For over 1000 years this area has supported local Maori with its many native plant and animal species, fish and shellfish. Many prominent land features such as Rangikapiti Pa reflect their cultural heritage.
In 1769 Captain James Cook sailed past the entrance to Doubtless Bay, recording in his journal that it was 'doubtless a bay', hence the name. Only days later, Jean de Surville on the French ship 'St Jean Baptiste' anchored in the bay.
In 1792 the first American whaler, Captain Eber Bunker from Nantucket, came into Doubtless Bay on the 'William and Ann'. Since the early 1800s, whaling ships were active around New Zealand. They were calling 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 is known today as Butler Point, 200 metres across the harbour.
Maori 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 30 whaling ships here at any one time. 95% 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 Doubtless Bay: flax, kauri trees and kauri gum.
New Zealand flax was of a superior quality and in high demand for rope and weaving materials when manilla and sisal were in short supply. Due to local Maori involvement, the flax industry flourished and a flax mill in Mangonui operated until the early 1900s.
Settlers in the 1830s began milling kauri trees that grew in abundance around Doubtless Bay, rafting logs down the Taipa and Oruaiti rivers to Mill Bay in Mangonui harbour to be shipped overseas and bought by whalers for refitting and repairs in the harbour.
The kauri gum digging industry followed , as did the early farmers running sheep and cattle on the land. The gum digging industry in Doubtless Bay died out in the early 1920s.