Tragedy at Sea

Monday, June 15, 2015
Coastal Trade - Maori Waka

The tragedy of losing a loved one to the sea can be too much to bear for some. The Tamaki Strait has been a place of many sea tragedies. On the 16 November 1853, 10 lives were lost when a waka carrying all manner of produce capsized in the Tamaki Strait off shore between Mellons Bay and Howick Beach. This area is known for its unpredictable winds.  Maori called Mellons Bay Okokino or bad wind. It was reported by the Daily Southern Cross newspaper that on the day  the weather had chopped up the sea and that despite throwing cargo overboard the waka was swamped by waves and tipped over. There were only 3 survivors.

The 13 people on board were from Ngatimara (Ngati Maru) and included their rangatira Whaiapu, and Ngapu and his wife. Ngapu bravely fought to save his beloved wife. It was reported that he had carried her in his arms as they battled with the waves and the surging waters. When he finally managed to get her to a rock he found that she had drowned, exhausted from her battle with the sea. He was so overcome with grief he plunged back into the sea to join her in death.

The Howick Volunteer Coastguard was established in 1956 by the Howick community after Richard Williams, Rex Goddard and Richard Goddard, 3 young boys drowned in another boating disaster. Today the Howick Volunteer Coastguard continue to watch over the Tamaki Strait and the Firth of Thames across to Coromandel and down to Thames. Coastguard New Zealand have 70 Coastguard units around the country. This community based organisation of volunteers are there to help prevent maritime tragedies through search and rescue, and providing maritime safety information and marine education resources for the benefit of the entire community. They are brave Kiwis who will go to any length to bring people home safely from disaster at sea, just as brave Ngapu tried to do on that tragic day in 1853.

Learn more about pioneering stories of discovery, settlement and trade of New Zealand in our Landfalls Gallery

By Karen Walters


Alan La Roche, A Howick Tragedy, Auckland Libraries website, 9/06/2015,

Howick Volunteer Coastguard website, 9/06/2015,

Our History, Coastguard New Zealand website, 9/06/2015,