The Chile earthquake was the largest earthquake recorded in the 20th Century. It caused huge devastation and loss of life in Chile and across the Pacific. The tsunami it created, travelled at 200km per hour. However, by the time it reached Whitianga, it was something different.
At the time of the wave’s arrival, eight-year-old Mark Alloway was on his dad’s boat, the 40ft launch, Manuroa, tied up at the Whitianga wharf. Neither Mark nor his dad had any knowledge of the Chile tsunami. Suddenly, the sea started draining out until their boat was sitting on the sea bottom. Mark’s Dad looked on incredulously. He had never seen anything like this. Then the sea started coming back in and it lifted the boat until their deck was level with the deck of the wharf – this was a metre higher than the highest tide they had ever seen. The sea had begun to lap onto the deck of the wharf.
At this point Mark’s Mum arrived. She had been grocery shopping in town. She stepped easily onto the deck of the launch.
Mark’s Dad knew that something very threatening was happening, but he wasn’t sure what. “We’ll go to sea” he said. “We’ll be safe at sea.”
With that he cast off from the wharf. Leaving the harbour, things all seemed normal. The waves were nothing exceptional. They were about half a metre high with no crests.
They settled down to what they knew. Fishing! They caught fish and then something bizarre happened. A couple of metres from the stern of the boat a large, pointed rock suddenly thrust up out of the water. It was as though it had been pushed up from the bottom of the sea. In fact the sea level had suddenly dropped, and a previously submerged rock broke the surface of the water. The appearance of this rock was indisputable evidence that something huge was happening. Only in the following days did they learn of the Chile tsunami.
Caption: View of the wharf at the bottom of the tidal range taken on the morning of May 24 1960 (photo courtesy of Ted Ramsbotham).