Flat open land near Waiouru - used as a base for communicating with ships during World War II - was ceremonially handed back to Ruapehu iwi Ngāti Rangi... only for the iwi to hand in back later this week.

The occasion took place at Ngāti Rangi's nearby Raketepauma Marae on Saturday.

The communications facility is known as HMNZS Irirangi and is on 77ha, situated 5km south of Waiouru. It was used by the New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF) to provide support for the ships, from 1942 until the end of the war.

Vesting it back was part of the NZDF's Treaty of Waitangi Settlement commitments, under the Ngati Rangi Claims Settlement Act 2019, and within seven days Ngāti Rangi will gift the land back to the NZDF as a gift to the people of New Zealand.

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From left) Army kaumātua Heemi Te Peeti, Airforce kaumātua Fred Holloway, Ngāti Rangi chairman Che Wilson and Rear Admiral David Proctor unveil the toka at HMNZS Irirangi. Photo / supplied
From left) Army kaumātua Heemi Te Peeti, Airforce kaumātua Fred Holloway, Ngāti Rangi chairman Che Wilson and Rear Admiral David Proctor unveil the toka at HMNZS Irirangi. Photo / supplied

Royal New Zealand Navy Chief of Navy Rear Admiral David Proctor, speaking during the blessing and unveiling of a toka (an argillite boulder collected from Whangaehu River) and plaque at Irirangi, acknowledged the significant sacrifice Ngāti Rangi had made to allow continued use of the land by the NZDF to provide security and protection to all New Zealanders.

"The NZDF has enjoyed a longstanding relationship with Ngāti Rangi and looks forward to strengthening this through working collaboratively and co-operatively to identify future opportunities," Proctor said.

Ngāti Rangi chairman and lead negotiator Che Wilson said it was a day of reflection and commemoration for the people of Ngāti Rangi.

"It is a time to reflect on the sacrifices of those who have gone before us, as we look towards the promise of tomorrow for our people," he said.

"One of our guiding principles for Treaty settlement has been kia mau ki te wairua o Te Tiriti o Waitangi (hold fast to the spirit of Te Tiriti o Waitangi), and this day acknowledges our commitment to that kaupapa."

The vesting and gifting back is part of a redress framework agreed by the NZDF and Ngāti Rangi.

Irirangi, meaning "frequencies that float among the Heavens", was established in 1942 and was commissioned as HMNZS Irirangi in1951.

The site provided valuable support to ships at sea for the remainder of the Second World War. At its wartime peak the station had about 150 officers and ratings, 80 of whom were women, who did most of the operating.

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Today the facility is operated remotely by the Naval Communications Station at Devonport Naval Base and a small number of staff remain to maintain the site.