Story: Te Arawa

Page 2. Settlement and migration

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On entering the Kaituna estuary beside Ōkūrei, the bow of the Te Arawa canoe was tethered to a large rock, Tokaparore, and to an anchor rock called Tūterangiharuru, which held her fast in the current of the Kaituna River. The tohunga Ngātoroirangi was the first to step off, conducting rituals beneath a pōhutukawa tree in full bloom. Today this site is remembered as Ōngātoro, and commemorated by a monument built in 1940.

A established on the Ōkūrei headland close to the moored canoe was named Maketū, after their home village on Rangiātea, in Hawaiki. Among those on board was Whakaotirangi, the wife of Ruaeo, whom the captain Tamatekapua (Tama) had brought. Whakaotirangi immediately planted her surviving basket of kūmara (sweet potato), which would provide nourishment that coming winter. All other kūmara had been swept overboard during the encounter with Te Parata, the sea monster. The valley behind Maketū pā is still called Te Kete Rokiroki-o-Whakaotirangi (the secured food bag of Whakaotirangi). Nearby cultivations were named Parawai in memory of gardens back home.

The tribe spreads out

As Te Arawa adapted to their new surroundings they moved further afield. Some explored the coastline, while others went inland searching for new places to settle. As well as Tama himself, who travelled from Katikati to Moehau, there were many important explorers, including his uncles Tia, who travelled from Ātiamuri through to Taupō, and Hei, who went from Moehau to the Coromandel Peninsula. Tama’s cousin, the tohunga Ngātoroirangi, explored from Kawerau through to Tongariro. Among the others were:

  • Ika (Mamaku to Pātetere)
  • Oro (Kawerau)
  • Makaa (Kāingaroa)
  • Hatupatu (Tokoroa, Horohoro and Waiariki)
  • Tama’s son Tuhoromatakakā (Moehau to Hauraki)
  • Tama’s grandchildren Taramainuku (Kaipara), Warenga (Tai Tokerau), Huarere (Hauraki and Tāmaki).

Tama’s grandson Īhenga explored Waiariki and Kaipara.

When Tamatekapua died he was buried at Te Moengahau-o-Tamatekapua (the resting place of Tama), and Īhenga returned to Maketū to live with his uncle, Kahumatamomoe (Kahu). Later in life they resettled in the north – Īhenga in the Kaipara and Kahu at Te Whanga-o-Kahumatamomoe (Ōkahu Bay) on the Waitematā Harbour, where he eventually died.

Tapuika and Waitaha (sons of the explorers Tia and Hei respectively) remained close to Maketū. They occupied the eastern Bay of Plenty region from Katikati to Te Kaokaoroa, as their fathers had authorised. Ngātoroirangi explored the volcanic wonders of southern Taupō. He was to lose his companion Uruhoe on Mt Tongariro, before retiring to Mōtītī with his wife Kearoa.


After marrying Hinetekakara, Īhenga, grandson of the ancestor Tama, continued exploring. He discovered the geothermal lakes of Waiariki (‘chiefly waters’) before returning north. Many Waiariki names are attributed to Īhenga, including Rotorua-nui-a-Kahumatamomoe (to honour his uncle, Kahu), Ōhau (commemorating his dog’s drowning) and Ōhinemutu (where descendants of the explorer Ika murdered his daughter).


Another adventurer was Hatupatu, who defeated the gruesome bird-woman Kurangaituku at Whakarewarewa. On returning to Maketū he led Te Arawa in battle against the chief Raumati, who had burned the Te Arawa canoe as retribution for the defeat of the tribe of Uenuku back in Rangiātea. Hatupatu’s success is immortalised in a carved gable figure. This adorns the Ngāti Whakaue meeting house at Tapiti marae, in Maketū.


Īhenga and Hatupatu’s descendants married into other major lines of the Te Arawa people. In time they were led by Rangitihi, Tama’s great-great-grandson. He chose to position the Pakatore pā inland between Waiariki and Maketū, overlooking the Kaituna River. Through strategic marriages with the children of the Bay of Plenty’s most influential leaders, Rangitihi’s seven sons and one daughter were born. They became known as Ngā Pūmanawa e Waru (the Eight Beating Hearts).

Te Arawa multiplied and spread across the geothermal zone of the central North Island, occupying lands in a continuous line from coast to volcanic mountain interior. This area became identified with Te Arawa, and is affirmed on marae with the proverb:

Mai Maketū ki Tongariro ...
Ko Te Arawa te waka
Ko Te Arawa māngai-nui ūpoko tū-takitaki.
From Maketū to Tongariro ...
Te Arawa the canoe
Te Arawa the determined people.

Internal migration

Rangitihi’s sons moved most of the Te Arawa tribe inland to the geothermal lakes. A place desired by all was Te Motutapu-a-Tinirau (an island – later renamed Mokoia – in Lake Rotorua) because of its strategic importance and geothermal-warmed gardens. It took a generation for Rangitihi’s grandsons Rangiteaorere and Uenukukōpako to wrestle the island from the control of the descendants of the explorer Ika.

The tribe’s settlement of the region then progressed peacefully. In time, descendants of Rangitihi aligned themselves through intermarriage into three major kin groups:

  • Ngāti Pikiao (at the eastern end of Lake Rotoiti and around lakes Rotoehu and Rotomā)
  • Tūhourangi (upper Kaituna, western Lake Rotoiti and the south-east side of Lake Rotorua including Ōhinemutu)
  • Te Uri o Uenukukōpako, later known as Ngāti Whakaue (Mokoia and north-west side of Lake Rotorua).
How to cite this page:

Paora Tapsell, 'Te Arawa - Settlement and migration', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 6 December 2023)

Story by Paora Tapsell, published 8 Feb 2005, updated 1 Mar 2017