He was the grandson of Tama-te-kapua, who was the captain of the Te Arawa canoe. Tama-te-kapua and his relatives set out for New Zealand from Hawaiki in a waka. They explored the coast of the North Island before settling in Maketu in the western Bay of Plenty. Īhenga then traveled south and settled around the Rotorua lakes.
He first discovered Kaituna, "the chiefly river". From there, his dogs went searching for food and returned with whitebait, prompting Īhenga to search for the nearby water source, which he found and named Te Roto-iti-kite-a-Īhenga, "the little lake seen by Īhenga", now known as Lake Rotoiti. He later discovered and named Lake Rotorua, Te Rotoruanui-a-Kahumatamomoe, or "the second great lake of Kahumatamomoe"  and the island Mokoia. He settled in Ngongotaha.
Īhenga was married to Hinetekakara, the daughter of Kahumatamomoe, and they had a daughter called Hinetekakara. According to legend, the daughter was captured and killed, and her remains were thrown into Lake Rotorua. Īhenga later found the remains at the edge of the lake, and he placed a memorial stone that he named Ōhinemutu, "the place of the girl cut off".
- Tapsell, Paul. "Te Arawa". Te Ara- the New Zealand Encyclopedia. Retrieved 6 April 2020.
- Tohunga (1 September 1936). "How Names Were Given: The Travels of Ihenga" (Volume 11, Issue 6). The New Zealand Railways Magazine. Retrieved 6 April 2020.
- Taonui, Rāwiri. "Ngā waewae tapu – Māori exploration". Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand. Retrieved 6 April 2020.
- "Ihenga the Great Explorer". Toi Ohomai Institute of Technology. Retrieved 6 April 2020.
- "Ohinemutu". New Zealand History. Retrieved 6 April 2020.
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