 10 Jul 2015

Rangitane sails for England for the last time

Paul Jeffery

Posted: 05 Dec 2010

On October 14, 1968, New Zealand domestic travel enters the jet age when New Zealand National Airways Coprporation makes their inaugeral jet flights using two of three new Boeing 737s delivered, between Auckland and Wellington. NAC was the first airline outside USA or Europe to order the new jet.