WANAKA, steamer: When bound from the Manukau to New Plymouth the steamer struck on the Puketapu Reef, about three miles south of Waitara and eight miles from New Plymouth, on April 2, 1891. All hands were landed safely, but it was found impossible to refloat the Wanaka, which was ultimately abandoned as a total loss. The steamer left Onehunga at 2 p.m. on April 1, crossed the Manukau bar two hours later, and was due at the New Plymouth breakwater at 4 o’clock the following morning. Everything went all right until 3.30 a.m. on the 2nd, when the vessel ran into thick fog, which obscured the shore and made it impossible to see a ship’s length ahead. The sea was smooth, with a gentle swell. The master was on the bridge at the time, and the Wanaka suddenly struck stem on, then swung round with her head pointing to the south and her broadside to the land. It was found that the steamer had struck on Puketapu Reef, which runs out from Waiongana Point, about a mile from the shore. It was three miles south of Waitara, a little to the south of where the steamer Rangatira was wrecked in 1880. The boats were launched at once and attempts made to tow the vessel off the reef, but she did not move. A kedge anchor was then laid out, and an attempt made to get her off that way, but it was unavailing. The Wanaka carried 12 saloon passengers and several in the steerage, and they were conveyed to the New Plymouth breakwater in the steamer Mohaka and landed there. When the tide was out the steamer was only about 400 yards from the shore. Her cargo was transhipped into the Mohaka. As the tide made on the day she struck it was evident that there was a hole in her bottom, as the water flowed rapidly inside her and eventually extinguished the boiler fires. It became evident that there was little chance of refloating the Wanaka, so the crew were paid off and the vessel abandoned to the underwriters.
The Court of Inquiry gave its decision at New Plymouth on April 16. The court considered that the master committed an error of judgement in not slowing down, and not keeping the vessel’s head more to sea; also in not heaving the lead when in a thick haze and approaching land; but considered neither the captain nor the chief officer were guilty of negligence. The court would not take it upon itself to say whether the accident was caused by the steering, or by the attraction of iron-sand on the coast, or by the current. The court returned the master’s and chief officer’s certificates, but ordered the master to pay the costs of the inquiry, amounting to between Â£30 and Â£35. An appeal by the master was dismissed, a later decision being that the casualty was caused through bad steering.
The Wanaka, No. 75,215, was an iron, screw steamer of 493 tons gross and 278 tons net register, built at Whiteinch, Glasgow, in 1876, and her dimensions were : length 174.8 ft., beam 23.2 ft., depth 11.4 ft. She was under the command of Captain James Meade.