Starting in 1939, Tuwhare, encouraged by fellow poet R.A.K. Mason, began to write while working as an apprentice at the Otahuhu Railway Workshops.
In 1956, Tuwhare started writing seriously after resigning from a local branch of the Communist party. His first, and arguably best known work, No Ordinary Sun, was published in 1964 to widespread acclaim and subsequently reprinted ten times over the next thirty years, becoming one of the most widely read individual collections of poetry in New Zealand history.
When Tuwhare’s poems first began to appear in the late 1950s and early 1960s they were recognised as a new departure in New Zealand poetry, cutting across the debates and divisions between the 1930s and post-war generations. Much of the works' originality was the result of their distinctly Māori perspective. The poems were marked by their tonal variety, the naturalness with which they could move between formal and informal registers, between humour and pathos, intimacy and controlled anger and, especially, in their assumption of easy vernacular familiarity with New Zealand readers.
During the 1970s Tuwhare became involved in Māori cultural and political initiatives. This same era also saw his international reputation grow, with invitations to visit both China and Germany, which, among other opportunities, lead to the publication of Was wirklicher ist als Sterben in 1985.
While his earlier poems were kept in print, new work was constantly produced. Tuwhare's play, "In the Wilderness Without a Hat", was published in 1991. Three further collections of poetry then followed: Short Back and Sideways: Poems & Prose (1992), Deep River Talk (1993), and Shape-Shifter (1997). In 1999 he was named New Zealand's second Te Mata Poet Laureate, the outcome of which was the publication Piggy-Back Moon (2002).
The poet moved to Kaka Point in South Otago in 1992, and many of his later poems reflected the scenery of The Catlins area, and the seafood available. He had a strong working relationship with fellow Otago artist Ralph Hotere, and their work often referenced each other.
Tuwhare was among ten of New Zealand's greatest living artists named as Arts Foundation of New Zealand Icon Artists at a ceremony in 2003.
In 2003, Tuwhare was awarded one of the inaugural Prime Minister's Awards for Literary Achievement for poetry. The other winners were novelist Janet Frame and historian Michael King. Each recipient received a cash prize of $60,000 NZD. The awards are aimed at New Zealand writers who have made an outstanding contribution to the nation's literary and cultural history.
Tuwhare received an honorary Doctor of Literature degree from The University of Auckland in 2005. At the time of his death Hone Tuwhare was described as "New Zealand's most distinguished Maori writer"*.