When James Cook visited the shores of the East Coast in 1769, he noted numerous coastal settlements with intensive cultivations and heavily populated pā and settlements. However, early European settlers showed no desire for the land of Te Whānau-ā-Apanui. The region lacked deep-water harbours and was seen as too isolated to be economically viable.
Among the first Europeans to visit New Zealand’s shores were whalers and traders. Some of the American, Norwegian and French whalers taught the local people how to catch whales. They also had large families with Māori women, and their descendants continue to live as members of Te Whānau-ā-Apanui.
By the early 1900s whaling had become a major economic activity and cooperative enterprise for Te Whānau-ā-Apanui. Proceeds from the whale-oil harvest were devoted to community projects such as building meeting houses and churches.
The last whale was killed at Te Kaha in 1924.
The other main economic activity of the early 1900s was agriculture. Bush felling cleared the way for cattle and sheep stations, and small dairy farms. Dairying became well established when the Native Land Development Scheme was introduced. In 1925, Te Kaha opened its own dairy factory.
William Swinton of Raukōkore was the first farmer to win the Ahuwhenua Lord Bledisloe Cup in 1932. Other Te Whānau-ā-Apanui people who won this cup were Swinton’s son William and Tikirau Karehana.
Many men left to fight in the Second World War, and some never returned; women also migrated during the war. Others moved to the city for better education and employment opportunities.
By 1961, the East Coast road was improved and there was an upsurge of holiday visitors.
During the 1980s dairying and other small-scale farming operations became uneconomic. Te Whānau-ā-Apanui were negatively affected by the privatisation of state assets. The loss of coach services when the railways were sold, and the closing of the Te Kaha post office had a significant impact on the community.
As with other tribes, some people remained in the region to keep the home fires burning, while others moved away, or lived overseas.
Since the early 1990s the tribal authority (Te Rūnanga o te Whānau) has successfully managed a fisheries operation. It has also become increasingly involved in social services and other economic developments. Many of the large, incorporated land blocks are planted with pine, and there was investment in other industries. In 2001 the Cyberwaka rural community project began training students in information technology.