The coastline has been a major source of food and resources since the first Māori settled in the 1500s.
The Ngāti Mamoe migrated south from the North Island and assimilated Waitaha. This was first done by intermarriage, then by warfare and finally by negotiated peace. In the mid-1700s Ngāi Tahu migrated south from the North Island. In a process similar to that experienced by the Waitaha, they assimilated the Ngāti Mamoe.
As fires destroyed the forests inland approximately 500 years ago, Māori became reliant on the coast. Several thousand campsites have been found along the coastline, between the estuary and the Waikari River mouth. The coastline was a source of fish, shellfish and seabirds for Māori, particularly the Avon-Heathcote Estuary and the wetlands of Brooklands Lagoon.
Many of the early settlers’ first encounters with the coastline near Christchurch ended in despair. Their household belongings were destroyed when their boats tried to cross the sandbar at the mouth of the Avon-Heathcote Estuary. The mouth of the estuary was notorious for wrecking boats. Some ships would wait three to six weeks off the coast for a chance to cross the sandbar and even then many were wrecked.
In the 19th century, European settlers destroyed many coastal plants on the dunes, through burning and over-grazing. Large areas were planted with pine trees and marram grass to try and stabilise the sand dunes.