New Zealand Post - official issuer of New Zealand stamps & commemorative coins

Wahine 50 Anniversary

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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 swell. 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.

Issue information

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 through 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 a 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 showed the Wahine in all her glory and the sequence of how the day played out. The newspaper headings on the stamps are fictitious but acknowledge the role media played in telling the story.

Miniature Sheet and First Day Covers

The miniature sheet featured a photo of the Wahine in all her shining glory as she prepared for voyage. Set against the grey textured background of the miniature sheet first day cover, it’s easy to see why the vessel was a popular choice for travel. The first day cover gave a glimpse of the fateful day that the Wahine went down. Survivors look on from the safety of the beach as the ship slowly sinks.

Presentation Pack

A personal story of the tragic events leading up to the sinking of the Wahine was told by Sharon Major – a passenger and survivor – in this collectable presentation pack. The pack contained a set of stamps, a miniature sheet and a first day cover, as well as extra imagery and details of the sorrowful event.

Limited Edition

The limited edition was the ultimate collectors item for this issue. You found an in-depth story told by formor harbour master Emmanuel Makarios. There was a unique numbered imperforate miniature sheet and a limited edition first day cover signed by Emmanuel.

Commemorative Coins

Take a look at the commemorative coins that were also part of this issue. Click here to find out more.

Product Listing for Wahine 50 Anniversary

Click on image to enlarge.

Image Title Description Price
Single Stamp

Single $1.00 ' World's Finest Drive-on Vessel' gummed stamp.

The Wahine as photographed by Warwick Pryce during a berthing manoeuvre in Wellington Harbour. Described by the Union Steamship Company as the world’s finest drive-on passenger vessel, the Wahine could carry around 1,000 passengers and 200 cars, servicing the Wellington to Lyttelton route for 20 months before she foundered.

Single Stamp

Single $1.00 'Wahine in Trouble' gummed stamp.

When the full force of Cyclone Giselle struck Wellington early in the morning of 10 April the Wahine was on the final leg of the journey from Lyttelton to Wellington. As the ship reached the entrance to Wellington Harbour she lost control and was soon forced onto Barrett Reef, taking on water through a large hole below the waterline.

Single Stamp

Single $2.00 'Waiting to Abandon Ship' gummed stamp.

Sharon Major and daughter Sarah with husband Murray, waiting to evacuate from the Wahine. More than six hours elapsed between the first striking of Barrett Reef and the eventual order to abandon ship, with passengers holding onto hope the Wahine would remain floating. They would be given the order to evacuate early afternoon when the starboard list became too much.

Single Stamp

Single $2.20 'Lifeboats Make Land' gummed stamp.

As the Wahine listed heavily to starboard the lifeboats on the port side of the vessel became inoperable, leaving just four starboard lifeboats able to be launched. The first of these would be swamped soon after entering the harbour waters, the remaining three overcrowded boats reaching the shore at Seatoun and Eastbourne.

Single Stamp

Single $2.70 'Hundreds Rescued from Wellington Harbour' gummed stamp.

As the light improved and the weather cleared the predicament of the Wahine reached rescuers in Wellington, with many vessels racing to the scene to pluck survivors from the harbour. Others reached the rocky coast of Eastbourne by themselves, or were carried onto Seatoun foreshore. Here policeman Ray Ruane holds a young survivor by the jetty, surrounded by other police and members of the public.

Single Stamp

Single $3.30 'Aranui Passes Wahine Wreck' gummed stamp.

The Wahine would roll over to starboard for the last time mid-afternoon, and lay on the sea floor in thirty-eight feet of water. Salvage operations were underway within two weeks, but the magnitude of the damage made a full recovery impossible, and plans were made to tow the wreck into Cook Strait. Before that could happen a second powerful storm in 1969 would break the hull up, and further salvage took place where she lay.

Miniature Sheet Mint, used or cancelled miniature sheet. $12.20
First Day Cover First day cover with six gummed stamps affixed. Cancelled on the first day of issue. $12.70
Miniature Sheet First Day Cover First day cover with gummed miniature sheet affixed. Cancelled on the first day of issue. $12.70
Presentation Pack

The story of the tragic events leading up to the sinking of the Wahine are told by Sharon Major - a passenger and survivor, in this collectable presentation pack. The pack contains a set of stamps, miniature sheet and first day cover as well as extra imagery and details surrounding the sorrowful event.

Still available to purchase. Click here.

Limited Edition

The limited edition is the ultimate collectors item for this issue. See the full set of stamps in even more depth and detail and read more about the event with copy from Emmanuel Makarios - a maritime historian. There is a special numbered, perforated miniature sheet unique to the pack and a limited edition first day cover signed by Emmanuel.

Still available to purchase. Click here.


Technical information

Date of issue: 7 March 2018
Number of stamps: Six gummed stamps
Denominations: $1.00 x 2, $2.00, $2.20, $2.70 and $3.30
Designed by: Jonathan Gray, New Zealand Post, Wellington, New Zealand
Printer: Southern Colour Print Ltd, Dunedin, New Zealand
Number of colours: Four process colours 
Stamp size and format: 48mm x 30mm (horizontal)
Miniature sheet size and format: 115mm x 102mm (horizontal)
Paper type: Tullis Russell 104gsm red phosphor gummed stamp paper
Number of stamps per sheet: 25
Perforation gauge: 14.585 x 14
Special blocks: Plate/imprint blocks could be obtained by purchasing at least six stamps from a sheet. Barcode blocks were available in A and B formats.
Period of sale: These stamps remained on sale until 6 March 2019. First day covers remained on sale until 6 May 2018.