Story: Tauranga Moana

Page 2. The Tauranga tribes

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Ngāti Ranginui

Ngāti Ranginui now occupy the shores of Tauranga Moana as well as inland areas. They have many marae and hapū (sub-tribes).

Their main ancestor is Ranginui, the brother of Whaene and Kahungunu. Their father was Tamatea-pōkai-whenua-pōkai-moana. Some traditions state that he was the grandson of Tamatea-arikinui, the captain of the Tākitimu canoe, while others say that this is just another name of Tamatea-pōkai-whenua-pōkai-moana.

Renaming Mauao

Tamatea-arikinui (captain of the Tākitimu canoe) gave the name Maunganui to the sacred mountain originally named Mauao. This was in memory of a similar mountain in Hawaiki, the original homeland. Climbing the mountain, which stands at the entrance to Tauranga Harbour, he planted a sacred mauri (talisman) that remains there still. His first settlement was at Te Mangatawa, a hill and small community east of Mt Maunganui. On his death he was buried there.

One day the people of the tribe went to catch fish at Ōtira, a fishing ground near present-day Ōmanu, a few kilometres from Mt Maunganui. Kahungunu offended against customary practices by taking the largest snapper for himself, before any of the appropriate incantations had been recited. In anger his elder brother Whaene struck him with a fish, and one of the spines punctured his skin. Overcome with shame, Kahungunu migrated south to the East Coast, where he founded a great tribal empire. Whaene went to Taupō, while Ranginui remained in Tauranga Moana, settling at Pukewhanake on the banks of the Wairoa River.

Ranginui’s grandchildren by his son Tūtereinga, form an important foundation for all Tauranga Moana people.

Ngāi Te Rangi

Ngāi Te Rangi are descended from crew members of the Mataatua canoe, and Whaene, brother of Ranginui. The tribe originally lived in Ōpōtiki, but were pushed out by Ngāti Hā and migrated to the Gisborne district. They were not there long before trouble arose again and they moved around the coast to Tōrere and to Whakatāne, finally settling at Matatā. By this time, in the 18th century, they had become known as Ngāi Te Rangihouhiri, named after their leader Te Rangihouhiri. He was the son of Rōmainohorangi, also known as Rongomainohorangi.

While they were there, Tamapahore, the brother of Te Rangihouhiri, went to visit his relations at Maketū. Despite a gift of land, it was not long before war broke out. During one of the battles Tūtengaehe, Te Rangihouhiri’s eldest son, was killed. Overcome with grief, Te Rangihouhiri prophesied his own demise, saying, ‘Farewell my son. You depart on the evening tide, and I shall follow you on the morning tide.’

The next day Te Rangihouhiri entered into battle at Poporohuamea near Little Waihī, and met his end. On his death his people adopted the name Ngāi Te Rangi, rallied to avenge his death, and took possession of the land.

Ngāi Te Rangi were now determined to gain a foothold in Tauranga Moana, the home of their ancestor Whaene. After a series of battles, they secured Tauranga Moana as their permanent home, displacing the Ngāti Ranginui and Waitaha people then in occupation. They eventually settled much of the Tauranga Moana region, including the islands Matakana, Tūhua (Mayor Island) and Mōtītī.

Ngāti Pūkenga

Ngāti Pūkenga were renowned for their prowess in war, and were sought out by other tribes when in need. Gifts of land were common and today, besides Tauranga Moana, Ngāti Pūkenga retain holdings at Manaia in Hauraki, Pakikaikutu in Whangārei, Maketū and other places.

The ancestor Pūkenga was of Mataatua and tangata whenua origin. The son of Tānemoeahi, he spent his life in Rūātoki. According to tradition, he and his younger brother Te Āhuru named the Kaimai Ranges on a journey to Tauranga.

On Pūkenga’s death his descendants left Rūātoki, and under the tribal name Ngāti Hā established their home at Ōpōtiki. There they developed a relationship with Rōmainohorangi’s tribe, the progenitors of Ngāi Te Rangi. But this led to the dispute that caused Rōmainohorangi’s people to leave the district.

When Ngāti Te Rangihouhiri returned from further east to attack Maketū, a messenger was despatched to seek help from Ngāti Hā. Te Kohokino and Te Tini o Awa, along with their forces, responded to the call to arms. They gained victory and eventually, after many more battles, Ngāti Pūkenga – as Ngāti Hā were now known – settled in Rangataua and other areas of Tauranga Moana.

A section of Ngāti Pūkenga now occupy the Ngāpeke block near Welcome Bay. The land was given by Ngāti Hē, a sub-tribe of Ngāi Te Rangi, for assistance in battle. The main Ngāti Pūkenga locations today are Ngāpeke, Manaia in Hauraki, Pakikaikutu in Whangārei and Maketū in Bay of Plenty.


Waitaha are one of the original tribes of Tauranga Moana. Named for the son of Hei, a crew member on the Arawa canoe, Waitaha at one time occupied all of the land from the Waimapu River in Tauranga, across to Maketū, as well as Mauao together with Ngāti Ranginui.

A number of generations after the Arawa canoe landed, a descendant of Waitaha, the great chief Takakōpiri, divided his lands between his two grandsons Te Iwikorokē and Kūmaramaoa. The former inherited the lands on the Maketū side of the Ōtawa Range, and the latter those on the Tauranga side. Kūmaramaoa’s descendants married into sections of the Ngāi Te Rangi and Ngāti Pūkenga, who inherited his lands and today represent much of his interests. The Iwikorokē descendants of Waitaha have a marae base and settlement at Manoeka (Motungārara) near Te Puke.

How to cite this page:

Te Awanuiārangi Black, 'Tauranga Moana - The Tauranga tribes', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 26 June 2024)

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