From Academic Kids

Waiouru is a small town in the centre of the North Island of New Zealand. It is located on the North Island Volcanic Plateau at a height of 815 metres above sea level, 25 kilometres to the southeast of Mount Ruapehu.

North of Waiouru is the section of State Highway 1 called the Desert Road. This runs for 35 km through the Rangipo Desert to Turangi, at the southern end of Lake Taupo. Waiouru is a military town that has grown up in conjuction with the New Zealand Army Training Group, which is responsible for the training of recruits and other soldiers. The Desert Road immediately north of Waiouru runs through the 868.18 km2 army training area, which lies mainly to the east of the road.

The main attraction of Waiouru is the Queen Elizabeth II Army Memorial Museum, which features static displays of New Zealand's military heritage. The rest of the township consists of a small cluster of hotels, tearooms and service stations along the highway.

Seven kilometres to the west of Waiouru is the small settlement of Tangiwai, which is the site of New Zealand's worst railway disaster. On December 24, 1953 the overnight express between Wellington and Auckland passed over the Tangiwai Railway Bridge. The bridge, which had just minutes earlier been weakened by a lahar from Mount Ruapehu, collapsed, sending the train into the Whangaehu River, killing 151 people.



The sheep years

Merino sheep had a big part to play in the siting of an Army training camp at Waiouru.

In 1855, missionary Tom Grace brought merinos from Taupo to graze on the tussock lands in the Waiouru area. The flock was eaten by Te Kooti's warriors in the early 1870s, and 4000 more merinos were brought over the mountains from Hawke's Bay.

By the 1890s there were 40,000 merinos on the tussock lands between Karioi bush and the Kaimanawa Ranges, and pack-tracks were formed to get the hundreds of tons of wool to Napier (The Gentle Annie track), and later to Lake Taupo (The Desert Road) or down to Wanganui (Hales' Track and Field's Track). These tracks were later developed into roads for wool wagons. By 1897 there was a coaching house at Waiouru for mail-coach passengers on the Napier-Taupo run.

The North Island Main Trunk Railway came through in 1907 but not much wool was sent by rail as overgrazing by the sheep at this time had led to a plague of rabbits, and by the 1930s no sheep at all could be grazed on Waiouru sheep station.

The military camp

When the Government needed a training area in the North Island for its Territorial Forces in the 1930s, Waiouru sheep station was thus ideal, with vast areas of cheap open land, and also ready road or rail access to all the North Island coastline.

Artillerymen were first soldiers to use Waiouru. In 1937 Waiouru farmhand, Cedric Arthur, wrote:

The Military (artillery) Camp is here again for its annual big shoot, so Waiouru is exceedingly busy with huge lorries, tractors, guns and horses, not to mention soldiers galore.... It has been rumoured around here that the Minister of Defence has bought 15 miles of Waiouru to make a permanent Camp here. (Arthur 1984)

The rumour was correct. A month after war was declared in 1939, the majority of the leasehold Waiouru run was taken back by the Crown.

At the beginning of winter 1940, eight hundred construction workers from the Ministry of Works Work started building a camp at Waiouru for training 7000 Territorals at a time.


  • Arthur, P.M. (1984). Waiouru, Land of the Tussock, 1935-40.
  • Moss, G.R. (1956).The Waiouru Tussock Lands, in "New Zealand Journal of Agriculture", 16 July 1956.

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