Taurekareka (Tau) Henare was a Nga Puhi leader noted for his commitment to the welfare, land rights, culture and education of his people. His first name was that of a Ngati Whatua and Nga Puhi ancestor, and he was closely connected to great warriors including Kawiti, Patuone, Tamati Waka Nene and Hone Heke. Tau Henare's strongest affinity was with his Ngati Hine subtribe. He was a direct descendant of Rahiri, common progenitor of all Tai Tokerau tribes. His whakapapa links him with Hineamaru, the paramount chieftainess of Ngati Hine and with Waikato, Ngati Porou and Te Arawa.
Tau Henare's father, Henare Wynyard, was, according to one oral tradition, the son of Robert Henry Wynyard, acting governor of New Zealand in 1854–55. Henare Wynyard married Pane Peeni, whose ancestry is traced to the Nga-toki-mata-whao-rua and Mataatua canoes. Tau Henare was born, probably in 1877 or 1878, at Pipiwai in the Bay of Islands, where his father was farming. When still young he took his father's Christian name for his own surname. Family tradition ascribes this to a feeling of antipathy towards Robert Wynyard's role at Ruapekapeka in 1846 when fighting Kawiti.
Tau Henare had no formal Pakeha schooling. As a youngster he was raised for some years by Wi Pere and his wife on the East Coast before returning to the north, allegedly to avoid an arranged marriage. He was taught Maori lore and received special instruction in Ngati Hine knowledge and beliefs. He quickly became known for his skills as a bushman and for his axe craft. In his youth Henare enjoyed tennis and rugby football, retaining his interest in later life. Three of his father's half-brothers were members of the 1888–89 New Zealand Native football team's tour of England, Australia and New Zealand. On 17 January 1903, at Whangarei, Henare married Hera Paerata, daughter of Ritihia and John (Johan) Subritzky, a Polish settler. Through her mother, she was connected to Te Aupouri, Te Rarawa and Ngati Kahu.
While farming at Motatau and engaged in some bush milling, Tau Henare was persuaded by three elders of Te Uri Taniwha to stand for Parliament. He was elected to the Northern Maori seat in 1914 for the Reform Party. Henare supported William Massey's government in 1914, giving it a narrow majority.
Henare did not participate much in parliamentary debates, often speaking through an interpreter. He was, however, very active among his people and worked closely with other Maori leaders such as Apirana Ngata. His leadership was highly valued by Ngata, who saw him as combining the influence of traditional Maori values with a realistic commitment to changes which would ensure that Maori could have standing and opportunities equal to Pakeha. His close friendship and links with Te Puea Herangi assisted in drawing the Tainui tribes of Waikato and the northern Tai Tokerau tribes together.
During the First World War Henare spoke out against the conscription of Maori, expressing the view that Nga Puhi had never been reluctant to offer their services. He suggested that a promise to return confiscated lands might encourage Waikato and Taranaki Maori to volunteer. Henare also expressed concern that 'Austrians' (Dalmatians) were moving into the northern area to the detriment of Maori soldiers serving overseas, who were also having their livelihoods put at risk by speculators trying to buy their land in their absence. After the war, Henare strove to assist the rehabilitation of Maori soldiers. During the influenza epidemic of 1918 he and his parents tended the sick in their Northland home; his wife, Hera, was among the victims.
Henare's efforts to assist Maori development were reflected in the issues he addressed. He wanted native schools placed under the direct control of the minister rather than under education boards. In 1923 he opposed a bill which proposed a closed season for harvesting oysters, arguing that it contravened the Treaty of Waitangi. He gave support to the upgrading of the Native Department by the native minister, Gordon Coates. In the 1920s and 1930s, he opposed the growing political strength of the Ratana movement. He was helped in his electoral work by Whina Cooper and her husband, William.
In 1932 the gift of the Waitangi homestead and 1,000 acres to the nation by Governor General and Lady Bledisloe gave a focus to Henare's efforts for his people. There was a northern resurgence in haka, waiata, traditional lore and oratory, and Henare developed a carving school at Motatau which produced panels for the Waitangi meeting house. Master carvers were brought in from other districts. In 1934 some 6,000 Maori were at Waitangi for the laying of the foundation stone. The Tai Tokerau contribution palpably moved Henare, who had been a key figure in the proceedings as a member of the Waitangi National Trust Board.
Through the Waitangi carvings project Tau Henare made an impact on the carvers drawn from other tribes. They recall his size (he was very large), slow movements (limited through the onset of diabetes), strong voice and sense of humour. His bicultural ease and his stories are readily remembered. The latter often seemed irrelevant at the time, but on reflection sensitively enhanced the listener's understanding.
Tau Henare was defeated as a member of Parliament by Paraire Paikea in 1938. On 12 January 1940 he died at the family farm at Motatau. He was survived by six sons and two daughters. His death evoked heart-felt tributes from Maori and Pakeha, and Ngata compared him favourably to contemporary leaders. His children included Ihapera (Bella) Taua, prominent in the Maori Women's Welfare League, and Sir James Henare, commanding officer of the 28th New Zealand (Maori) Battalion in the Second World War and a noted post-war Maori leader. Many of his more than 40 grandchildren also achieved prominence, and Tau Henare, a great grandson, was elected as the member of Parliament for Northern Maori in 1993.