Once the army's largest base, Waiouru lies at the southern end of the Desert Road – a naturally dramatic stretch of the highway.
A particularly staggering sight when approached from the south, the snow-capped form of Mt Ruapehu dominates the view from Waiouru. The western turn-off here leads to Tongariro National Park adventure towns including Ohakune and National Park Village.
With its imposing architecture and tanks out front, the National Army Museum/Te Mata Toa should stop you in your tracks. Its varied collection recalls stories of both wartime and peace.
The museum is also home to Waiouru iSITE, while the town itself provides essential traveller services such as service stations, cafes and motels.