Ngatata-i-te-rangi was born in the late eighteenth century in Taranaki; he was the son of Te Rangiwhetiki. Through his mother, Pakanga, he was an influential chief in Ngati Te Whiti hapu of Te Ati Awa. He was junior to his cousins and contemporaries, Honiana Te Puni-Kokopu, Matangi and Te Wharepouri. Ngatata was closely related to Wi Piti Pomare, also known as Pomare Ngatata, the leader of the migration of Ngati Mutunga to the Chatham Islands.
When a young man, Ngatata was one of the defenders of Rewarewa pa, near present day New Plymouth, in which Ngati Tawhirikura, closely related to Ngati Te Whiti, were attacked by Taranaki in the first decade of the nineteenth century. Taranaki was responding to Te Ati Awa's attack on Koru pa by the Oakura River. Some important chiefs were killed but Te Puni and Raua-ki-tua escaped together with Ngatata.
Ngatata was among those Te Ati Awa living north of the Waitara River who helped Peehi Tukorehu of Ngati Maniapoto and his war party to escape to Pukerangiora pa, on the Waitara River, about 1820. Te Rauparaha had persuaded southern Te Ati Awa hapu to help him in attacking Tukorehu. However, when a huge war party of Waikato and other peoples led by Te Wherowhero invaded Taranaki to assist Tukorehu, his Te Ati Awa allies, including Ngatata, seem to have regarded this as the greater threat, and joined Te Rauparaha in defeating Te Wherowhero at Motunui about 1822. Ngatata was one of a number of Te Ati Awa who accompanied the second stage of Te Rauparaha's migration to Waikanae and Kapiti, known as Te Heke Tataramoa; he then returned to Taranaki.
About 1824 news arrived in Taranaki that Waikato were planning to avenge their defeats at Motunui and Pukerangiora. Many of those who had assisted Te Rauparaha to establish himself in the south now decided to migrate themselves. Ngati Mutunga provided an important contingent for this migration, as did Ngati Tama and various Te Ati Awa hapu. Ngatata was among the chiefs travelling with Ngati Mutunga led by his nephew Wi Piti Pomare. On its way to Waikanae this migration, known as Te Heke Niho-puta, was attacked at Te Ihupuku pa by Nga Rauru.
The Niho-puta migrants settled at Waikanae for a year or so and then moved on to Te Whanganui-a-Tara (Wellington Harbour). They settled at Kumutoto, Pipitea, Ngauranga and places in present day Hutt Valley; after a period of uneasy co-operation Ngati Ira, who already lived there, were driven away. Some Ngati Mutunga and Ngati Tama moved on to settle parts of the Wairarapa valley; Ngatata may have been among them.
In 1826 the young Te Ati Awa chief Te Karawa was killed by Ngati Ruanui while on a visit with Te Wharepouri and Ngatata to Putake pa, near Hawera. His uncle, Raua-ki-tua, a senior chief of the hapu at Ngamotu, at present day New Plymouth, together with Ngatata, decided to enlist the aid of Waikato in avenging the mutilation of Te Karawa's body by Ngati Ruanui. Ngatata visited Te Wherowhero and Te Kanawa at Mo-te-poho, and then went on to interview his old ally Tukorehu of Ngati Maniapoto at Mangatoatoa. He enlisted the aid of these people by performing a chant which urged the war parties to go forth and avenge the forgotten victims of war. Waikato put together a huge war party which was joined in Taranaki by more Ngati Mutunga and Ngati Tama. Two defeats were inflicted on the Taranaki people, at Kikiwhenua and at Maru, on the slopes of Mt Taranaki, in revenge for the death of Te Karawa.
About 1828 Ngatata and other fighting chiefs of Te Ati Awa assembled a war party of Ngati Toa and Ngati Raukawa to avenge the losses suffered by Te Heke Niho-Puta at the hands of Nga Rauru. In 1831 Ngatata may have been with those Ngati Mutunga allies who accompanied Te Rauparaha to Kaiapoi pa in the South Island to avenge the death of Te Pehi Kupe. They were away on this expedition when Pukerangiora pa in Taranaki fell to Waikato forces in 1831. Ngatata had returned to Taranaki by 1832, for he was present when Te Wharepouri, Te Puni and others led the defence of Otaka pa, Ngamotu, against a Waikato siege which lasted three weeks.
Although this defence was successful, as was a further attack on Waikato forces in the Mokau area, large numbers belonging to remaining Ngati Tama, Ngati Mutunga and Te Ati Awa hapu decided to join the earlier migrants at Waikanae and Te Whanganui-a-Tara. Ngatata, his son Wi Tako, Te Puni and Te Wharepouri all accompanied the migration known as Tama-te-uaua which travelled overland in 1832. Ngatata, on account of his relationship with Ngati Mutunga, was invited to join them at Te Whanganui-a-Tara. Pomare and Ngatata settled at Kumutoto pa and had houses and cultivations at other places around the harbour.
There is no evidence to suggest that Ngatata accompanied his son Wi Tako, Te Puni and Te Wharepouri on their expeditions into Wairarapa. When they returned from there in late 1835 they found him living at Ngauranga, at one of the places where Ngati Mutunga had been settled until their departure for the Chatham Islands a month earlier. It was Ngatata who had permitted the Taranaki hapu, Ngati Haumia, to settle at Te Aro and had fixed a boundary there between them and Ngati Ruanui. When Ngati Mutunga formally handed over their lands to the custody of those who were remaining, they did so to Matangi at Petone and to Ngatata at Ngauranga and present day Thorndon. Ngatata gave Ngati Haumia permission to use the potato cultivations abandoned by Ngati Mutunga at Ngauranga. This occupation was short-lived; when Te Wharepouri brought his people back from Wairarapa to Matiu (Somes Island) and then to Petone, Waiwhetu and Ngauranga, he forcibly dispossessed Ngati Haumia.
It was, perhaps, this act which led to the decline of Ngatata's authority. He was by this time an old man, and the sudden arrival of his senior cousin, Te Puni, the fighting chief Te Wharepouri, and his own confident and aggressive son, Wi Tako, pushed him into relative obscurity. Nevertheless, at the arrival of Colonel William Wakefield and the New Zealand Company officials on the Tory in 1839, Ngatata was recognised as the chief of Kumutoto and Pipitea pa, even though his son Wi Tako carried on the negotiations and received the payment for the land in his name. Ngatata's name appears on the Treaty of Waitangi, as having signed on 29 April 1840 in the presence of Henry Williams and Thomas Clayton.
Ngatata (sometimes known as Makoare or Makoere Ngatata) seems to have resigned his authority into the hands of his son early in the 1840s and lived in retirement at Kumutoto pa. He had two wives. Whetowheto of Ngati Ruanui was the mother of Kararaina, Wi Tako (father of Hohipine Love), Te Raro, Wi Tana Ngatata and Ngapei. The two latter children lived in Taranaki. He and his second wife had a daughter, Meri Haratua. Five of his children survived him.
Ngatata died in Otago in 1854 while visiting his eldest daughter Kararaina Te Piki, who married Taiaroa of Ngai Tahu. A memorial to him was erected there by the government. His portrait was painted by George French Angas.