According to local Maori legend Ōtanewainuku is a chiefly mountain.
There was once a hill with no name who lived on the edge of the Hautere forest. This nameless was a pononga (slave) to the great chiefly mountain, Ōtanewainuku. To the southwest was the shapely form of Puwhenua, a beautiful hill, clothed in all the fine greens of the ferns and shrubs and trees of the forest of Tane. The nameless one was desperately in love with Puwhenua, however her heart already belonged to Ōtanewainuku.
There seemed to be no hope for the lowly slave. In despair the nameless one decided to end it all by drowning himself in the ocean, Te Moananui a Kiwa. Calling on the patupaiarehe (creatures of the mist), the pononga asked them to plait the ropes with their magic and then haul him down towards the ocean.
Chanting their song they began to haul the nameless one slowly towards the water, gouging out the valley where the river Waimapu now flows. They followed the channel past Hairini, past Maungatapu and Matapihi and finally past Te Papa to the water’s edge.
By this time, it was very close to day break. The sun rose fixing the nameless one to that place. Being people of the night the patupaiarehe fled back to the shady depths of the Hautere forests, before the light of the sun descended upon them.
The patupaiarehe gave the name Mauao to this mountain which marks the entrance of Tauranga Moana. Mauao means caught by the morning sun. Mauao is also known as Mt Maunganui.