Ihakara Puketapu was born in Waiwhetu in Lower Hutt and was educated at Waiwhetu School and Wellington Technical College where he became school dux and head prefect. After leaving school, he worked in government departments including Internal Affairs, Māori Affairs, Child Welfare and the Social Security Department. From 1955-56 he was a New Zealand Māori Rugby All Black. He went on to study at Victoria University and graduated with a B.A. in Geography and Education and also completed a Social Science Diploma. In 1967-68 Puketapu was awarded the Harkness Fellowship of the Commonwealth Fund and attended Graduate School at the Centre for Urban Studies at the University of Chicago where he completed Masters study in urban ecology. In 1968 he attended the University of New Mexico and completed masterate work in cultural anthropology and doctoral research on "Pueblo: Indian Community Development.”
From 1962-64 Puketapu was an Inspector - Efficiency and Economy for the Department of Māori Affairs. From 1965-67 he was Inspector - Efficiency and Economy at the State Services Commission. He was Chief Administrative Officer at the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research from 1969-71. From 1971-73 he was Senior Inspector - Efficiency and Economy for the State Services Commission. He was administrative secretary to the New Zealand High Commissioner from 1973-75 and was Assistant Commissioner of the State Services Commission responsible for the Public Service, Management Services, Staff Training and Government Computer Services from 1975-76. For the next two years, he was Assistant Commissioner, Management Audit, at the State Services Commission.
Puketapu was Secretary of Māori Affairs and Māori Trustee from 1977-83. In this capacity he undertook assignments for three governments: in 1979 he assisted in the formulation of social policies in Japan; in 1981 he conducted a review of the Mexico Agrarian Policy; and in 1982 he completed a review of land lease systems in the Solomon Islands. In 1980 he was Chair of the New Zealand Management Committee of the Te Māori Art Exhibition USA (1984-87). He designed and implemented the Te Kohanga Reo Māori pre-school system.
Puketapu retired from the New Zealand Public Service in 1983 and in 1986 was appointed New Zealand’s first scholar to Aspen Institute of Humanistic Studies, Colorado. In 1989 he became a member of the Board of Governors of the East-West Center, Honolulu, and in 1991 was appointed to the Board of the New Zealand Māori and Pacific Arts Council. From 1991-92 he was a Member of the Executive Committee - Review and restructuring of East West Center, Research and Administration Operations.
Puketapu was Managing Director of Māori International Limited until 1996, and Director of several fishing and private companies. Puketapu is currently Director of Tu Tangata Enterprises which operates programmes in New Zealand and Hawaiian Schools. As the CEO of Te Runanganui o Taranaki Whanui o te Upoko o te Ika a Maui Inc., he established the Atiawa-Toa Radio Station and the Waiwhetu Medical Centres. He is Chair of Te Punga o Nga Waka Trust (Wellington Region Māori Health Consortium) and recently retired as Director of Hutt Valley Health Corporation.
Two highlights of Puketapu’s life have been delivering the final valedictory oration in Westminster Abbey, London, after the death of then Prime Minister, Norman Kirk; and coaching the Wainuiomata Rugby League team which, in the 1990s, won three national titles and competed in two World Sevens Tournaments in Australia representing New Zealand. In 2002 he was awarded an honorary Doctor of Laws by Victoria University for his lifetime contribution to the development of opportunities for Māori.
- Correspondence with Puketapu, Nov. 1992, 13 Feb. and 14 July 1998, 12 Aug. 2004, and 14 June 2005.
- "The Māori Rugby Forward: Exciting future for young players." Te Ao Hou 38 (1962): 55.
- Puketapu assesses the reasons for the New Zealand Māori team’s victorious match against France in 1961.
- "Māoris and Summer Sports." Te Ao Hou 39 (1962): 55.
- In this article Puketapu questions why so few Māori participate in summer sports.
- "Māoris Play by ‘Māori Rules’." Te Ao Hou 40 (1962): 55.
- While acknowledging that Māori have participated in most sports, Puketapu speculates that the number of Māori members of tramping clubs, deerstalkers’ associations and skin-diving organisations may be very few. Puketapu discusses a Māori response to sports.
- "A Terrific Rugby Trio." Te Ao Hou 41 (1962): 2-4.
- Puketapu writes of the significant number of Māori players excelling in rugby and examines the contribution of three Māori members of the 1962 All Blacks: Mac Herewini, Victor Yates and Waka Nathan.
- "No Title." Te Ao Hou 41 (1962): 39.
- Puketapu writes a short tribute to F. B. Katene who retired from the position of District Welfare Officer for the Ikaroa District in 1962.
- "Sports Round-up." Te Ao Hou 42 (1963): 53.
- Puketapu discusses key New Zealand sportspeople who excelled in 1962: Netti Davis, Peter Snell, John Reid, Bruce McLaren, Brian Reidy, Bill Harrison and Doreen Porter, and pays tribute to rugby player James Grbich who was killed in an accident in 1962.
- "A Message From The Secretary For Māori Affairs..." Te Kaea: The Māori Magazine 1 (Dec. 1979): 1-2. Written in Māori and English.
- In this first edition of Te Kaea, Puketapu notes the timeliness of a Māori magazine which would present the viewpoint of Māori people, provide a platform for Māori creativity and help ‘improve our knowledge about "things Māori".’
- Reform from Within. [Wellington, N.Z.: Department of Māori Affairs], 1982.
- Puketapu presents a report on the effectiveness of a new ideology and organisational design which was introduced into the Department of Māori Affairs in the late 1970s. The ideology was termed tu tangata meaning to recognise the stance of the people and the organisational design and processes were termed kokiri. The purpose of the kokiri was to decentralise departmental decision-making and incorporate the client, the Māori community, into the decision-making processes.
- "Kara Puketapu." Māori Sovereignty: The Māori Perspective. Ed. Hineani Melbourne. Auckland, N.Z.: Hodder Moa Beckett, 1995. 45-52.
- Puketapu articulates his views on Māori sovereignty.
- Tu Tangata: Bringing Community Lifeskills into the Classroom. [?]: Tu Tangata Ltd, 1998.
- This handbook is a comprehensive guide to the Tu Tangata vision and programme to integrate the community and family into the schooling system with the purpose of producing ‘a highly skilled young generation of New Zealanders strong in social and cultural values.’ Puketapu outlines the origins of the programme, discusses the scope and purpose of community involvement, the use of Education Support Personnel in schools, and reports on the progress of pilot studies at Parkway College in Wainuiomata, Lytton High School in Gisborne, Waimanalo Elementary School and Nanakuli Intermediate and High School in Hawaii.
- "No Man’s Land." He Mātapuna: A Source: Some Māori Perspectives. NZPC No. 14. Wellington, N.Z.: Te Kaunihera Whakakaupapa mō Aotearoa, New Zealand Planning Council, Dec. 1979. 14-15. Rpt. in 1989.
- Puketapu writes of the coming of the Māori to New Zealand.
- "Pueblo - Indian Cultures." Ph.D thesis. U of New Mexico, USA. No further details.
- "People And Places." Te Ao Hou 61 (1967/68): 36-39.
- A brief account noting that Puketapu, a recipient of the Harkness Fellowship, is studying economic, social, educational and cultural development in minority groups at the University of Chicago.
- "Māori International Takes The Plunge: An Exclusive Interview With The Managing Director Kara Puketapu." Tu Tangata 18 (June/July 1984): 2-6.
- "You’ll Find Them In London." Te Māori 5.4 (Aug.-Sept. 1973): 18.
- A profile of Puketapu on his appointment as administration secretary to the New Zealand High Commissioner in London in 1973.
- "Language A Cultural Net." Evening Standard 18 Sept. 1982. 14.
- An extensive article in which Puketapu’s Tu Tangata kokiri programme is discussed and other aspects of his vision to see Māori progress in the future.