Waimarino Defence Training Ground

Not really Ordnance related, but an interesting piece of New Zealand Military history trivia that few know about.

South-east of the New Zealand’s Volcanic Central Plateau under the shadow of Mount Ruapehu, Waiouru is a place familiar to almost every New Zealand Soldier. First used as a training area in the 1930s, Waiouru would become a permanent Camp in 1940 and until the late 1980s would be the largest Military camp in New Zealand, and remains today as the place where all New Zealand Soldiers undergo their initial soldier training. What is less well known is that Waiouru was not the first Military training area on the Central Plateau and was predated by the Waimarino Defence Training Ground. Located Sixty Kilometres north-west of the current Waiouru Training Area, the Waimarino Defence Training Ground would be in existence from 1911 until 1940.

The Defence Act of 1909 replaced the existing Volunteer System with the Territorial Army for the defence of New Zealand.[1] By 1911 the new system was coming to fruition and the need for dedicated training areas in the North and South Islands was identified, leading to the establishment of two large training areas. One would be in the Waimakariri district of the South Island and the other in the Waimarino district of the North Island.[2]

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The Waimarino Defence Training Ground would have a final area of 27,486 acres and was situated west of the Tongariro National Park. With the Main Trunk Railway on its western boundary, the training area was ideally situated to receive and dispatch troops and equipment by railway and as such was reserved as a manoeuvre area only with no plans for the erecting of any permanent infrastructure. There is little evidence of the area being used as a training ground during the First World War as Featherston Military Camp and the surrounding environs in the Wairarapa was the principal training camp for the New Zealand Expeditionary Force, but it is possible that the Waimarino Defence Training Ground was utilised by the Territorial Army.

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Established in October 1887, the Tongariro National Park would be the first National Park in New Zealand and the fourth in the world. From its earliest years, there was a desire to grow the park to encompass as much of the unique flora and fauna of the central plateau that fell outside of the original park. Discussions to absorb parts of the Waimarino Defence Training Ground were held in 1918 followed by the passing of the Tongariro National Park Act in 1922. The Tongariro National Park Act saw the expansion of the Tongariro National Park including the addition of 15312 acres of the Waimarino Defence Training Ground into the National Park. The Tongariro National Park Amendment Act 1927 provided the Minister of Defence the right to use the National Park for training but only on the former Defence land that had existed before the 1922 Act.

The actual use of the Waimarino Defence Training Ground during the 1920s and ’30s is unknown but since the early 1930’s Waiouru to the South East had been used for Artillery training and by 1940 construction had started on permanent infrastructure at Waiouru. Now Surplus to Defence requirements the Waimarino Defence Training Ground declared no longer required for the purposes for which it had been acquired and the land was handed back to the crown for disposal.[3]

 

 

Notes

[1] I. C. McGibbon, The Path to Gallipoli: Defending New Zealand, 1840-1915 (GP Books, 1991), Non-fiction.

[2] “H-19 Defence Forces of New Zealand: Report of the General Officer Commanding the Forces for the Period from 7th December 1910 to 27th July 1911,” Appendix to the Journals of the House of Representatives  (1911).

[3] “Waimarino Defence Training Ground,” NZ Gazette, No 118,  P 3440, 21 November 1940.

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