Waiouru is the largest of the New Zealand Army’s installations. The 86,818 hectare training area runs alongside State Highway One for 35 km, and its widest point reaches from Ruapehu’s snowline to the Rangitikei River headwaters, approximately 30 km to the east.
It includes the Moawhango Dam (part of the Tongariro Power Development Scheme) which is fed from the waters of 22 streams on the southern slopes of Mount Ruapehu by aqueduct under the Desert Road. The training area is used for live-firing, manoeuvres and basic training.
The name Waiouru is derived from “Te-Wahi-Oru-Nga-Tangata”, which translates into: “The Place which all must pass through.” This is indicative of its geographical location to the traveller of yesteryear, who in their northward or southward journey travelled a route now known as the Desert Road, and others in transit from the Hawkes Bay to Pipiriki on the Whanganui River.
Neither the Ngati Tuwharetoa or the Aitahunui-A-Paparangi can pinpoint sub-tribes in the Waiouru area, however, both claim ancestral rights. It is; however, appropriate to say Waiouru is part of the Ngati-Tuwharetoa as their boundaries extend from north of Taupo to Bulls. The Aitahunui-A-Paprangi of the Wanganui district, have an eastern boundary on the western bank of the
Whangaehu River. It would seem that the area is unique in that it does have a substantiated sub-tribe.
Too cold to settle in, perhaps?
Settlement by pastoralists dates from the 1870’s. The Studholme Brothers established the Morimotu Station, which included in its area the Army camp’s present location. Later in 1905 the Morton Brothers built the homestead at the foot of the hill where the Officers Mess now stands. The New Zealand Army’s first involvement with the area took the form of a reconnaissance conducted in October 1932. The servicemen involved, Captains Parkinson and Park, reported that it provided an ideal campsite and artillery range. From January 1937 onward an artillery field firing camp was held each summer. An initial request to establish a camp was declined. However, with the outbreak of World War Two, land was purchased in November 1939 and a camp was established in 1940 under the first Camp Commandant Colonel C.G. Powles, CMG, DSO.