Ngāti Te Ata were also known as Te Ruakaiwhare, after the tribal guardian who protects the waters of the Manukau Harbour. They occupied the area around Waiuku, the Awhitū peninsula, Huia and the Waitākere Ranges.
The tribe gets its name from the famous woman chief Te Atairehia, a granddaughter of the founding Te Wai-o-Hua chief Te Hua-o-kaiwaka. She was given land in Waiuku after helping the local hapū (sub-tribe) Ngāti Kahukōkā in its fight against other tribes. Te Atairehia married Tapuae, a Tainui chief who was killed after winning control of a stretch of the Waikato River from Taupiri to Port Waikato. His death was avenged by his son Pāpaka, who secured Waiuku for Ngāti Te Ata.