Waiouru is a small town in the centre of the North Island of New Zealand. It is on the North Island Volcanic Plateau, 25 kilometres south-east of Mount Ruapehu, and in the Ruapehu District. The main attraction of Waiouru is the Queen Elizabeth II Army Memorial Museum, opened in 1978, which features static displays of New Zealand's military heritage. The rest of the township consists of a small cluster of a police station, two garages, a petrol station/postal agency, a panel beater, two motels, a tavern and half a dozen cafe/restaurants spread along the highway. There are three unmanned diesel refueling sites for the 700+ big freight trucks that pass through Waiouru each day. Nearby are the yards of a roading contractor and a maintenance contractor. A grocery store, hairdresser and beautician are in the Army housing area two kilometres away, and a medical centre, public library, cafe and department store are inside the army camp.
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 conjunction with the New Zealand Army Camp and the Training Group (ATG), which is responsible for the training of recruits and other soldiers. The Desert Road immediately north of Waiouru runs through the 870 km² army training area, which lies mainly to the east of the road. The Royal NZ Navy's Irirangi communications station with its huge antennae is 2 km north of Waiouru. Waiouru is on the North Island Main Trunk Railway, which came through in 1907. Waiouru Railway Station is the highest station (814 m) on the New Zealand rail system. The Overlander no longer (from April 2005) stops at Waiouru.
Seven kilometres to the west of Waiouru is the small settlement of Tangiwai, the site of New Zealand's worst railway disaster. On 24 December 1953 the overnight express from Wellington to Auckland passed over Tangiwai railway bridge just after it had been weakened by a lahar from Mount Ruapehu. The bridge collapsed, sending the train into the Whangaehu River, killing 151 people. Many army and naval personnel were involved in the rescue of survivors and the recovery of bodies. Sister Mortimer of the Waiouru Camp Hospital, "The Angel of Tangiwai", worked non-stop for three days tending the survivors and laying out the bodies.