Te Pūoho-o-te-rangi, also known as Te Pūoho-ki-te-rangi, Ngārau, and Te Manu, was born possibly in the late eighteenth century, at Poutama, the tribal homeland of Ngāti Tama, in northern Taranaki. He was the eldest son of Whangataki II (his father) and Hinewairoro (his mother). There were two other sons of this marriage, Te Taku and Te Rangitakaroro. Te Kirikakara is sometimes described as a sister, and sometimes as a cousin. Te Pūoho's tribal affiliations were with both Ngāti Tama and Ngāti Toa; some accounts identify his father as Ngāti Toa and his mother as Ngāti Tama, but others reverse these identifications. Through his father he was descended from the first Whangataki, and through him by many generations from the ancestor Tiotio. Through his mother he was descended from Te Maunu and his first wife, Waikāwhia.
Te Pūoho had many wives. His first wife is said to have been c; they had two sons, Hōri Te Kōrama and Herewini Te Roha, and a daughter, Tīkawe. Before 1815 he married his brother Te Taku's widow, Kauhoe, of Ngāti Mutunga, and adopted her son Paremata Te Wahapiro, also known as Te Kiore. Their son, Wiremu Kātene, was born about 1815; he became the father of Hūria Mātenga, later celebrated for her heroism. Other partners are mentioned in some accounts, including his cousin Karanga, and Matua or Mātuna, possibly of Muaūpoko. It is recalled by some that a slave girl who enjoyed his protection was strangled by other women when the news of Te Pūoho's death reached them.
For the last 20 or more years of his life, in difficult times, Te Pūoho was the leader of his people. A small but brave tribe, Ngāti Tama had powerful enemies as well as important allies. They occupied lands in northern Taranaki, and were allied to Ngāti Mutunga to the south. Across the Mōkau River, to the north, lived enemy hapū of Ngāti Maniapoto and other Tainui tribes. Further north, towards Kāwhia, lived their allies Ngāti Toa and Ngāti Raukawa. There was considerable warfare and restlessness in this area in the early nineteenth century. In the early 1820s Ngāti Tama became involved in the southward migrations which brought them, together with Ngāti Toa and other tribes, to the Cook Strait region.
In 1815 Ngāti Tama were defeated by Ngāti Maniapoto at Ngā-tai-parirua. To avenge an insult to Te Kirikakara by a chief of Ngāti Ruanui, Te Pūoho sought help from his distant relative Te Rauparaha. A combined force of Ngāti Toa, Te Roroa and Ngāpuhi had their own reasons for attacking the southern tribes. The war expedition assembled at Te Pūoho's pā, Pukearuhe, and swept south to Te Whanganui-a-Tara (Wellington Harbour) and Wairarapa in 1819 and 1820. It was on their return, according to one account, that Ngāti Ruanui were made to pay for the insult.
About 1819–20 Ngāti Maniapoto again heavily defeated Ngāti Tama, at Tihimānuka pā. However, Te Pūoho and his cousin Tūpoki pursued Ngāti Maniapoto as they retired along the coast. A little later a Ngāti Tama force joined Ngāti Toa in their defence of Kāwhia. At the battle of Te Kakara, near Lake Taharoa, which Ngāti Toa lost, Te Pūoho killed with a musket for the first time. The other Ngāti Tama leader, Raparapa, was killed while trying to outdo Te Pūoho's feat, by killing a man with a traditional weapon. Te Pūoho took this attempt as an insult and withdrew from the field. Tūpoki was also killed in battle about 1821. With these two deaths, Te Pūoho became the leader of Ngāti Tama.
The decision of Ngāti Toa to leave Kāwhia for new land in the south deprived Ngāti Tama of a major ally, and weakened their position in Taranaki. Under Te Pūoho's leadership many of the tribe joined the southward migration, and helped Ngāti Toa on their way south. Te Pūoho's pā, Pukearuhe, was the first safe refuge and staging post south of Kāwhia. There Te Ākau, Te Rauparaha's wife, was left to give birth to their son, Tāmihana. In 1822 Te Pūoho joined Ngāti Toa with a small contingent of Ngāti Tama, on their migration (Te Heke Tātaramoa) to Kapiti Island. He returned to the north, and in 1824 brought more of his people south to Waikanae on another migration (Te Heke Niho-puta). Ngāti Tama took up residence on the land between Ōhariu and Paekākāriki, with some going on to Te Whanganui-a-Tara.
In 1828 Te Pūoho led the attack on Ngāti Apa in the Moutere and Motueka districts in the South Island. Several villages were established in the region, and crops were planted. After this Te Pūoho travelled widely among the numerous Ngāti Tama villages. In 1830 he attacked Rangitāne people at Waikanae, in retaliation for the death of some of his people at the hands of Rangitāne's Ngāti Kahungunu allies. Ngāti Tama also tried, in vain, to help Te Āti Awa when they were attacked by Waikato at Pukerangiora pā, on the Waitara River. Te Pūoho joined Te Rauparaha in the raid on Ngāi Tahu at Kaiāpoi pā and Banks Peninsula at the beginning of the 1830s.
Relationships with Ngāti Toa became uneasy, and led to frequent hostilities in the mid 1830s. Te Pūoho was angered by Te Rauparaha's slaughter of Muaūpoko, and the uneasy alliance between Ngāti Tama and Ngāti Toa (and with Rangitāne) broke down when Te Rauparaha killed 200 Muaūpoko and Rangitāne while they were Te Pūoho's guests. In the mid 1830s Te Pūoho led south the final migration of his people from Taranaki (Te Heke Hauhauā); this fresh influx led to land disputes and war between the tribes that had migrated south. As a result Te Pūoho went to the South Island to join his people there, and eventually settled at Te Parapara in present day Golden Bay.
There he conceived the epic march against Ngāi Tahu, a remarkable plan to attack them from the south-west. He is said to have described his plan to Te Rauparaha as scaling a fish – striking south and then marching from south to north, picking off one tribal settlement after another. It is likely that he was just as interested in gaining control of the lucrative trade which had grown up in the 1830s between Māori and Pākehā in Te Ara-a-Kiwa (Foveaux Strait).
An expedition of 50 men set off down the West Coast in 1836, led by Te Pūoho and his adopted son Paremata. At Māwhera (Greymouth), where Niho and Ngāti Rārua lived, Te Pūoho hoped to increase his numbers. Niho warned him against the enterprise, but some of his men joined it. The expedition proceeded down the long coast, crossed through Tiori-pātea (Haast Pass), and went down the Makarora Valley towards Lake Wanaka. They captured Ngāi Tahu eeling camps at Paekai and Takikarara. Taking prisoners with them, they traversed the dry mountains of Central Otago, to emerge footsore and hungry on the Waimea Plains in Murihiku (Southland). There abundant food was found at another eeling camp, and the expedition pushed on to the lamprey fishing settlement of Tūtūrau.
By this time word had reached the southern Ngāi Tahu leader Tūhawaiki. He quickly gathered a war party, marched up the Mataura Valley, and attacked, either in late December 1836 or in early January 1837. The invaders were captured; Te Pūoho and another man were the only casualties. They were shot in the opening moments of the attack, Te Pūoho by the young leader Tōpi Pātuki as he tried to rouse Ngāti Tama from sleep. Te Pūoho's body was left among the burning dwellings. According to various stories, his head was preserved and returned, either to Nelson, or sold in Sydney, and later retrieved and eventually sealed within a tapu cave. Other stories suggest that it was preserved and sold in Sydney and later retrieved for burial on Kapiti Island.
Te Pūoho's wife, Kauhoe, settled with their son, Wiremu Kātene, at Whakapuaka, near Nelson. She died about 1843 and Wiremu Kātene in 1879. Paremata returned from captivity in Otago about 1842. In 1937 a monument was erected at the site of the battle at Tūtūrau, near present day Mataura. The inscription reads: 'The last fight between North and South Island Māoris, in which the southerners were victorious, took place in this locality in December 1836.'