Omarama is Maori for "place of light", a reference to its extraordinarily pure and clear sky. Located at the South Island's widest point, Omarama was originally an overnight stop for the famous Cobb & Co coaches. Prior to the early 1960's there was no electricity, and the roads were all gravel.
In 1857 two friends, Fraser and McMurdo, pastoral farmers from Nelson arrived in the area with their stock. They were so overtaken by the sweet grazing that a bitter argument broke out between them over who would own the land. This was resolved by a horse race to a nearby matagouri bush. McMurdo won and established Benmore Station, originally 316,000 acres. As part of the Waitaki/Mackenzie hydro-electricity project, work began on dams and power stations in 1958.