Story: Tauranga Moana

Page 1. Traditional lands and canoes

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Tribal boundaries

The boundaries of Tauranga Moana (the seas of Tauranga) begin at Bowentown, at the entrance to Tauranga Harbour, and continue to Pāpāmoa. They then run inland to the mountains called Ōtawa and Ōtānewainuku, along the Kaimai Ranges and back to Bowentown. Ngāi Te Rangi, Ngāti Ranginui and Ngāti Pūkenga are the Māori tribes of this district, while the Waitaha tribe also has interests.

A tale of lost love

The sacred mountain Mauao (Mt Maunganui) stands at the eastern entrance to Tauranga Harbour, and according to tradition was once a nameless mountain overshadowed by loftier peaks in the Hautere forest. Mauao’s love for the beautiful mountain Pūwhenua was spurned in favour of Ōtānewainuku’s attentions. In anguish he cried out to the fairy-like creatures of the forest to drag him into the ocean, so that his pain might be forever ended. As they neared the water’s edge, the first rays of dawn sent the fairies fleeing to the forest for safety, because for these near-immortal creatures the shards of light meant certain death. Transfixed by the morning light, the mountain became a landmark of significance. To mark this new status he was given the name Mauao, as he had been caught (mau) in the light of day (ao).


There are three canoes closely associated with Tauranga Moana.

Te Arawa

As Te Arawa was sailing past the region of Tauranga Moana, Hei, one of the crew members (and uncle of the captain Tamatekapua), laid claim to the district in the name of his son Waitaha. As the canoe sailed past Tauranga Moana he proclaimed, ‘Te papa e takoto rā, ko te takapū o taku tama o Waitaha-nui-a-Hei’ (The land that lies before me is the belly of my child Waitaha-nui-a-Hei). His descendants later took up this claim. The Waitaha tribe still have interests in the Tauranga Moana region.


When the Tākitimu canoe (known to Tauranga Moana tribes as Takitimu) arrived in Tauranga, the tribes in residence were Ngā Mārama of the Tainui canoe, along with Te Purukupenga and sections of Te Tini o Toi. The Tākitimu was a highly sacred canoe, and it is said that only the aristocracy and priestly class from the homeland of Hawaiki travelled aboard her. Ranginui, the founding ancestor of Ngāti Ranginui, was the son of Tamatea-pōkai-whenua, the captain of the canoe. Other traditions state that Tamatea-arikinui was the captain, and that he was the great-grandfather of Ranginui.


The Mataatua canoe landed at Te Mānuka-tū-tahi (the lone standing mānuka tree) in Kākahoroa (present-day Whakatāne). Muriwai, sister of the Mataatua captain Toroa, went to Tauranga Moana, and it was there that two of her children drowned. When they died she imposed a ritual ban upon the waters of the Bay of Plenty, from Bowentown in the north to Cape Runaway in the east. These limits constitute the traditional boundaries of the Mataatua confederation of tribes. Ngāi Te Rangi and Ngāti Pūkenga are descended from the Mataatua people.

How to cite this page:

Te Awanuiārangi Black, 'Tauranga Moana - Traditional lands and canoes', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 14 July 2024)

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