Te Hau was born the son of William Turakiuta Cooper and Koparepare Matiu. His mother was unable to keep him, and he was given to her sister, Aporina, and her husband, Waea Te Hau, as a tamaiti whangai.
Unusually for Maori of the time, he went to high school, cycling seven miles each way to Opotiki until he moved to live with his uncle on the outskirts of the town. After school he became a farm laborer, then a surveying assistant to Tipi Ropiha. In 1939 he was accepted as one of the first batch of Maori students at Auckland Training College (teacher's college), but in 1940 he enlisted in the Army, and was wounded in Egypt.
Returning to New Zealand, he was posted to Ruatoki Native School. In 1946 he was transferred to Orakei School and resumed university studies part-time, graduating in 1949, and was appointed to the staff of the Epsom teachers' college. He became a leader of Auckland's Maori students. In 1953 he was appointed to work in Maori adult education, teaching Maori culture and language in the Northland region. He and Maharaia Winiata revived the moribund Young Maori Leaders' Conferences in 1959 with considerable success. He was active in the New Zealand National Party and was on its national executive committee and its Maori vice president.
He was awarded the OBE in 1973 for service to the Maori people.
He married and had two children.
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