Charming Ohakune, the small settlement of Rangataua and the army town of Waiouru are connected through history by the north Island Main Trunk Railway which was completed in 1907.
The resort town of Ohakune is located just twenty minutes drive from Turoa ski area on the southwestern side of Mount Ruapehu. Fertile soil rich with volcanic ash, Ohakune is known as the Carrot Capital of New Zealand, reflecting the importance of market gardening to this area.
With so many attractions nearby, plus an extensive range of accommodation, cafes, restaurants, bars and many other services including banks, a Postshop and a supermarket, you could easily base yourself here for a week.
Shuttles leave daily for the Ohakune Old Coach Road, the start of the Mountains to Sea Cycle Trail and the Tongariro Alpine Crossing. Bike rental businesses can deliver cyclists to any of the great trails and can also drop thrill seekers off at Turoa car park for the 18km descent down the Ohakune Mountain Road back to town.
As winter sets in, Ohakune is transformed into the bustling après ski capital of the North Island. Well known for its premier ski party, “Ruapehu Mountain Mardi Gras”, this vibrant town celebrates the beginning of winter with music, rides, stalls, fireworks and laser shows.
Key scenes from the Lord of the Rings movie trilogy and The Hobbit were shot on this side of Mt Ruapehu with the film crew making their base here, which also makes it a popular destination year-round for fans of the movies.
Access to Turoa Ski Area is via the Ohakune Mountain Road. Fast becoming regarded as the North Island's premier ski area, Turoa is open from late June to early November.
At 814 above sea level, Waiouru is home to one of the New Zealand National Army's training facilities, and the base of the National Army Museum. Several exhibitions feature in its galleries including NZ's involvement in the Vietnam War, Malaya, the Pacific and other world events. There is also an extensive medal collection including the outstanding Victoria Cross and New Zealand Cross.
Seven kilometres to the west of Waiouru is Tangiwai, the site of New Zealand's worst railway disaster. On December 24th 1953, the train from Wellington to Auckland passed over the Tangiwai railway bridge just after it had been weakened by a lahar from Mt Ruapehu. The bridge collapsed, sending the train into the Whangaehu River. Many army personnel were involved in the rescue of the survivors. A memorial to the victims now stands at the site.
North of Waiouru is the scenic section of State Highway 1 known as the Desert Road.