The TEV Wahine was built by Fairfields Ltd Shipbuilders in Glasgow, Scotland, between 1964 and 1966, arriving in Wellington on July 24, 1966. Her maiden voyage to Lyttleton was one week later on 1 August 1966. Her final crossing was on the evening of 9 April 1968, departing from Lyttleton to Wellington. Extreme weather conditions brought about by Cyclone Giselle produced winds in Wellington that reached speeds of 275 km/h. At 5:50 a.m. Captain Hector Gordon Robertson decided to enter Wellington Harbour, with winds gusting at between 130 and 150 km/h. Twenty minutes later the winds had increased to 160 km/h, and a huge wave pushed the Wahine off course towards Barrett Reef. The captain was unable to correct course, and decided to attempt turning the ferry back out to sea. By 6:40 a.m. control of the engines had been lost, and TEV Wahine had been driven onto the southern tip of Barrett Reef, near the harbor entrance less than one mile from shore. The Wahine drifted along the reef, shearing off her starboard propeller and gouging a large hole in her hull on the starboard side of the stern, beneath the waterline.The weather was too bad for help to be given from the harbour or shore. At around 1.15 p.m. Captain Robertson gave the order to abandon ship. The severe starboard list left the four lifeboats on her port side unusable, with only the four on the starboard side able to be launched. One lifeboat capsized shortly after launching, and many of the passengers on this lifeboat drowned in the rough seas. The three other lifeboats made shore. However. due to the lack of lifeboats, hundreds of passengers and crew were forced into the rough waters. At about 2.30 p.m. the Wahine rolled completely onto her side.
Fifty-one died at the time, and two others died later from injuries sustained in the shipwreck, giving 53 victims in all. Forty-six people's bodies were found, which mostly included middle-aged or the elderly, and also included three children.
TEV Wahine was the second vessel using the Wahine name for the Union Steamship Company, beginning service in 1966. The previous Wahine, the SS Wahine, was in service from 1913, and wrecked in the Arafura Sea in 1952 while transporting troops to Korean War.