In the 1870s and 1880s, gold prospectors staked claims on quartz outcrops around the Wharekewa Harbour, resulting in half a dozen major gold strikes, and several mines being established in the 1890s. Kauri logging was underway in the 1890s too, and as it petered out, gum-diggers moved in. At the start of the 20th century, there was a settlement of about 50 people near the mouth of the harbour, with a store, a bakery and a post office. An Anglican church was built but was taken over by Ringatu worshippers. As the forest disappeared and the gum industry declined in the 1920s, the village also declined. By the late 1930s, the shops had closed, and the church had been abandoned. Farming and the planting of pines for the Tairua State Forest gradually healed the land.
After World War II, a few families from Auckland and Hamilton built baches beside the harbour, and in the 1950s a holiday store and a camping ground opened. Three small subdivisions were established in the late 1960s and 1970s, but the local community resisted further development during the 1980s.