Ngāti Toa (Ngāti Toarangatira), an iwi (New Zealand Māori tribe), traces its descent from the eponymous ancestor Toarangatira. The Ngāti Toa region extends from Miria-te-kakara at Rangitikei to Wellington, and across Cook Strait to Wairau and Nelson. However the tribe mainly lives around Porirua and Nelson. An aphorism links tribal identity with ancestors and landmarks:
Ko Whitireia te maunga
Ko Raukawa te moana
Ko Tainui te waka
Ko Ngāti Toarangatira te iwi
Ko Te Rauparaha te tangata
Parekowhatu of Ngāti Raukawa, the wife of Werawera of Ngāti Toa, gave birth to Te Rauparaha in about the 1760s. According to tribal tradition the birth took place at Pātangata near Kāwhia. Te Rauparaha became the foremost chief of Ngāti Toa, credited with leading Ngāti Toa forces against the Waikato and Ngāti Maniapoto iwi; and with piloting the migration to, and the conquest and settlement of, the Cook Strait region in the 1820s.
Te Rauparaha signed the Treaty of Waitangi twice in May and June, 1840: first at Kapiti Island and then again at Wairau. Te Rauparaha resisted European settlement in those areas which he claimed he had not sold. Disputes occurred over Porirua and the Hutt Valley. But the major clash came in 1843 when Te Rauparaha and his kinsman Te Rangihaeata tried to prevent the survey of their lands in the Wairau plains. Fighting broke out, resulting in the death of Te Rongo, the wife of Te Rangihaeata. Te Rangihaeata then killed the survey-party to avenge his wife's death. This became known as the Wairau Affray.
Following fighting in the Hutt Valley in 1846, Governor George Grey arrested Te Rauparaha aboard the naval vessel Driver. Two hours before dawn the ship returned and British troops took Te Rauparaha on board. The Pakeha authorities held him without charge for 10 months and then kept him under house arrest in Auckland. Te Rauparaha's last notable achievement came with the construction of Rangiātea Church (1846) in Ōtaki. He did not adopt Christianity, although he attended church services.
Ngāti Toa lived around the Kāwhia region for many generations until increasing conflicts with neighbouring Waikato-Maniapoto iwi forced a withdrawal from their homeland. From the late eighteenth century Ngāti Toa and related tribes constantly warred with the Waikato-Maniapoto tribes for control of the rich fertile land north of Kāwhia. The wars intensified with every killing of a major chief and with each insult and slight suffered. Ngāti Toa migrated from Kāwhia to the Cook Strait region under the leadership of their chief Te Rauparaha in the 1820s.
Together, the two migrations Heke Tahutahuahi and Heke Tātaramoa have the name Heke mai raro, meaning "migration from the north". The carved meeting-house bearing the name Te Heke Mai Raro, which stands on Hongoeka Marae, immortalises the migration.
Heke Tahutahuahi (translatable as the "migration of the refugee fires") brought the Ngāti Toa iwi out of Kāwhia and into Taranaki in 1820. The Taranaki iwi Ngāti Mutunga presented Ngāti Toa with Pukewhakamaru Pā, as well as with the cultivations nearby. Pukewhakamaru lay inland of Ōkokī, up the Urenui River. Ngāti Toa stayed at Pukewhakamaru for 12 months. The Waikato-Maniapoto alliance followed Ngāti Toa to Taranaki and battles ensued there, most notably the battle of Motunui between Waikato-Maniapoto and the Ngāti Tama, Te Āti Awa and Ngāti Mutunga alliance.
The name Heke Tātaramoa (translatable as the "bramble bush migration") commemorates the difficulties experienced during Ngāti Toa's second migration. Ngāti Toa left Ōkokī around February-March of 1822 after harvesting crops planted for the journey. This heke also included some people from Ngāti Tama, Ngāti Mutunga and Te Āti Awa. The heke arrived in the Horowhenua-Kapiti region in the early 1820s and settled first in Te Awamate, then at Te Wharangi, and then eventually on Kapiti Island.