Tangiwai disaster 1953

Where can I find information about the Tangiwai rail disaster in 1953?

Entry last updated: 18/12/19


Tangiwai was the site of what is considered to be the worst railway disaster in New Zealand's history. It happened on Christmas Eve 1953, when the passenger train travelling from Wellington to Auckland suddenly plunged into the Whangaehu river at Tangiwai and 151 people lost their lives. The bridge had been weakened by a lahar (mudflow) that came from Mount Ruapehu, and collapsed as the train went over it.

Facts and articles

There are several excellent websites which have useful facts and information about the Tangiwai rail disaster.

Christchurch City Libraries

Christchurch City Libraries have put together some great fact sheets on New Zealand disasters, including Tangiwai.

  1. Go to Explore at the top of the page and select Kids.
  2. Choose Homework in the list in the blue column and scroll down to find New Zealand Disasters.
  3. Under Bus and Railway you will see the factsheet on the Tangiwai Railway Disaster.


This is one of our favourite sites for information about New Zealand. To find facts about the Tangiwai rail disaster:

  1. click on the Culture and Society tab
  2. scroll down to the section on Disasters
  3. select the link Tangiwai disaster.

This article has lots of great information. If you select Tangiwai disaster Media Gallery you can view images, video and sound files related to the disaster including some primary sources such as A Tangiwai disaster survivor talks.

Tips: NZHistory is a great website for information about New Zealand Aotearoa. If we go all the way down the page we can see that the website belongs to the Ministry for Culture & Heritage, so the information is well-researched and reliable.

Te Ara: The Encyclopedia of New Zealand

This is another reliable resource for questions about New Zealand Aotearoa. This website also belongs to the Ministry for Culture & Heritage.

  • Type the keywords 'Tangiwai rail disaster' into the search box.
  • We found the Ruapehu and the Tangiwai disaster article interesting, as it discusses the link between the disaster and the eruption of Mt Ruapehu eight years earlier.
Tips: Search words, or keywords, are the most important words in our question. Usually it’s better to leave out small words like ‘the’, ‘a’ and ‘of’ and just choose the main ones, eg Tangiwai rail disaster. We can always change our keywords or add more if we need to.

Manatū Taonga - Ministry for Culture & Heritage

The Ministry for Culture & Heritage has a page about the Tangiwai Memorial and a list of names of those who died.

Newspapers, pictures and videos

There are also sites that have newspaper articles, picture and videos about Tangiwai. Some of these are from the time of the disaster (primary sources) and others have been written or made since.


This is a good place to search for images and documentaries because it links to several of the most important museums, libraries and art galleries in New Zealand.

  • Type the keywords Tangiwai rail disaster into the search box.
  • You can choose to limit results to Images, Audio, Videos and more.
Tips: Websites that have .org or .net in the address can have good information, but you need to assess how reliable it is. Check the About us link on the website, if you can find one. That can tell you what the organisation’s mission and values are.

National Library of New Zealand

You could also try searching the National Library of New Zealand website for the keywords 'Tangiwai rail disaster'. This searches across all items in the National Library's collections and returns results for a range of material, including images, books and newspaper articles.

Australia/New Zealand Reference Centre

This is one of the EPIC resources, a collection of reliable databases covering lots of different topics. You may need a password from your school or local library to access it.

  • This particular database has lots of newspaper and magazine articles.
  • Search for your keywords, eg 'Tangiwai disaster' or 'Tangiwai memorial'.
Tips: To get to the EPIC resources you will need a password from your school librarian first. Or you can chat with one of our AnyQuestions librarians between 1 and 6pm Monday to Friday and they will help you online. Some EPIC databases may also be available through your public library.


There are books which have been written on the Tangiwai rail disaster - check out your local public or school library to see what they have.

Some recommended titles are:

SCIS no: 1832641
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