When the Wahine departed Lyttelton Harbour at 8.40pm on 9 April 1968, there were 734 passengers and crew on board. The overnight voyage to Wellington was nothing new to Captain HG Robertson: the often-turbulent Cook Strait was familiar in all its ill-behaved weather and swells. However, on this evening no-one was prepared for the raging storm that occurred when Cyclone Giselle swept down the coast, colliding with a southerly front. The result was one of the worst recorded storms in New Zealand’s maritime history.In the early hours of the morning on 10 April 1968, Wellington Harbour was encroaching on the near horizon. With the wind blowing at 50 knots, a common stiff breeze in Wellington terms, Captain Robertson made the decision to enter the narrow entrance to the harbour. On entering, the wind suddenly picked up and dramatically increased to a powerful 100 knots. Huge waves slammed the ship, forcing it towards Barrett Reef. With the radar system having failed, the Captain attempted to manoeuvre the ship back out to sea.
The storm continued to wreak havoc, dragging the ship along the reef, causing further damage, and preventing rescuers from approaching it. Its ferocity also delayed the captain’s decision to abandon ship, as he believed that people would be safer on board.
The first survivors began washing up on Seatoun foreshore, and others were plucked out of the water by boats waiting nearby. Most of those tossed into the waves were swept to Eastbourne’s rocky foreshore, where slips prevented rescuers reaching them quickly, and many suffered from being exposed to the harsh, deteriorating conditions. Many would ask how such a tragedy could occur right on the doorstep of the nation's capital. But it did and while the storm raged, many of the people in Wellington at the time went to watch the foundering of the Wahine unfold.
News reports quickly spread across the country making this one of the most documented tragedies of our time. These stamps show the Wahine in all her glory and the sequence of how the day played out. The newspaper headings on each stamp are fictitious but acknowledge the role media played in telling the story.