Story: Muaūpoko

Page 1. Early history

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The name of the tribe

The people of Muaūpoko are the descendants of the ancestor Tara, whose name has been given to many landmarks. The most notable is Te Whanganui-a-Tara (the great harbour of Tara), which refers to Wellington Harbour and environs. Tara’s people were originally known as Ngāi Tara, but more recently they have taken the name Muaūpoko, to indicate that they are the people living at the head (ūpoko) of the fish of Māui, as the Wellington region is known.

The fish’s head

The name Muaūpoko comes from mua (in front of) and ūpoko (the head). This refers to the shape of the North Island, which tradition holds is the fish landed by Māui. Its head forms the Wellington region, which is the territory of the Muaūpoko people.


At the time the Kurahaupō canoe landed at Māhia Peninsula its paramount chief was Whātonga. He was a noted Māori navigator and the grandson of the Polynesian explorer Toitehuatahi. He and his people settled first at Nukutaurua on the Māhia Peninsula.

In Hawke’s Bay Whātonga married Hotuwaipara, and they had a son called Tara. He was so named because just before he was born his mother pricked her finger with a tara, the spine of a fish.

Being of a restless disposition, Whātonga travelled south to Cook Strait. Here he discovered Wellington Harbour. He then travelled up the west coast to the Manawatū River. At Aokautere he settled and took a second wife, Reretua, with whom he had another son, Tautoki. Tautoki in turn would have a son – Tānenui-ā-rangi (also known as Rangitāne) – who was the ancestor of the Rangitāne people. They occupied territory at either end of the Manawatū Gorge.

After some years Whātonga returned to Hawke’s Bay, where he rejoined Hotuwaipara and Tara. They then travelled south to Wellington Harbour, and settled initially on Matiu (Somes Island). Later they moved to the largest island in the harbour, Motukairangi (now Miramar Peninsula).


Tara, Whātonga’s son, was the great-great-grandson of Kupe the Polynesian explorer. On his voyages Kupe had himself visited the Wellington Harbour region, leaving his name at various sites.

Tara had a son called Whakanui or Wakanui, who had a son called Tūria. Tūria married Hinematua and they had a son called Te Ao Haeretahi who married Rakaimāori. They in turn had a son called Tūteremoana who became the paramount chief of Ngāi Tara. His name has been given to rocks on a beach just north of the Whanganui River, to the highest point of Kāpiti Island, and to a fishing rock just south of Barrett’s Reef in Wellington Harbour.

Tribal boundaries

Traditionally Ngāi Tara occupied the area bounded by the Tararua Ranges in the east and the Tasman Sea in the west, and from Rimurapa (Sinclair Head) in the south to the Rangitīkei River in the north. Some hapū (sub-tribes) settled around Tōtaranui (Queen Charlotte Sound) in the 17th century.

How to cite this page:

Darren Reid, 'Muaūpoko - Early history', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 14 April 2024)

Story by Darren Reid, published 8 Feb 2005, updated 1 Feb 2015