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.
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.