Story: Tauranga Moana

At the entrance to Tauranga Harbour in Bay of Plenty, the volcanic cone of Mauao (Mt Maunganui) presides over the territory of the Tauranga Moana iwi. Linked through a long history of migration, wars and allegiances, they won a famous victory against British troops in 1864. The battle of Gate Pā remains a testament to the courage and ingenuity of the tribes of Tauranga.

Story by Te Awanuiārangi Black
Main image: Mauao (Mt Maunganui)

Story summary

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Traditional lands

The iwi of Tauranga Moana (the seas of Tauranga) are Ngāti Ranginui, Ngāi Te Rangi and Ngāti Pūkenga. The boundaries of their territory run from Bowentown, at Tauranga Harbour, down to Pāpāmoa, inland along the Kaimai Ranges, and back to Bowentown. 

In tradition, Mt Maunganui, at the harbour’s edge, was once a nameless peak in the Hautere forest. Spurned by the beautiful mountain Pūwhenua, he asked the forest fairies to drag him into the ocean, to dull his pain. But at sunrise they fled, leaving him forever at the shore. His ancient name is Mauao – ‘caught in the light of day’.


The people of the region trace their descent from three Polynesian canoes:

  • Te Arawa. A crew member, Hei, laid claim to the district as the canoe sailed past. 
  • Tākitimu. It is said that only people of high rank travelled on this canoe. Tamatea was the captain, who named Mt Maunganui. Ngāti Ranginui are among his descendants.
  • Mataatua. Muriwai, sister of the captain of this canoe, moved to Tauranga Moana. When her two children drowned there she marked the sacred tribal boundaries which remain today. Ngāi Te Rangi and Ngāti Pūkenga are descended from this canoe.

The tribes

Ngāti Ranginui hold territory that includes the Tauranga shoreline. Their ancestor is Ranginui, a great-grandson of the Polynesian navigator Tamatea.

Ngāi Te Rangi shortened their name from that of their chief, Te Rangihouhiri, after he was killed in battle at Maketū. To avenge his death, they successfully fought for land at Tauranga Moana.

Ngāti Pūkenga occupy land at Ngāpeke, and Manaia in Hauraki. It is said that their ancestor Pūkenga named the Kaimai Ranges.

The battle of Gate Pā

In 1864 British troops were sent to block support for the Māori King among the people of Tauranga. Facing attack, the 250-strong tribal force hid in trenches dug at Pukehinahina, now called Gate Pā. After surviving a long bombardment, the fighters opened fire and defeated the attack. Two months later the British attacked an unfinished at Te Ranga, killing many. Large areas of land were then taken for European settlement.

Tauranga Moana today

With more than 24,000 people in 2013, the Tauranga Moana tribes work hard to maintain their language and resources in this fast-growing urban area.

How to cite this page:

Te Awanuiārangi Black, 'Tauranga Moana', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 23 February 2024)

Story by Te Awanuiārangi Black, published 8 Feb 2005, updated 1 Mar 2017