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te Arawa's first settlement

Ngāti Ohomairangi


After a long and dangerous journey from Hawaiki, the waka Arawa landed on the coast of what we know today as the Bay of Plenty.  Tamatekapua was said to be the first person to spot the headland near Maketū and claim it for himself by calling out, “That point there is the bridge of my nose!”

In those days people of high rank would specify a body part to lay claim to land.  Ensuring that the land became sacred and could not be owned by anyone else.


Arawa sailed toward the headland to a location near the mouth of the Kaituna River where the travellers set anchor and came ashore.


Two big stone anchors were put out to steady the great waka. Toka-parore (the rock of the mangrove-fish), held the bow and Tūterangiharuru (like the roaring sky) fastened the stern. Two rocks with these names still stand in the Maketū estuary, marking the place where the ancestors landed.


The travellers built a pa near where they landed and you can still see a memorial there built in 1940 to commemorate their arrival.  The monument has a stone base with eight sides which represent the children of Rangitihi and is partially made from a granite slab from the Coromandel where Tamatekapua is buried.  It also has a carving of Tamatekapua and the stones which are stacked on top of one another to make the spire of the monument, have been placed there in memory of the great navigator and explorer Ngātoroirangi who was also on board the Arawa waka.

The voyagers brought with them a taonga important to the survival of their people: the kumara. Much of the seed kumara was lost on the journey from Hawaiki. Only one woman, Whakaotirangi, managed to protect her basket of seed kumara from the fierce seas and a powerful whirlpool they had encountered along the way.  It was because of that small amount of kumara that travellers were able to plant crops to keep them fed in their new land. Descendants of these early explorers have lived at Maketū for some 400 years.


During that time Maketū became an important trading station.  The newly arrived Europeans found it a good place to stop and get supplies for their whaling ships. They would trade muskets with the Māori people for flax, pigs, potatoes and grains.

Around 1830, the Danish trader Phillip Tapsell arrived at Maketū to buy and sell flax and he became the first European settler to the area. (Tapsell also went on to marry Te Arawa woman Hine-i-turama; read about her in the related entry listed below.)

Life at Maketū was not always peaceful.  The muskets which were bought by local Māori were used in some of the battles between Ngāi Te Rangi and Te Arawa who fought over the area in the early 19th century.  

People wanted to live in Maketū because the soil was good for growing, there was easy access to fresh water and there were plenty of fish, ducks and eels to eat. Despite the conflicts, a number of pā, meeting houses, a church and even a post office were built there.

Qualities: Innovation, identity, relationships

Did you know?

The travellers on board that first waka brought the name Maketū with them from Hawaiki where it was also the name of a kumara plantation there.

More to watch:

Sir Howard Morrison hosts a very interesting documentary written and directed by Paul Gittins on the history of Te Arawa:


More to read:


Here’s a tip:

There are many resources available at Rotorua Library about Maketū and other Te Arawa topics.  The Heritage and Research librarians are there to help you find the information you need so don’t feel too shy to ask!


More to listen to:

You can hear the late Mauriora Kingi and Dr Hiko Hohepa talk about Tamatekapua and Te Arawa (recorded in te Reo Māori) here:


This entry is related to these other entries:

Hine-i-turama; Ngātoroirangi, Tamatekapua



New Zealand History Nga korero a ipuengi o Aotearoa


Rotorua Museum Te Whare Taonga o Te Arawa

Te Arawa: a history of the Arawa people, by D. M. Stafford

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