Topic: Tauranga Moana (Te Awanui)

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The name Tauranga means anchorage or resting place. The long coastline provides a variety of habitats for kai moana (sea food), especially pipi (cockles), tuatua (a shellfish), paua (abalone), kuku (mussels) and other varieties as well as kina (sea urchin) and koura (crayfish). Along the coastal lowlands kumara (sweet potato) grew well in the mild climate and there was plenty of aruhe (fern root). The forests around Tauranga (Hautere) were a valuable source of food such as berries and bird life, as well as providing timber for buildings and canoes. Because of its rich resources, the region has been continuously occupied by Maori tribes and periodically fought over, for more than seven centuries.

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A peep at Tauranga harbour. A.G.Series No 103 C.Reverse: 16.10.08 (handwritten)..Looking north towards Mount Maunganui

The earlest people known to have lived in the Tauranga area are the Purukupenga, whose name alone survives, and the Ngamarama, who inhabited all the land from the Waimapu Stream to the Kaimai ranges.

So numerous were these people that when the Tainui canoe passed through the Tauranga harbour, she made only a brief stay, leaving as evidence of the visit only “nga pehi o Tainui”, the ballast of Tainui, now known as Ratahi Rock.

The Arawa canoe made landfall at Maketu, some of her crew occupying the land between the Tauranga harbour and the Kaituna River which had been claimed by Hei, navigator of the Arawa.  Descendants of these people became known as Waitaha-a-Hei.

Some time after Tainui’s short visit the Takitimu canoe also entered the Tauranga harbour.  Her captain, Tamatea Arikinui or Tamatea Pokaiwhenua, climbed to the summit of Mauao (Mount Maunganui) to offer karakia (prayers) and to bury there the mauri (life force) of his people.

Tamatea built a pa (stockaded village) on the hill known as Maungatawa, where his people settled.  Ngati Ranginui are descended from Tamatea’s son, Ranginui, and his wife, who was a descendant of Hei of the Arawa canoe.

Takitimu, captained now by Tahupotiki, continued down the east coast of the North Island, founding Ngati Kahungungu at Mahia, and finished her voyage in the South Island, where descendants of the crew became known as Ngaitahu. 

Ngaiterangi, of Mataatua descent, lived originally in the eastern Bay of Plenty.  Forced into exile after a battle over a talking tui (a bird) owned by their chief, they found a temporary home near Whangara on the East Coast.  Here they remained for some time, until their growing numbers were seen as a threat to the tribe on whose land they were living, and they began to move back into the Bay of Plenty, seeking always for land to call their own. 

Little by little they pushed their way to the west led by Rangihouhiri, from whom the name Ngai Te Rangi is taken.  After many battles the tribe established themselves firmly at Maketu under the leadership of Tamapahore. 

Clashes with neighbouring Ranginui in about 1700 led to an attack on the pa on Mauao.  This attack, which resulted in the pa falling to Ngaiterangi, became known as the battle of the kokowai. 

Ngati Pukenga, also of Mataatua descent, were closely allied with Ngaiterangi.  They lived for some time with Tamapahore’s people, but disagreements forced them apart.  After the land confiscations in the 1860s, the land known as Ngapeke was given back to Ngati Pukenga. 

After the battle of the kokowai, Ngaiterangi spread gradually along the seaward side of the harbour, occupying Matakana Island and Bowentown.  Ngati Ranginui remained in possession of the landward pa, their marae (meeting areas) now being found from Huria (Judea) to Whakamarama and Te Puna. 

On Friday 3 November 1769, Lieutenant James Cook in the barque ‘Endeavour’ sailed past Mauao on his way to observe the transit of Mercury at what is now known as Mercury Bay on the Coromandel peninsula.. Describing the mainland opposite Motiti Island, Cook wrote in his journal:  

“At 2. 00 p.m. passed a small high island [Karewa] lying four miles from a high round head [Mauao] on the Main, from this head the land tends NW as far as we could see and appeared to be very rugged and hilly.” 

(Based on articles by Turi Te Kani and David Borell for the Journal of the Tauranga Historical Society, and originally printed in the Official Information Manual and Services Guide, 1992, Tauranga District Council.)

Fact sheet by the Tauranga City Council


Further information is available through the Tauranga City Libraries’ New Zealand Room.


This page archived at Perma CC in January of 2017:

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Tauranga Moana (Te Awanui)


Latitude and Longitude coordinates: -37.5907873,175.97282989999996

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Tauranga Moana (Te Awanui) by Tauranga City Libraries is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 New Zealand License