Story: Auckland region

Page 6. Māori history

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Tēnā koe, e Tāmaki!
Tēnā koe, Tēnā koe:
Tāmaki – makau – rau – e!
Greetings, oh Tāmaki!
Greetings, greetings to thee,
Oh! Tāmaki of numerous lovers. 1

The Māori name for Auckland is Tāmaki. Among the many versions is Tāmaki-makau-rau (Tāmaki of a hundred lovers), referring to the desirable, fertile site at the hub of a network of waterways taking travellers north, south, east or west. For centuries different groups flourished, cohabited and displaced each other in turn.


None of the voyaging canoes that migrated from Polynesia found their resting place in Tāmaki, although several visited the bays and isthmus, and left settlers who remained in the area. Canoes associated with the region are the Matawhaorua, Aotea, Mataatua, Tainui, Te Arawa, Tākitimu and Tokomaru.

Early settlement

The Ngāi Tai tribe, descended from the people of the Tainui canoe, settled in Maraetai. Other Tainui descendants were Te Kawerau-a-Maki, who lived under forest cover in the Waitākeres and controlled land as far north as the Kaipara, across to Mahurangi and down to Takapuna. The Ngāti Te Ata tribe was based south of the Manukau at Waiuku. Along the coast from Whangaparāoa to the Thames estuary was Ngāti Pāoa, a Hauraki tribe. The dominant power on the Tāmaki isthmus was Wai-o-Hua, a federation of tribes formed under Hua-O-Kaiwaka and linked to the Te Arawa tribe Ngā Oho.

Peace and prosperity

From 1600 to 1750 the Tāmaki tribes terraced the volcanic cones, building (settlements behind protective palisades). Across the isthmus they developed 2,000 hectares of kūmara (sweet potato) gardens. At the peak of prosperity around 1750, the population numbered tens of thousands. It was pre-European New Zealand’s most wealthy and populous area.

Edgy years

From the early 18th century the Ngāti Pāoa people edged their way into the Hauraki Gulf and as far north as Mahurangi. Between 1740 and 1750 Ngāti Whātua-o-Kaipara moved south, invading the isthmus and killing Kiwi Tāmaki, paramount chief of Wai-o-Hua, before capturing his last pā at Māngere.

Silent and deadly

The Wai-o-Hua tribe’s last stand against the Ngāti Whātua people was at their stronghold on Māngere mountain. To warn of an attack, the inhabitants covered the paths with pīpī shells. But when Tuperiri led the Ngāti Whātua assault on Māngere, his men laid cloaks over the shells, muffling the sound underfoot. Arriving unheard before dawn, the attackers stormed the palisade. Few escaped the onslaught.

The conquerors secured their dominance of the isthmus by intermarrying with Ngā Oho, descendants of the Wai-o-Hua. There followed a period of cautious peace during which Ngāti Pāoa’s conflict with Ngāpuhi tribes in the north made the Tāmaki tribes vulnerable to attack.

The Ngāpuhi invasion

In 1820 the Ngāpuhi chief Hongi Hika acquired muskets, enabling him to attack the Tāmaki region. Ngāpuhi destroyed the Ngāti Pāoa settlements in 1821, and later those of Te Kawerau-a-Maki. Apihai Te Kawau, chief of the Ngāti Whātua, abandoned the isthmus and took his people into exile.

When the French explorer Dumont D’Urville visited in 1827 he was surprised to find the fertile isthmus depopulated. Groups sheltering in coastal settlements – Āwhitu, Waiuku, Maraetai and Port Waikato – attracted traders and missionaries to their areas.

When Ngāti Whātua cautiously returned to the Manukau about 1836 they kept away from Ngāpuhi traffic further north on the Tāmaki isthmus. Te Kawau’s fear of Ngāpuhi aggression was one reason he took the strategic step of inviting William Hobson – New Zealand’s first British governor – to site the colony’s capital on the isthmus in 1840.

  1. Quoted in R. C. J. Stone, From Tamaki-Makau-Rau to Auckland. Auckland: Auckland University Press, 2001, p. 7. › Back
How to cite this page:

Margaret McClure, 'Auckland region - Māori history', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 26 June 2024)

Story by Margaret McClure, published 6 Dec 2007, updated 1 Aug 2016