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Tauranga Moana

by  Te Awanuiārangi Black

At the entrance to Tauranga Harbour in the 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.

Traditional lands and canoes

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.

The Tauranga tribes

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 Whāngārei, 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 Whāngārei and Maketū in the 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.

From Gate Pā to the present

The battle of Gate Pā (Pukehinahina)

In March 1864 the Tauranga Moana tribes challenged British troops, stationed at Te Papa in Tauranga, to battle. The soldiers had been sent there to block any support for the Māori King movement in Waikato. The first challenge went unheeded, so the field of battle was moved closer, and fortifications were built at Pukehinahina, now known as Gate Pā.

Rāwiri Puhirake of Ngāi Te Rangi was the chief in charge at Pukehinahina. Hēnare Taratoa, a Christian minister, wrote a code of conduct for the battle, imploring that the enemy be cared for and not ill treated when wounded.

Fighting broke out on 29 April 1864, when 1,700 soldiers faced 230 Māori. Their artillery levelled the pā. Three hundred soldiers then stormed the ruins, but were caught off guard as the defenders, safely hidden in bunkers, opened fire and decimated their ranks. With the troops in disarray, the victors abandoned the pā.

The soldiers’ revenge for Gate Pā came a few weeks later, on 21 June 1864 at Te Ranga. While the defenders were building a new fortification, they were attacked and many were killed. In Māori terms this was considered a treacherous act, as great kindness was shown the British wounded at Gate Pā.

This spelt the end of fighting in the Tauranga district, and the beginning of the confiscation of thousands of hectares of Tauranga Moana land, for which tangata whenua have been seeking redress ever since.

Victory from the bunkers

The battle of Gate Pā was one of the few outright Māori victories against the British during the wars over land. The Māori waited in reinforced bunkers strong enough to withstand the bombardment. The pā itself was designed as a trap to draw in the British troops. After the wars were over, the British army used the fortifications at Gate Pā as a model, and some have said that such fortifications were a precursor of the ‘trench warfare’ of the First World War.

Treaty settlements

Waitaha settled its historic treaty claims on 20 September 2011. The financial value of the settlement was approximately $12 million. It included funding for an historical account of Waitaha and its prophet and ancestor/tupuna Hakaraia, and an endowment fund in his name.

Ngāti Ranginui’s treaty settlement, valued at approximately $38 million, was signed on 21 June 2012. It included the vesting in the tribe of 13 sites on public conservation land of cultural and spiritual significance to Ngā Hapū o Ngāti Ranginui.

Tapuika, a tribe closely related to Waitaha, settled its historic treaty claims on 16 December 2012. The settlement included a framework for co-governance of the Kaituna River through a new statutory body, Te Maru o Kaituna (the Kaituna River Authority). The total cost of the settlement was $6.5 million.

Ngāi Te Rangi and the related tribe of Nā Pōtiki settled their historic treaty claims on 14 December 2013. Ngāi Te Rangi received a financial settlement of $26.5 million, and Ngā Pōtiki $3 million. Six scenic and wildlife reserves totalling 212 hectares were vested in Ngāi Te Rangi.

In addition to these individual iwi settlements, the Tauranga Moana Iwi Collective signed a Deed of Settlement on 21 January 2015. This included the transfer of 528 hectares of Athenree Forest valued at $618,000, and the establishment of a Conservation Partnership Forum to co-manage public conservation land in the tribal area.

Tauranga Moana today

In 2013 there were 24,066 Tauranga Moana tribe members. They strive to maintain the legacies of their ancestors, and to secure a better future for their people. Tauranga is one of the fastest growing cities in New Zealand, and the pressure on natural resources is increasing rapidly. The challenge to save the language and culture and to protect tribal mana continues.

Their tribal proverb is a spiritual anchor:

Ko Mauao te maunga
Ko Tauranga te moana
Ko Ngāi Te Rangi, ko Ngāti Ranginui me Ngāti Pūkenga ngā iwi.
Mauao is the mountain
Tauranga is the sea
Ngāi Te Rangi, Ngāti Ranginui and Ngāti Pūkenga are the tribes.

This serves to remind Tauranga Moana people that they, like their mountains and waters, shall never be lost.

Facts and figures

Iwi (tribal) identification

In the New Zealand censuses since 1991, residents of Māori descent were asked to indicate the tribe to which they were affiliated. The figures below show the number who indicated the Tauranga Moana tribes (including those who indicated more than one tribe), and the regions where they were found in the greatest numbers in 2013.

Ngāi Te Rangi

  • 1991 census: 6,321
  • 2001 census: 9,561
  • 2006 census: 12,201
  • 2013 census: 12,924

Major regional locations

  • Bay of Plenty: 5,304
  • Auckland: 2,616

Ngāti Pūkenga

  • 1991 census: 576
  • 2001 census: 1,137
  • 2006 census: 1,788
  • 2013 census: 2,175

Major regional locations

  • Bay of Plenty: 921
  • Auckland: 465
  • Waikato: 321

Ngāti Ranginui

  • 1991 census: 4,476
  • 2001 census: 6,120
  • 2006 census: 7,644
  • 2013 census: 8,967

Major regional locations

  • Bay of Plenty: 4,641
  • Auckland: 1,434

External links and sources

More suggestions and sources

How to cite this page: Te Awanuiārangi Black, 'Tauranga Moana', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 18 May 2021)

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