Ngāti Tūwharetoa are descended from Ngātoroirangi through the eponymous ancestor, Tūwharetoa, and from Tia. Tūwharetoa was born and grew up at Kawerau, and during his lifetime his people expanded south. Ngāti Tūwharetoa retain connections to their whanaunga at Kawerau, but their homelands have long been established in the Taupo district.
Lake Taupo (Taupomoana) and Tongariro maunga lie at the heart of Ngāti Tūwharetoa's rohe. Mananui Te Heuheu Tūkino II, son of Herea, described the rohe of Ngāti Tūwharetoa through reference to his own body:
"[He] considered his body to be similar to the land, one of his thighs on titiokura, the other on otairi, one of his arms on pare te tai tonga, one on tuhua mountains. His head on tongariro, his body lying on taupo".
Ngāti Tūwharetoa Before 1840
The hapū of Ngāti Tūwharetoa each had their own independent rangatira, but remained mindful of the lineages that united them.
According to Ngāti Tūwharetoa tradition, the senior rangatira, on behalf of their hapū, installed an ariki (paramount rangatira) towards the end of the eighteenth century. Herea Te Heuheu Tūkino became the first ariki of Ngāti Tūwharetoa, and established Te Whare o Te Heuheu ('the House of Te Heuheu').
The ariki lineage embodies the mana motuhake of Ngāti Tūwharetoa which endures to this day through each of Te Heuheu's direct descendants. At 1840, Mananui Te Heuheu Tūkino II held this position.