The name Tauranga can be translated as meaning 'place of rest' or 'anchorage'. The earliest people known to have resided in the Tauranga area are the Purukupenga, whose name alone survives, and the Ngamarama, who inhabited all the land from the Waimapu Stream to the Kaimai ranges.
Many people of different waka passed through and some stayed. This included those of the Tainui canoe, which made only a brief stay, although evidence of their visit can be linked to "nga pehi o Tainui", the ballast of Tainui, now known as Ratahi Rock. Another was the Te Arawa canoe which made landfall at Maketu, with some of her crew occupying the land between the Tauranga harbour and the Kaituna River. After the departure of Tainui the Takitimu canoe then entered the Tauranga harbour. Its captain, Tamatea Arikinui or Tamatea Pokaiwhenua, climbed to the summit of Mauao (Mount Maunganui) to offer karakia (prayers) and to bury there the mauri (life force) of his people. Tamatea built a pa (stockaded village) on the hill known as Maungatawa, where his people settled. Ngati Ranginui all descended from Tamatea's son, Ranginui. In later years Ngaiterangi after many failed attempts of looking to settle themselves in a permanent area led a massive raid on the Ngati Ranginui pa site on top of Mauao (around 1700). This attack resulted in the pa falling to Ngaiterangi, and is known as the 'Battle of the Kokowai'.