The name of this bay possibly refers to a large elevated storage platform for food, a whata.1
The bay has a long history of human settlement. The iwi (tribe) Ngāti Toa Rangatira, had a pā in the bay during the Nineteenth Century and the New Zealand Company chief surveyor, William Mein Smith, described whare or dwellings in the bay in 1842.2 In addition, an archaeological survey undertaken in the 1970s noted remains of occupation at the south end of bay.
In 1870 the sailing ship, Hera Bight, was in Port Underwood to load wool for export to England when it caught fire. The ship was towed in to Whataroa Bay and scuttled.
The ship was re-floated to salvage the wool and the hull towed to Nelson to act as a storage hulk.3
1. Roberts, W. H. Sherwood. “Maori Nomenclature: Maori Names of Places in the Provincial District of Marlborough,” Marlborough Express, Volume XXXVII, Issue 216, 12 September 1903, Supplement, accessed January 9, 2018, https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/newspapers/MEX190309184.108.40.206 .
2. Ngati Toa Rangitira and Toa Rangitira Trust and the Crown, “Deed of Settlement of Historical Claims, 2012”, accessed May 14, 2019, http://www.ngatitoa.iwi.nz/sitecontent/images/Folders/General/Ngati-Toa-Rangatira-and-Toa-Rangatira-Trust-and-The-Crow.pdf .