Paora Kaiwhata's father, Tareahi, of Ngati Hinepare and Ngai Takaha, hapu of Ngati Kahungunu in Hawke's Bay, was living at Te Rae-o-Tahumata near Omahu when Kaiwhata was born. The tribes of the Heretaunga plain were assembled there to repel the raid of Ngati Maru leader Tangi-te-ruru. His mother, Whareunga, of Ngati Mahu, gave birth to him at nearby Rakato pa on the shores of Oingo Lake, and he was named Kahukuranui. He was also kin to Ngati Te Upokoiri.
When Waikato tribes attacked Te Pakake pa at Ahuriri (Napier) about 1824, Kaiwhata was a child. He and his father were captured and spent 18 months in Waikato before being released. They did not join the majority of Ngati Kahungunu at Nukutaurua, on the Mahia Peninsula, but instead returned to their ancestral lands surrounding Oingo Lake. Thus they kept their fires of occupation alight on the land and the young Kaiwhata learnt the history and customs of his people from his father.
Kaiwhata was back in Hawke's Bay by the time Te Momo-a-Irawaru of Ngati Te Kohera was killed at the second battle of Te Roto-a-Tara, near Te Aute, in 1824 or 1825. Ngati Te Upokoiri, who were defending the pa of Te Roto-a-Tara, were defeated by the forces of Te Pareihe of Ngati Te Whatu-i-apiti and Ngati Kahungunu, and Te Wera Hauraki of Nga Puhi. Many Heretaunga people took refuge at Nukutaurua, and Ngati Te Upokoiri went into exile in Manawatu, but Kaiwhata and Tareahi continued to occupy their ancestral lands, making occasional visits to Mahia.
For many years much of Hawke's Bay was abandoned, but from about 1838 the exiled tribes gradually repopulated their territory. Ngati Hinepare and Ngati Mahu assembled at Wharerangi and Poraiti under the leadership of Tareahi and his eldest son, Porokoru Mapu. When William Colenso brought Christianity to Hawke's Bay in 1845 Kaiwhata was baptised Paora (Paul). He became a teacher at Wharerangi.
In 1850 Paora Kaiwhata accompanied the high-ranking leader Kurupo Te Moananui to a meeting with Ngati Te Upokoiri in Manawatu. Te Moananui invited Ngati Te Upokoiri to return to Hawke's Bay; in reply they asked Paora to prepare cultivations for them at Omihi on the Ngaruroro River. By this time he had established himself at Omarunui on the Tutaekuri River, and assumed leadership of Ngati Mahu and a section of Ngati Hinepare. His half-brother, Porokoru, was a severe asthmatic and remained at Poraiti.
In 1854 Te Moananui contracted the sale of Omarunui, Moteo and other lands. Paora challenged Te Moananui's right to sell land in which he had interests, and refused to distribute the money. As a result Te Moananui agreed that the sale would be confined to the Okawa block.
Paora supported Te Moananui in a series of disputes with Ngati Te Whatu-i-apiti leader Te Hapuku over the right to dispose of large tracts of Hawke's Bay land. After the fighting at Te Pakiaka in 1857, which resulted in Te Hapuku being driven off the Heretaunga plain, the tribal leaders Tareha, Renata Kawepo and Paora worked in close co-operation, consulting each other on all matters of mutual concern. This unity was a major factor in keeping some of their lands intact during their lifetimes.
In September 1866 armed Hauhau took possession of Omarunui. Paora had removed his people to safety at Pawhakairo, Tareha's pa, and joined Renata Kawepo, Karaitiana Takamoana and Lieutenant Colonel G. S. Whitmore's militia to drive the Hauhau out. Paora Kaiwhata was also present at Makaretu, Poverty Bay, in November 1868 with Tareha, Renata and others, assisting the government forces against Te Kooti. He is recorded as having fought well. He continued the pursuit of Te Kooti in the spring of 1869, and was one of the chiefs who rode to Lake Taupo with Henare Tomoana and 120 men. On 8 September, while camped at Tauranga-Taupo on the shores of the lake, he roused the troops during the night to strengthen the pa. The next morning they successfully repelled an attack by Te Kooti and his entire force, which may have been as many as 200 warriors.
When Paora Kaiwhata was living at Ngatahira, near Moteo, about 1865, the Ngati Hinepare chief Paora Torotoro mortgaged the land to Frederick Sutton, against Kaiwhata's will. Although he fought this action all the way to the Supreme Court, Ngatahira was lost, and Kaiwhata was forced to move. About 1870 he relocated his people permanently to Moteo, where he built Tuhirangi meeting house, a church and a solid wooden residence. Moteo is the principal marae of Ngati Hinepare and Ngati Mahu today. He outlived his old comrades-in-arms, Tareha and Renata. In the Native Land Court he was a principal witness in the Omahu case in 1889, when Renata's inheritance was being disputed, and gave evidence in various cases including Owhaoko and Pirau. He was regarded as an authority on tribal custom and history, and as a shrewd businessman.
In 1891 Paora Kaiwhata told the Native Land Laws Commission, 'I only am left of the old chiefs of Heretaunga'. Although he had played an important role in keeping Ngati Kahungunu on the side of the government, opposed the King movement, and fought against Te Kooti, he had not served the government blindly. He supported the meeting in April 1873 which attempted to repudiate land sales in Hawke's Bay, and had tried to protect his tribal lands, but through ill-advised mortgages and sales had been left dissatisfied and his people dispossessed. He considered that the influence of the Native Land Court had been nothing but evil.
There was no issue from Paora's first marriage, to Pirihira Te Ihumanawa of Ngati Hinepare. He and his second wife, Ruta Te Kahika, had one son, Mahanga Kaiwhata, whose line continues today. In 1885 Gottfried Lindauer painted Paora Kaiwhata's portrait, but the present whereabouts of the painting is unknown. A contemporary described him as having a full body tattoo.
Paora Kaiwhata died on 19 May 1892 and was buried at Moteo on 27 May. He was said to be 80 years old. On the weekend of 11–12 June, Henare Tomoana held a large tangihanga for him at Waipatu marae, to coincide with the meeting there of the Kotahitanga parliament.