Rīpeka Wharawhara Love was through descent and marriage kin to Te Āti Awa chiefs whose mana continued to extend over the Wellington region after the arrival of Pākehā settlers in 1840. As an heir to that mana, she was part of an ongoing tradition of leadership, exercising with her husband the rights and duties of Wellington's leading Māori families. She was born, according to family information, Rīpeka Mātene (Rebecca Martin) on 28 June 1882 at Kapiti Island. Her father was Pāti (Pāti or Patrick) Mātene, a farmer, the eldest son of Mātene Tauwhare and Roka Te Puni. Mātene Tauwhare was a chief of Ngāti Te Whiti hapū of Te Āti Awa, and Roka Te Puni was a daughter of Wikitōria Muritūwakaroto and her husband, Hōniana Te Puni-kōkopu, the senior ranking chief in his generation of Ngāti Te Whiti, and also of Ngāti Tāwhirikura hapū. Rīpeka's mother was Anihaka (Ani Haka) Park (Paaka), the daughter of Robert Park, a New Zealand Company surveyor, and his wife, Terenui, daughter of a Ngāti Ruanui chief and a niece of Tītokowaru. Rīpeka was a namesake of Rīpeka Wharawhara-i-te-rangi Te Kakapi, an elder sister of her paternal grandfather and Te Wharepōuri's niece.
Before Rīpeka Mātene's birth her parents had several children, all of whom died in infancy. They consulted a tohunga, who advised that their next child should not be born on the mainland or in their own district of Petone. Kapiti Island was chosen as Rīpeka's birthplace. Rīpeka was brought up at Petone, and attended primary school in the Hutt Valley. The roads from the villages were rough cart-tracks, and the children carried most of their clothes across the muddy paddocks, dressing themselves before entering the school grounds.
When Rīpeka was 15 a marriage was arranged for her with Wī Hapi Pakau Love, a 19-year-old farmer. His father was Tāniora (Daniel) Mana Love, grandson of the whaler Captain John Agar Love and Mere Rure Te Hikanui, a woman of rank of Taranaki. Hapi Love's mother was Te Amo (Hohipine) Wī Tako, the only surviving child of Wī Tako Ngatata. Their marriage at Lower Hutt on 14 December 1897 united the most prominent Te Āti Awa families. It was attended by over 2,000 people, including representatives of west coast and Taranaki tribes, extending as far north as Ngāti Maniapoto. Ngāti Kahungunu came from Wairarapa and the east coast; Ngāi Tahu, Ngāti Rārua and Ngāti Kuia came from the South Island, and many prominent Europeans were also present. The strain of events was blamed for the death of Rīpeka's father after the wedding reception. The ball planned for the evening was cancelled.
Hapi and Rīpeka had 10 children, three of whom died in infancy. They farmed for a while at East Bay on Arapawa Island, and then in 1911 returned to Petone. Their substantial many-roomed house, Taumata, was built at Korokoro overlooking the harbour, and from this time onwards they began a life of service and leadership. They were staunch Anglicans, and services attended by the Māori people of Petone and Waiwhetū were held in Taumata. During Anglican synods, Hapi and Rīpeka welcomed Māori clergy to their home.
In a tradition of chiefly hospitality, their house was open for Māori and others on every big occasion, and they and their kin contributed money, food and labour to neighbouring marae. Their responsibilities extended to Taranaki and the Marlborough Sounds; large parties of kin travelled to attend the many hui and tangihanga.
The Loves were comparatively wealthy. Although the family estate had been reduced in previous generations by alienation through sales and long leases, Hapi was the largest landowner at Waiwhetū at least until 1942, and he and Rīpeka had shares in many other blocks around Wellington, the Hutt Valley, in Taranaki and in the Sounds. Much of their land was leased, and Hapi and Rīpeka went by buggy to collect their rents. Taumata was stylishly furnished. There were no servants; their extended family took their place, labouring voluntarily.
As a leading rangatira at a time when there were few welfare organisations, Rīpeka, with the help of other leading women, cared for her people, visiting the sick and advising mothers on maternity and domestic problems. When the First World War commenced, she threw herself into patriotic war work, and was a member of the executive committee of Lady Liverpool's and Mrs Pomare's Māori Soldiers' Fund. This co-ordinated the efforts of the 28 Māori committees. In May 1918 Rīpeka organised a stall and entertainment in Boulcott Street, Wellington; funds collected went towards the preparation of food parcels, which were sent to Māori soldiers in France and Rarotongans in Egypt. In addition, Rīpeka visited sick and wounded men at Trentham Military Camp, and met, cared for and arranged accommodation for wives visiting from other parts of New Zealand. The great influenza epidemic towards the end of 1918 saw Rīpeka's family ill save for herself and one cousin; she nursed them all and they all recovered. In 1919 Rīpeka Wharawhara Love was appointed an OBE for her patriotic and welfare work.
Between the world wars Rīpeka's days were packed with activity. Taranaki Māori were beginning to migrate to Wellington for work, and others visited to present their petitions to the Native Affairs Committee. The 1927 royal commission hearings, set up under the chairmanship of W. A. Sim to hear claims arising from the Taranaki and other confiscations, brought many more of Rīpeka's people to Wellington. Hapi was heavily involved with these and other matters arising from the Wellington 'tenths' reserves. Rīpeka became a member of a welfare organisation, called Ngā Pani o Te Whanganui-a-Tara (the orphans of Wellington), set up in the Hutt Valley to help the many new migrants in the area living without family support.
As the Māori population in the Hutt Valley grew, a need became apparent for a centre for Te Āti Awa gatherings and activities. Rīpeka and some of her kin gave a piece of land called Puke Ariki, and with a grant from the Taranaki Māori Trust Board and voluntary labour, a meeting house, Te Tatau-o-te-Pō, was built on the Hutt Road. It was opened in October 1933 by the governor general, Lord Bledisloe. A kitchen and dining room were opened later, built with funds collected by Rīpeka and others, raised by concerts, socials and sales of work in Petone, Waiwhetū and the Hutt Valley. Many Māori groups visiting Wellington were hosted at the house, and Makeanui Ariki and other prominent Rarotongans stayed there during their New Zealand visit in 1934.
During these efforts to establish the centre, the organisation called Te Rōpū o Te Whanganui-a-Tara was registered as a society; its committee and trustees, including Rīpeka, organised the use of Te Tatau-o-te-Pō hall; and sub-committees were set up to organise sports, socials, concerts, arts and crafts, and church services. An associated Te Rōpū Māori Girls' Club was set up by Rīpeka and other leading women. Its members provided support for the Anglican church, especially for Rangiātea at Ōtaki.
In 1939 Rīpeka became a member of the Hutt Valley Centennial Memorial Committee, and with Hapi, who was chairman of the local Māori Centennial Committee, helped to organise the centennial celebrations at Petone. Rīpeka assisted the Belmont Women's Institute, of which she was a member, and on 7 June 1939 she organised a hui at Te Tatau-o-te-Pō to raise funds for the Hutt Valley centennial celebrations. The Loves also gave money to help build the memorial to early settlers on the Petone foreshore.
During the Second World War four of Rīpeka's sons went into the army and two went into the air force, but only two served overseas: her second son, Colonel Edward Te Whiti Love, who became the first Māori commander of the 28th New Zealand (Māori) Battalion, and died at El Alamein in 1942; and her youngest son, Rangi, who returned home. Once again, Rīpeka became heavily involved in patriotic work through the Māori Soldiers' Parcel Committee of Te Rōpū o Te Whanganui-a-Tara. When the wounded were brought home, Rīpeka and her committee visited them regularly in hospital.
After the war Rīpeka and Hapi Love were great supporters of the Ngāti Poneke club, attending all the important occasions there. Hapi was always the first speaker and the younger generation knew Rīpeka as 'Aunty Rebecca'. On 10 September 1951 she was elected patroness of the Wellington District Council of the newly inaugurated Māori Women's Welfare League, and from 25 to 27 September she attended the league's inaugural conference.
Hapi Love died on 8 August 1952. He was buried at Te Puni Street cemetery. In her last months Rīpeka collaborated with her son Wī Hapi in a series of autobiographical notes called 'In retrospect'. Rīpeka Wharawhara Love died at Lower Hutt on 6 April 1953 and was buried beside her husband. She was survived by five sons and a daughter. Her last recorded words recalled the traditions of leadership and mana laid by Te Wharepōuri on his descendants.