Wahine disaster

Page 1 – Introduction

Wahine disaster survivors on shore near Eastbourne
Wahine disaster survivors on shore near Eastbourne

Tragedy in Wellington Harbour

The sinking of the Lyttelton–Wellington ferry Wahine on 10 April 1968 was New Zealand’s worst modern maritime disaster. Fifty-one people lost their lives that day, another died several weeks later, and a 53rd victim died in 1990 from injuries sustained during the sinking. The Wahine’s demise also marked a coming of age for television news broadcasting in New Zealand, as images of the disaster were beamed into the nation’s living rooms. The footage was later screened around the world as the international media focused on Wellington.

Would-be rescuers stood helplessly on the beach at Seatoun as the Wahine succumbed to one of the worst storms recorded in New Zealand history. It seemed impossible that so many lives could be lost so close to shore. Although the main cause of the accident was the atrocious weather, a subsequent court of inquiry found that errors of judgement had been made both on board the ferry and on shore. Shipwrecks had been common in the 19th century, but this was the 1960s – how could a large, modern vessel founder within sight of New Zealand’s capital city? 

How to cite this page

'The Wahine disaster', URL: https://nzhistory.govt.nz/culture/wahine-disaster, (Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated 30-Jan-2024