olivers social studies natural disasters poster

Tragedy in Wellington Harbour

the sinking of the wahine was one of the worst disaster involving moden day technology 51out 734 off people died in that bay

what happened on the day?

On the 10th April 1968 a tropical cyclone collided with a southerly front creating enormous waves. The winds were going as fast as 125 knots (230 km) smashing in to the Wellington coast. At the same time the Wellington ferry (Wahine) was finishing its course from Christchurch to Wellington,when it was driven on to Barretts Reef, at the entrance to Wellington Harbour. It was knocked off course and smashed in to rocks. Later she was lifted off the rocks by the same huge waves and she began to drift slowly up the harbour.

At first it was thought that the Wahine would be saved and there were efforts to tow her into a sheltered area but a little after midday she began to tilt dangerously to starboard. At 1.15pm the order was given to abandon ship. There was a lot of alarm and confusion. Many had taken off their life jackets thinking that the risk was over but unfortunately that is not how it turned out. They were asked to go to starboard side where the life boats were able to be put in. Some were confused and didn't know where starboard was and went to the high side of the ship. There were only four lifeboats to fill. Three made it safely to Seatoun side but one was swept towards the Eastbourn side and capsized. For many passengers there were were no boats or rafts available so they were forced to leap into the water. But many of these people were picked up by Wellingtonians who had launched boats or rafts to help. But others were left to the mercy of the sea and swept across the harbour by the ebbing tide. It was mainly these people who ended up being pounded on to the eastern shores of the harbour. Some drowned or died of exposure. Others who reached the coast were dashed against the rocks by pounding surf.

So of the 735 people that abandoned the Wahine only 51 lost their lives which is amazing considering the circumstances.