The Kai Iwi Lakes and surrounding Omamari district have important associations with early Maori history. In the coming of the Maori, Sir Peter Buck recalls the traditions of the Mamari Canoe which brought people to the Hokianga and Kaipara districts:
The Mamari Canoe under Nukutawhiti finally landed at Hokianga Heads where Nukutawhiti, Runanui his brother-in-law and others settled. The canoe however sailed south and was wrecked on the Ripiro beach about 10 miles south of Maunganui Bluff. The unfortunate spot was commemorated by the name of Omamari.
Few records are available on Maori settlement patterns around the Kai Iwi Lakes. Early maps of the area record the remains of a pa on the main ridge south of Lake Kai Iwi and former burial grounds at Promenade Point and Pine Beach.
During the early part of this century lakes Kai Iwi, Taharoa and Waikere along with Shag Lake and an unnamed lake northwest of Lake Waikare were known as the Rotorima Lakes (five lakes). The Lakes district was at the time a major gumdigging area. Five gumdiggers huts were observed on the western shores of Lake Kai Iwi in the late 1870s. In 1892 there was a small gumdigging camp including a general store on the eastern shores of Lake Taharoa. In 1908 a camp was established on the eastern shores of Shag Lake. The largest gumdiggers camp (Jacksons) was established near Johnsons Swamp south of Lake Kai Iwi.
In the early 1900s an attempt was made by the Hall Brothers to drain Lake Kai Iwi for gum recovery operations. A drain was dug from the present Lake Kai Iwi outlet to Johnsons Swamp and the lake lowered by about 2 metres. At about the same time gum was being recovered from Lake Waikare with the aid of a diving bell.
In 1921 the Crown set aside a large area of land between Lake Taharoa and the west coast for gum recovery operations. The swamps in the area were bored with hand augers in the hope of recovering gum chips. The operations met with little success and by the late 1920s most gumdiggers had left the area. Few signs remain of the gumdigging operations around the lakes. A gumdiggers hut from the shores of Lake Kai Iwi is now situated at the Dargaville Maritime Museum.
The Crown in 1928 set aside 8.5 hectares on the eastern shores of Lake Taharoa as a scenic reserve. Lake Taharoa and the surrounding land was added to the scenic reserve in 1952. In 1962 Lake Kai Iwi and Lake Taharoa and the surrounding land were declared a recreations reserve to be known as the Taharoa Domain. Administration and control of the reserve was vested in the Hobson Country Council in its capacity as the Taharoa Domain Board under the Reserves and Domains Act, 1953. Lake Waikare and the surrounding land were incorporated into the Domain in 1968.