New Zealand disasters timeline...
7 May 1846 Devastating landslide at Lake Taupo
23 July 1851 The Maria wrecked near Cape Terawhiti
23 January 1855 Massive earthquake hits Wellington region
7 February 1863 Sinking of HMS Orpheus - NZ's worst shipwreck
4 September 1863 The wreck of the Delaware
18 November 1874 Cospatrick fire kills 470
21 February 1879 Kaitangata mining disaster
10 June 1886 Eruption of Mt Tarawera
29 October 1894 SS Wairarapa wrecked on Great Barrier Is
26 March 1896 Brunner mine disaster kills 65
30 August 1903 Four killed by Rotorua geyser
12 February 1909 SS Penguin wrecked in Cook Strait
6 July 1923 Main trunk express train disaster
3 February 1931 Hawke's Bay earthquake strikes
8 February 1931 First fatalities on a scheduled air service in NZ
19 February 1938 21 drown in Kopuawhara flash flood
8 December 1942 Fire at Seacliff Mental Hospital kills 37
4 June 1943 Rail tragedy at Hyde
23 November 1947 Civic funeral for 41 Ballantynes fire victims
23 October 1948 Mt Ruapehu air crash kills 13
23 January 1951 Disastrous centennial yacht race begins
24 December 1953 Tangiwai railway disaster
24 November 1959 Fifteen die in mysterious shipwreck
3 July 1963 DC-3 crashes in Kaimai Range
19 January 1967 19 killed in Strongman mine explosion at Runanga
10 April 1968 Sinking of the Wahine
28 November 1979 257 killed in Mt Erebus disaster
26 January 1984 Floods devastate Southland
28 August 1992 Canterbury's 'Big Snow'
This timeline lists New Zealand’s worst post-1840 natural disasters, transport accidents, fires, mining accidents and other tragedies that have caused major loss of life. Follow the links for more information on NZHistory.net.nz, Te Ara and other sites.
Note: this list does not include military disasters such as the First World War battle of Passchendaele (where, on 12 October 1917, 845 New Zealanders were killed on a single day) or major disease outbreaks, such as the 1918 influenza pandemic, which claimed more than 8600 lives over several months.
1846 Taupo landslide
On 7 May a massive landslide on the shores of Lake Taupo overwhelmed the Maori village of Te Rapa, killing around 60 people, including Ngati Tuwharetoa leader Mananui Te Heuheu Tukino II. Find out more.
1855 Wairarapa earthquake
On 23 January a magnitude 8.2 earthquake struck the lower North Island. It killed between five and nine people in Wellington, Manawatu and Wairarapa and radically altered the landscape of the Wellington region. Find out more on Te Ara.
1863 HMS Orpheus shipwreck
On 7 February the Royal Navy steam corvette HMS Orpheus, carrying British troops, foundered at the entrance to Auckland’s Manukau Harbour. Of the 259 men on board, 189 died in the worst maritime disaster in New Zealand waters. Find out more about the Orpheus disaster
1865 Fiery Star shipwreck
On 11 May the sailing ship Fiery Star caught fire and sank south of Cuvier Island, off the Coromandel Peninsula, with the loss of 79 lives. Find out more on Te Ara.
1865 City of Dunedin shipwreck
Leaving Wellington on 20 May, the paddle steamer City of Dunedin and its 39 passengers and crew disappeared without trace. The ship is presumed to have foundered in Cook Strait.
1866 General Grant shipwreck
On 14 May the sailing ship General Grant was wrecked in the Auckland Islands, south of New Zealand, with the loss of (ultimately) 73 lives. Ten survivors were finally rescued 18 months later. Find out more on Te Ara.
1868 Great storm
On 3/4 February a violent storm swept across much of the country, wrecking 12 ships – including the Star of Tasmania and Water Nymph at Oamaru – and causing flash floods. At least 25 lives were lost.
1874 Cospatrick shipwreck
On the night of 17/18 November the emigrant ship Cospatrick, sailing from England to Auckland, was destroyed by fire off the Cape of Good Hope. Of the 473 people on board, only three survived. Although this tragedy occurred thousands of kilometres from New Zealand, the burning of the Cospatrick could be considered New Zealand’s worst civilian disaster. Find out more.
1879 Kaitangata mine accident
On 21 February, 34 miners were killed in an explosion at the Kaitangata coal mine in Otago. Find out more.
1881 Tararua shipwreck
On 29 April the steamer Tararua was wrecked off Waipapa Point, Southland. Of the 151 passengers and crew on board, 131 were lost in the worst civilian shipwreck in New Zealand waters. Find out more on Te Ara.
1886 Taiaroa shipwreck
On 11 April the steamer Taiaroa struck rocks near the mouth of the Clarence River, north of Kaikoura, and sank with the loss of 34 lives.
1886 Tarawera eruption
On 10 June the volcanic Mount Tarawera, south-east of Rotorua, erupted spectacularly, killing perhaps 120 people and destroying the famed Pink and White Terraces on Lake Rotomahana. Find out more on this site, Te Ara and The story of Tarawera.
1894 Wairarapa shipwreck
On 29 October, in a heavy fog, the liner Wairarapa steamed into cliffs on Great Barrier Island, with the loss of 121 of its 235 passengers and crew.
1896 Brunner mine accident
On 26 March an explosion at Brunner, West Coast, killed 65 coal miners in New Zealand’s worst mining disaster. Find out about this and other mining accidents on Te Ara.
1902 Loch Long shipwreck
In late May the three-masted sailing ship the Loch Long was wrecked off the Chatham Islands, with the loss of 24 lives. Find out more
1902 Elingamite shipwreck
On 9 November the steamer Elingamite was wrecked on the Three Kings Islands, north of Cape Reinga, with the loss of 45 lives. Find out more on Te Ara.
1909 Penguin shipwreck
On 12 February the Cook Strait ferry Penguin struck rocks off Cape Terawhiti and sank with the loss of 72 lives. Find out more.
1914 Huntly mine accident
On 12 September 43 coal miners were killed in an explosion at Ralph’s Mine, Waikato.
1923 Ongarue railway accident
On 6 July the North Island main trunk express slammed into a huge landslide at Ongarue, north of Taumarunui. With 17 deaths, this was the first major loss of life on New Zealand’s railways. Find out more.
1926 Dobson mine accident
On 3 December an explosion at the Dobson coal mine on the West Coast killed nine miners.
1929 Murchison earthquake
On 17 June an earthquake measuring 7.8 on the Richter scale struck the north of the South Island, killing 17 people. The shock was felt throughout New Zealand but centred on the Murchison area, where it caused massive landslides. Find out more on Te Ara.
1931 Hawke’s Bay earthquake
On 3 February New Zealand’s deadliest earthquake, measuring 7.8 on the Richter scale, devastated the cities of Napier and Hastings. The official death toll was 256, but 258 is likely to be a more accurate figure. Find out more on Te Ara.
1938 Kopuawhara flood
On 19 February a flash flood swept away a Public Works railway construction camp at Kopuawhara on the East Coast, killing 21 workers. Find out more.
1939 Huntly mine accident
On 24 September 11 men were asphyxiated by carbon monoxide at the Glen Afton coal mine, Huntly.
1942 Seacliff Mental Hospital fire
On 9 December a fire at Seacliff Mental Hospital, north of Dunedin, killed 37 of the 39 female patients in Ward 5. Find out more
1943 Hyde railway accident
On 4 June the Cromwell–Dunedin express derailed near Hyde, central Otago, with the loss of 21 lives. Find out more
1947 Ballantyne’s fire
On 18 November 41 people were killed in New Zealand’s deadliest fire, in the Ballantyne’s Department Store in Christchurch. Find out more.
1948 Mount Ruapehu air crash
On 23 October a Lockheed Electra airliner crashed near Mount Ruapehu, with the loss of all 13 passengers and crew. Find out more.
1949 Waikanae air crash
On 18 March a Lockheed Lodestar airliner crashed near Waikanae on the Kapiti Coast. All 15 passengers and crew were killed. Find out more from Te Ara.
1950 Ranui shipwreck
On 28 December the passenger launch Ranui, returning from a holiday trip to Mayor Island, was wrecked on North Rock, Mount Maunganui. Of the 23 people on board, only one survived.
1951 Wellington to Lyttelton yacht race
On 23 January 20 yachts left Wellington bound for Lyttelton in an ocean yacht race to celebrate Canterbury's centenary. Following a severe southerly storm only one yacht officially finished the race. Two others were lost along with their 10 crew members. Find out more.
1953 Tangiwai railway accident
On 24 December a North Island main trunk express plunged off the Tangiwai bridge into the Whangaehu River. The bridge had been fatally weakened by a lahar from Mount Ruapehu’s crater lake. Of the 285 people on board, 151 were killed. This is New Zealand’s worst rail disaster. See Tangiwai disaster for more information.
1959 Holmglen shipwreck
On 24 November the coaster Holmglen foundered north of Oamaru. All 15 crew were lost. Find out more.
1963 Whangarei bus crash
15 people were killed in what is New Zealand's worst bus accident. A party was returning from Waitangi Day celebrations when shortly after lunch on 7 February the bus failed to take a bend as it descended Pilbrow Hill, in the Brynderwyn Hills, near Whangarei.
1963 Kaimai air crash
On 3 July a DC-3 airliner crashed in the Kaimai Range, Bay of Plenty. All 23 passengers and crew were killed in what remains the worst air crash within New Zealand. Find out more.
1966 Kaitawa shipwreck
On 23 May near Cape Reinga the collier Kaitawa was lost with all 29 hands.
1967 Strongman mine accident
On 19 January an explosion at the Strongman coal mine, near Greymouth, killed 19 miners.
1968 Wahine shipwreck
On 10 April the Lyttelton–Wellington ferry Wahine struck Barrett Reef at the entrance to Wellington Harbour in atrocious conditions caused by tropical cyclone Giselle. Of the 734 passengers and crew on board, 51 died (a 52nd victim died several weeks later, while a 53rd died of related causes in 1990). See Wahine disaster for more information.
1968 Inangahua earthquake
On 24 May an earthquake measuring 7.1 on the Richter scale struck the Inangahua area on the West Coast. Three people were killed.
1979 Mount Erebus air crash
On 28 November an Air New Zealand DC-10 airliner, on a sightseeing flight to Antarctica, crashed into Mount Erebus. All 257 passengers and crew were killed in New Zealand’s worst air disaster. See Mt Erebus disaster and the related entry on Te Ara for more information.
1993 Franz Josef Glacier air crash
On 25 October nine people died when a sightseeing plane crashed into Franz Josef Glacier on the West Coast.
1995 Cave Creek disaster
On 28 April a Department of Conservation viewing platform built over a cliff at Cave Creek in the West Coast’s Paparoa National Park collapsed, killing 14 people.
2010 Fox Glacier air crash
On 4 September nine people died when a skydiving plane crashed after taking off from Fox Glacier airfield on the West Coast.
2010 Darfield earthquake
Although there were no deaths, it was the largest earthquake to affect a major urban area since the 1931 Hawke’s Bay earthquake. Read more (Te Ara)
2010 Pike River mine accident
Two explosions on 19 and 24 November result in the deaths of 29 coalminers at the Pike River mine on the West Coast. It is this country's worst mining disaster since 1914.