The Bay of Plenty is the homeland of the tribes of Te Whānau-ā-Apanui, Ngāi Tai, Te Whakatōhea, Ngāi Tūhoe, Ngāti Awa, Ngāti Tūwharetoa ki Kawerau, Ngāi Te Rangi, Ngāti Ranginui, and some of the tribes of the Te Arawa confederation. The history of the bay, from the arrival of canoe voyagers from Eastern Polynesia some 700 years ago, is recorded in place names and traditions.
The Māori name for the Bay of Plenty is Te Moana a Toi (the sea of Toi), commemorating the legendary ancestor Toitehuatahi, also known as Toikairākau.
The Mataatua canoe
The Mataatua, captained by Toroa, landed at Te Mānuka Tūtahi, in present-day Whakatāne. Tradition tells of the rāhui (prohibition) imposed on the coastline by Muriwai, the captain’s sister. When her two children drowned at Tauranga Moana (Tauranga Harbour), Muriwai banned food-gathering and fishing from the area, which she defined as, ‘Mai Ngā Kurī a Whārei ki Tihirau’ – from west of the Bowentown Heads to Cape Runaway.
Toi’s son Awanuiarangi, and his great-grandson, also named Awanuiarangi (and a grandson of Toroa), are important ancestors for Ngāti Awa. Inland, the Ngāi Tūhoe people trace descent from Tūhoe-pōtiki, who had ancestors from the Mataatua canoe, and local forebears.
How Whakatāne got its name
When the Mataatua canoe landed near the site of present-day Whakatāne, the men went ashore. While they were gone, the canoe began to drift out to sea. Ngāti Awa tradition says that Wairaka, the daughter of the captain, Toroa, seized a paddle and cried, ‘Me whakatāne au i ahau nei!’ (I must act like a man!). She and the other women saved the canoe. Wairaka is now commemorated by a statue on a rock at Whakatāne.
The Nukutere canoe
The Nukutere landed near Ōpape, east of Ōpōtiki, carrying the chief Tautūrangi. One of his descendants was Tūtāmure of the Te Whakatōhea tribe. He married Hine-i-kauia, the daughter of Muriwai who arrived on the Mataatua. This union linked the Nukutere and Mataatua lineages.
The Te Arawa and Tainui canoes
The coupled canoes Te Arawa and Tainui first landed at Whangaparāoa, beneath Cape Runaway. To the west, Maketū was the final landfall of Te Arawa. The steersman Tamatekapua claimed the Maketū headland, crying, ‘That point there is the bridge of my nose.’ Other chiefs followed suit, establishing their authority over different parts of the western Bay.
The Tākitimu canoe
The Ngāti Ranginui people of Tauranga trace their descent from the Tākitimu canoe. An important ancestor is Tamatea-pōkai-whenua (Tamatea who circled the land). The tribe now shares the area with Ngāi Te Rangi, who have Mataatua affiliations.
The rise of Ngāi Te Rangi
Many generations ago the chief Te Rangihouhiri and his people conquered Maketū from the descendants of the Te Arawa people. Te Rangihouhiri died, but under his son Kotorerua the tribe also wrested Mauao (Mt Maunganui) from the Ngāti Ranginui and Waitaha tribes. Today the tribe is known as Ngāi Te Rangi.
The Waitaha people migrated inland while Ngāti Ranginui retreated to the forest margins of the western Bay. Subsequently, strategic marriages interlinked the Māori people of Tauranga.
Whakaari (White Island) has important tribal associations for Te Whānau-ā-Apanui, Te Whakatōhea and Ngāti Awa. Pūtauaki (Mt Edgecumbe) is significant for the people of Ngāti Awa and Ngāti Tūwharetoa ki Kawerau, who are close kin. Whanokao, in the Raukūmara Range, is an important boundary marker between Te Whānau-ā-Apanui and Ngāti Porou.
Tūhua (Mayor Island) is a source of volcanic glass (known as obsidian or tūhua), an invaluable cutting material. Archaeological research shows that Mayor Island obsidian was dispersed not just in the Bay of Plenty but throughout New Zealand. Investigations have also revealed many areas of cultivation and fortification in the Bay, as described in Māori oral traditions.