In the early 18th century, local chief Tukiauau and his Ngāti Mamoe iwi, pursued by Ngāi Tahu, took temporary refuge on Whakaraupuka (Ram Island) setting up their campsite (nohoaka).  His name remains attached to the wetlands, while the swamp complex remained an important food basket and precious place (taonga) for later peoples.

In early farming days most of the Taieri Plains wetlands were drained and converted to farmland, leaving just two of the original lakes (Waihola and Waipori) and their adjacent swamps. Even parts of the Sinclair Wetlands were farmed. Traces of drains and fence lines are still visible, but from 1960 under the ownership of the late Horrie Sinclair farming ceased, along with pumping out of water. In 1984 he announced his intention to gift the wetlands to Ducks Unlimited New Zealand Limited. In 1986 a Queen Elizabeth II National Trust open space covenant was registered against the property titles. In 1998 the property was returned to Ngāi Tahu as part of the Ngāi Tahu Claim Settlement Act.