While Maori had close associations with the ranges of Hawke's Bay they were not permanently settled, as the lowlands, river valleys and coastal areas were preferred for their more mild climates and abundant resources. Iwi historically identified with the region include Ngati Hineuru, Ngati Kahungunu, Rangitane, Ngati Kere, Whatuiapiti and Taiwhenua o Tamatea. Several ancient tracks led across the ranges to gain access inland to the central North Island.
Some of the first European records of the area were made by the early explorer and botanist, Reverend William Colenso. He contributed significantly to knowledge of the natural history of the area, particularly its botanical history.
With settlement, forests surrounding the ranges were steadily removed for timber and farming developments. Coast and transport routes were developed along beaches or along the cliffs and whaling stations were also established at key locations.
The presence of people has left a rich legacy of human history and important sites, but little remains of the original forests and other natural habitats, such as wetlands, have been greatly diminished and modified.