Cyclone Giselle unleashes its fury on the whole country as two storms collide

The Wahine storm, formed when tropical cyclone Giselle arrived from Norfolk Island at the same time as an upper-level trough approached from the west. Neither system in itself was extreme, but their combination was lethal.

Official readings put wind gusts at the peak of the storm at 200kmh. They were the highest gusts recorded in Wellington.


The worst storm on record for many parts of New Zealand

Track map of cyclone Giselle

Track map of cyclone Giselle
Image: Anhamirak

Cyclone Giselle was classed as the most destructive storm to strike the country since the early days of settlement.

The North Island had no power from the South Island Cook Strait cable due to two faults. The cut in the Cook Strait cable supply was caused when high winds brought down lines from the Haywards substation in Wellington and also somewhere between Benmore and Fighting Bay in the South Island.

In Northland

Three main highways were closed on the 9th of April. All roads to the Far North were affected by slips, subsidence or flooding. Thousands of hectares of farmland were flooded. Hundreds of stock were drowned. In Dargarville, a large garage housing a tractor, a truck and car disintegrated at the height of the storm.  A farmer was killed after being blown off a haystack in Kaitaia. In Auckland, high winds tore the roofs off many Auckland houses and uprooted trees. Power lines were brought down by the storm.

In the Bay Of Plenty

Maraenui school was demolished. The winds damaged house roofs in Tauranga and farm buildings collapsed. The roof of a house in Otumoetai was completely blown off. Some homes in Whakatane lost their roofs, and the children’s ward at the hospital had half its roof ripped away. In Gisborne, the gale tore the roofs off homes, disrupted power supplies and telephone communications. It flattened poultry farm buildings, ripped out countless trees, blocked many roads and shattered windows in some homes.

$162.9 million (2002 dollars) of insurance claims were made in the aftermath of the Wahine storm.

In the Wellington area

The strongest winds ever recorded in any built-up area in New Zealand, were in the Wellington area.

A 7-year-old girl was killed on the 10th when roofing iron from a neighbouring house was blown through a bedroom window, as she and her sister lay in their beds. The children were at Bedford Street, Northland, a suburb of Wellington. An elderly woman died in Wellington on the 10th when her small home was enveloped by wind-whipped flames. An elderly man died on the way to hospital after being bowled over by the wind.

More than 80 people were treated at hospital for various injuries. Most were victims of flying debris.


Houses in Kingston Heights, Wellington, destroyed by Wahine storm.
Image: Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. Further negatives of the Evening Post newspaper. Ref: EP/1968/1580/1.

Kingston received the worst property damage from the storm. 98 houses lost parts of their roofs. Six or more houses in Kingston Heights were virtually demolished, three being torn completely apart and flattened, and 20 others were de-roofed. Dozens of houses were left with shattered windows, and light fixtures and other items were also shattered. The list of damaged properties was approaching 200.

Seatoun, more than 20 cars and vans were blown into a heap by the wind. The roof of one house was peeled off and hurled through a neighbour’s window.

In the South Island

The South Island saw many reports of stock losses, forestry damage, school closures and surface flooding. About 130 families were evacuated along the Heathcote River and at Sumner and South Brighton. A man was killed on the night of the 10th when a tree blew down on him on his property.