Waiouru Army Base

Waiouru Army Camp

The Waiouru Army Camp is a base of the New Zealand Army in the central North Island near Waiouru.

The military camp

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

Artillerymen were the 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, most of the leasehold Waiouru run was taken back by the Crown.

Wartime camp

At the beginning of the winter of 1940, 800 construction workers from the Ministry of Works laboured 20 hours a day building a camp for training 7000 Territorials at a time. Within six weeks 25,000 tons of building materials arrived at Waiouru Railway Station. 450,000 tonnes of earth was shifted to make a flat area for the camp.

While this was still going on, hundreds of soldiers camped under canvas in the snow and completed extensive field training.

By Christmas 1940, there were 230 buildings erected, served by 20 km of streets, and 8 km each of water mains, power lines and sewers.

By mid-1941, seven regimental camps housed 7000 soldiers. There was a bakery, a hospital, two movie theatres and 5 "Institutes," each with a concert hall, library, writing room and tearooms. But there were no bars: the boys had to go to Taihape to get a beer.

In August 1941, it was decided to establish an Armoured Fighting Vehicle School and also a Command and Staff School at Waiouru. (Croon 1941)

By the end of the war, £1.2 million (NZ$2.4 million) had been spent on developing the camp, and 340 km² had been acquired for training. (Brief 1987).


By 1949 an urgent need arose for much more land. The track across the desert through the middle of the artillery range was going to be upgraded into a major State Highway, and a line of high-voltage power pylons was planned for up the Moawhango valley.

The Army Schools at Trentham were to be transferred to Waiouru; Compulsory Military Training was about to commence; and with defence responsibilities shifting to South-East Asia, the Army needed forests for jungle warfare training.

All these pressures eventually resulted in another 250 km² of land to the north and east being acquired. And in 1955, the 1st NZSAS Squadron started jungle training in some of this newly acquired land, in Paradise Valley. (Brief 1987)

Waiouru's busiest years

Compulsory military training was carried out at Waiouru from 1950 to 1958, and balloted national service from 1962 to 1972.

In 1978, the Queen Elizabeth II Army Memorial Museum opened at Waiouru, and in 1985 the Officer Cadet School of New Zealand.

These were Waiouru's busiest years. There were 100 recreational clubs active in the 1970s and 80s, with 300 members in the Ski Club alone. Waiouru had a population of 6000 people, including 600 children.

Declining use

In the 1980s some training was discontinued, and some army units began to be transferred to Linton. By 1990 Waiouru’s permanent population had fallen to about 3000. However several hundred additional service personnel were in Waiouru on course at any one time. In 1991 nearly three thousand soldiers were trained in Waiouru on 275 courses. (Newspaper 1991)

With the reorganisation of armoured force personnel in 2005, and their departure from ATG, Waiouru’s population dropped to about 2000. But with its central location, and 600 km² of varied landforms, it was still a much-used training area. The 1400 beds in the barracks were frequently full, with others using the satellite camps or sleeping in the field.

The Future

As for the Army’s future at Waiouru, Maj Gen Jerry Mataparae stated (in the Army News 13 April 2004) that Waiouru was a strong factor in defining the Army, and the majority of courses, especially the more challenging ones, are run there. The camp also houses the School of Military Intelligence and Security for the New Zealand Intelligence Corps.

The Singapore connection

As part of a Memorandum of understanding signed between the Ministry of Defence (New Zealand) and the Ministry of Defence (Singapore) since 1985, the vast live-firing range of the camp had been used by the Singapore Army for the test firing of their 155 mm howitzer guns — such as the FH-88, FH-2000, SLWH Pegasus and the SSPH Primus. On several occasions, Waiouru army camp also played host to the visiting Singapore Army's artillery battalion during bi-lateral military training exercises.


On 9 March 1997, a 155mm artillery round exploded in the barrel of a FH-2000 gun howitzer during a live firing exercise conducted by the 23rd Battalion, Singapore Artillery of Singapore Army at the artillery range of Waiouru Army Camp. This resulted in the fatality of two full-time national servicemen of the battalion, Third Sergeant Ronnie Tan Han Chong and Lance Corporal Low Yin Tit. In addition, 12 other servicemen were injured in the incident, including a Staff Sergeant from New Zealand Army, who was acting as the New Zealand Defence Force liaison officer to the visiting SAF battalion.

Royal New Zealand Navy

The Royal NZ Navy's Waiouru W/T Station was commissioned in July 1943 and at the peak period of the war had an establishment of about 150 personnel, of whom more than eighty were women. Tens of thousands of code groups were handled each day, mostly for the British Pacific Fleet in Japanese waters. A dozen or more circuits were manned simultaneously, and teleprinter land lines fed the signals to the Navy Office. In 1951 it was designated HMNZS Irirangi (waters in Maori). It is now manned only by a small contingent of Naval maintenance staff.

Waiouru Airfield

From WWII to 2001, the Royal NZ Air Force used the Army's artillery target areas in the Rangipo desert and east of the Moawhango River as bombing and rocket ranges. The RNZAF continues to maintain Jameson Field inside the camp for its helicopters, and it also practices landings its Hercules aircraft on the sealed Waiouru Airfield (ICAO Code NZRU) to the west of the camp.




  • Arthur, P.M. 1984, Waiouru, Land of the Tussock, 1935-40.
  • Croom, F.G. 1941, The History of the Waiouru Military Camp.
  • Moss, G.R. 1956, The Waiouru Tussock Lands, NZ Jnl of Ag, 16 July, 1956.
  • Newspaper cutting, 1991, - author and journal unknown.
  • Brief - Waiouru Land Acquisition, 1987 - authors unknown.
  • A. Gregory, Weekend Herald 24 Dec 2003

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