Te Waari was born on the isolated Chatham Islands east of New Zealand to Meriana Ngapohe Rawiri and Te Wera William Whaitiri. His mother died when he was six and he was sent as a tamaiti whangai to foster parents.
He ran away to sea when he was 11 years old, lying about his age to be taken on as a cabin boy. He was torpedoed four times during World War II.
Although he had little formal education he studied independently and gained his certificate of competency in 1952; one of the first Maori master mariners. He captained coastal traders around New Zealand for 23 years until he retired in 1975.
In retirement he worked for ex-seamen's associations, as a friend of the court for Maori and Pacific Islander young people in trouble with the law, and with the Ngati Poneke Maori Club of Wellington, animal welfare organizations, Wellington Zoo, and senior citizens' clubs. He received the NZ Maori Leadership Award in 1981 and the Queen's Service Medal in 1990. He also had roles in the opera Waituhi, and several films.
He was married twice and had five children.
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