By Māori tradition the first man to arrive in New Zealand in 900AD was Kupe. His canoe or waka, perhaps named Mamaru, made its landing in Doubtless Bay at Taipa, a name referring to the fence built to divide the rich shellfish beds between two contending Māori chiefs. Kupe's landing at Taipa has been commemorated by a monument representing his waka rolling in on the Pacific waves. There were many more early Māori settlements near the northern end of the Karikari Peninsula (Rangiaohia). These were the ancestors of the local tribe Ngāti Kahu, who today have twenty-one Marae (meeting houses) in the Doubtless Bay area. At Mangonui, the Ruakaramea canoe was guided into the harbour by a shark. Its chief, Moehuri, named the harbour Mangonui, which means 'large shark'. For over a thousand years this area has supported local Māori with its many native plant and animal species, fish and shellfish. Many prominent land features such as Rangikapiti Pā reflect their cultural heritage.

In December 1769 Captain James Cook of the ‘Endeavour' sailed past the entrance to Doubtless Bay, recording in his journal that it was 'doubtless a bay', hence the name.

Only a week later the French ship 'St Jean Baptiste' captained by Jean de Surville, took shelter from a storm and anchored in the bay off the northeast shore of Karikari Peninsula, near Whatuwhiwhi. One of the ships anchors is on display in the Te Ahu Museum in Kaitaia.

In 1792 the first American whaler, Captain Eber Bunker from Nantucket, came into Doubtless Bay on the 'William and Ann'. Ever after, whaling ships were active around New Zealand. They called at Russell (Kororareka) in the Bay of Islands and later to the safe and sheltered harbour of Mangonui. These two small ports welcomed whale men and ships from all over the world. In 1838 an English whaler Captain William Butler settled in Mangonui establishing a trading post on what has been known since as Butler Point, 200 metres across the harbour.

Māori played an important role not only in the supply of fresh foods to the port but they were sought after as crew for their skills in navigation, seaworthiness and as harpooners. Nearly 500 whaling ships have been recorded arriving into Mangonui between 1833 and 1894. Records show up to thirty whaling ships here at any one time. Ninety-five percent of the whaling ships were American. There were American and British Consular agents stationed in Mangonui from 1849 to 1878.

Alongside the whaling, three other local products were highly valued in world markets: flax, kauri trees and kauri gum. New Zealand flax was of a superior quality and in high demand for rope and weaving materials when manila and sisal were in short supply. With Māori labour and skill, the flax industry flourished. Mangonui's last flax mill operated at Māori Point into the early 1900s.

Flax was also milled at Lake Ohia, at the base of Karikari Peninsula.

Lake Ohia was drained soon after 1900 to aid the gum diggers access around the roots of the 30,000 year old flooded kauri forest. Department of Conservation walks wind through the huge stumps, the eerie remains of that forest of giants.

Settlers in the 1830s began cutting kauri trees that grew in abundance around Doubtless Bay, rafting logs down the Taipa and Oruaiti rivers. Whalers bought the timber for refitting and repairs to their ships and whaleboats in the harbour. In 1880 a large kauri mill was built at Mill Bay in Mangonui Harbour, eventually covering ten acres, where the logs were cut to as much as 300,000 board feet a month, and shipped overseas.

Where there was kauri there was gum, and Mangonui was an early centre for the trade. The first shipment left the harbour for England in 1847. Several gum stores traded in Mangonui village from the 1840s to the 1920s, the last a small shed near the Mangonui Hall, only recently demolished. Gum was transported by gum boats and also by diggers with sacks slung on each side of their horses.

The offices representing national and local law and government stood in the village, along with the oldest factories, shops and accommodation for whalers, workers and travellers. The old courthouse now houses an art gallery, its long horse-hitching rail only recently gone. The post office has moved across Beach Road to share the old store building, which still stands in the harbour waters on it pilings. The post office building still stands, too, home to one of the area's popular cafe-bakeries. Mangonui remains the area's business hub, for its location, and its waterfront lined with commerce, hospitality and a boardwalk.

Mangonui Harbour's spectacular pā, Rangikapiti, looms over Mill Bay, named after the timber mill which was built in 1880 and closed in 1915. Now the quiet foreshore waters sheltered from south westerlies gives a home to the Mangonui Cruising Club, beside the public jetty and launch ramp. The Mill Bay Heritage Walk starts or ends at the old mill site, now the Cruising Club jetty, and at Beach Road connects with the Mangonui Heritage Trail by link with the St Andrews Walkway.

Mill Bay is named after the timber mill which was built in 1880 and closed in 1915.

Coopers Beach is named after the coopering trade whose skill was to construct and repair barrels essential for the storage of water, whale oil and other provisions. The long sandy beach, safe for swimmers, shaded by pohutukawa trees, links the village of Coopers Beach, with its cafes and shops, to Doubtless Bay. Coopers Beach, village and seashore, begins and ends with great pā: Ohumuhumuhu in the west, and Taumarumaru in the east. The Knife Rocks at the eastern end were used from ancient time for sharpening Māori tools. After rains the famous tiny fossil coconuts can be found along the beach, washed out of the underlying lignite coal bed.
Cable Bay named after the Cable Station that operated from 1902 until 1912. Known as the All Red route, the cable was jointly owned by Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand and spanned 3,458 nautical miles. All messages were in Morse code. Look for the pinkish sand and rock pools, and see a prime site for surf-casting. A small store and a children's play ground are there, too.
Taipa has long been an anchorage, and a place for gathering seafood. The famous Polynesian explorer Kupe landed at a number of places in the north during his voyages of discovery. Local lore identifies Taipa as his first landing place. Pā were so densely packed above the rich fields formed along the river, the Māori called it “one shout valley,” since voices could be heard from one pā to the next. Polynesian settlers knew the value of direct access to the Bay and the ocean, from a protected estuary, and so the Taipa Sailing Club stands at the river mouth. Beach fishing, rock fishing and shellfish gathering are in short walking distance of the Sailing Club. Nearby are a resort with licensed restaurant, a pub, a bakery and other shops.
Hihi, named after the rare and beautiful stitchbird, is a small beach community. It has long been the land bridge first connecting the surrounding Māori pā with the many early settlements and food gathering areas to the north. Later it would join the whaling store on Butler Point and to the farming and logging areas up towards Taemaro Bay, which had its own shore based whaling station in the day. Now this idylic setting makes it perfect for baches, launching small fishing boats, and camping at the campsite.