On 11 April 1968, Christchurch is damaged by strong winds and flooding from what would soon be called the ‘Wahine Storm’. Tragically, this storm claims one life.
Just two days earlier, the ‘Wahine’ left Lyttelton carrying 610 passengers and 125 crew members. Totally unaware of the two storms bearing down on New Zealand, the ‘Wahine’ enters Wellington Harbour at first light on the 10th. Cyclone Giselle had whipped down the North Island while an Antarctic storm ripped up the West Coast of the South Island. The two storms met at Wellington and the poor ‘Wahine’ was caught in winds of up to and over 200mph!
The ‘Wahine’ was blown off course, the radars failing as it drifted into the Barrett Reef. So violent was the weather that the passengers had no idea they had hit rocks at all. No help could be launched from shore so the Captain decided that it was safer for all to stay aboard. An attempt was made to get the ‘Wahine’ back out to sea but the engines failed. Tossed about like a bath toy, the ‘Wahine’ capsized near the Steeple Rock. The lifeboats are deployed with a mixture of results.
53 people died due to drowning, exposure, exhaustion, being washed into rocks and a few days after – fatal injuries. Inquiries cleared the Captain – the court acknowledging that he had made the best choices at the time and had, in fact, saved many lives. He had also acted honourably as a captain by being the last to step off the ‘Wahine’. The ‘Wahine’ was just a victim of the worst storm in New Zealand’s history.