Tamairangi was a high-ranking woman of strong character and great beauty, who lived in the area around Cook Strait in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Her parents were Te Ronaki and Kahukura-a-Tane. Through both of them she was descended from Mahanga-puhua of Ngati Ira and Ngai Tara, who was also connected to Ngati Moe of Wairarapa and to Ngati Kahungunu. Mahanga-puhua had established himself as a great chief of Te Whanganui-a-Tara (Wellington Harbour) and the Porirua area. Through Te Ronaki, Tamairangi was connected to Ngai Te Ao, Rangitane, and to Ngati Kuia who lived on the island now known as Arapawa, in Queen Charlotte Sound.
Tamairangi lived with her parents on Arapawa Island until it was arranged that she should marry one of the principal leaders of Ngati Ira, living at Porirua, and she departed to join him. His name was Whanake; he was also known as Te Huka-tai-o-Ruatapu. Tamairangi was his senior wife. There were at least two children of the marriage, Whakaangi and Te Kekerengu, also known as Taiaha. Te Kekerengu and his father were regarded as the principal leaders of Ngati Ira. Tamairangi and her husband lived at Omanga-rau-tawhiri, south of Titahi Bay, and Te Kekerengu near Te Ana-paura, about a mile further south. A cave to the south of Tamairangi's home was named Te Ana-a-Tamairangi after her, and in Porirua Harbour a sandbank, probably a source of shellfish, was known as Te Whata-kai-a-Tamairangi (the storehouse of Tamairangi).
Tamairangi's position was one of great influence from Porirua to Cape Palliser, and in the north of the South Island. She was regarded as very tapu: when she travelled she was carried on a litter by male attendants and on public occasions she wore the finest of new cloaks and carried a carved taiaha.
In the 1820s Porirua and Te Whanganui-a-Tara were invaded by Ngati Toa of Kawhia, led by Te Rauparaha and his nephew Te Rangihaeata. They were closely followed by Ngati Tama and Ngati Mutunga of Taranaki. Ngati Ira and their neighbouring tribal groups perforce tolerated the invaders, living alongside Ngati Toa at Porirua, and Ngati Mutunga at Te Whanganui-a-Tara. For the first few years an uneasy peace prevailed, broken by occasional skirmishes and squabbles over food resources and living areas. However, about 1824, the Ngati Mutunga chief Te Poki, uneasy about the future of his people, put forward the idea of a pre-emptive attack on Ngati Ira.
Tamairangi was visiting her relations along the east coast of Te Whanganui-a-Tara when Ngati Mutunga began their attack. Many people were killed in a series of fights over a long period, and Tamairangi, her children, and a remnant of their people took refuge on the little island called Tapu-te-ranga in present day Island Bay, Wellington. A stone-walled pa was built on the island, to the east of the main rock. When Ngati Mutunga arrived to attack the pa, Tamairangi's people put her and her children in a canoe, and they escaped westward by way of Rimurapa (Sinclair Head) to Ohariu. There they were captured by a party of Ngati Mutunga.
Thinking that she was about to be killed, Tamairangi asked permission of her captors to make a formal farewell to her lands and her people. She sang a waiata she had composed, of such beauty and pathos that Te Rangihaeata, who was visiting Ngati Mutunga, was moved to offer Tamairangi and her family his protection. He took them with him to Kapiti Island.
Tamairangi's handsome son, Te Kekerengu, was one of the captives on Kapiti Island. When rumours began to spread that he had seduced one of Te Rangihaeata's wives, Te Kekerengu felt that his family was in danger. Tamairangi, Te Kekerengu and their people escaped from Kapiti by canoe, crossing Cook Strait to Arapawa Island, Tamairangi's old home. When rumours reached them of Ngati Toa attacks south of Cook Strait they fled further southwards.
Events after this point are uncertain. Some accounts state that Tamairangi, Te Kekerengu and their people were killed at Kaikoura, others, that they were killed at Kaiapoi pa. Possibly they sought shelter with Ngai Tahu at Kaikoura, and died when Te Rauparaha and Ngati Toa defeated Ngai Tahu at Otama-a-kura, a pa a few miles south of Kaikoura, about 1828. However, most accounts state that they were killed by Ngai Tahu, who may have regarded Tamairangi and Te Kekerengu as the cause of their troubles, and slain them in revenge. In several accounts it is recorded that they were killed at a place afterwards called Kekerengu, about 20 miles south of Te Karaka (Cape Campbell).
With the deaths of Tamairangi and Te Kekerengu the mana of the chiefly family of Ngati Ira was destroyed. Their descendants survived in Wairarapa: Hemi Te Miha and his family were descendants of Te Kekerengu's marriage to Tarewa.