Te Whakatōhea exercised mana over a 35-km stretch of coastline in the eastern Bay of Plenty, from Ōhiwa Harbour to Ōpape. The western boundary is Maraetōtara at Ōhope, and the eastern boundary is at Tarakeha, a fortified ridge pā between Ōpape and Awaawakino. The coastal boundaries run inland, south-east through mountainous country, and join just south of Matawai.
Te Whakatōhea’s territory contained rich sources of food. Ōhiwa Harbour, named ‘the daughter of Whakatōhea’, held plentiful supplies of shellfish, including cockles, mussels and sea snails. There were also abundant open-sea fish.
Just east of Ōhiwa is the Waiōtahe River, famous for its seemingly inexhaustible supply of shellfish. Pākōwhai and the township of Ōpōtiki are at the centre of Te Whakatōhea territory, where the Waiōweka and Ōtara rivers join. Seasonal runs of kahawai, mullet and kingfish went upstream in both rivers for several kilometres. Inside the river bar on the south bank is Pākihi, another rich source of seafood.
At the eastern end, from Ōpape round to Awaawakino, the rocks abound with mussels, pāua (a kind of shellfish), kina (sea eggs) and crayfish. Back along the beach towards Ōpōtiki is the Waiaua River, where the Te Whakatōhea ancestor Tāpuikākahu exclaimed:
Ah the food at Wai-aua!
’Twas a sleeping house for you, for all men
Where nets are hauled upon the beach. 1
All of Te Whakatōhea’s fortified villages were sited along the coastal platform to defend the marine resources. In the mountainous hinterland there were no fortifications, just encampments for the seasonal harvesting of forest produce. Toatoa, Whitikau and Waiōweka contained fern grounds, eel fisheries and places for snaring and hunting pigeons, kākā, weka and kiwi. These forested mountains were also places of refuge in times of war.