The Māori name “Waiuku” comes from a legend that two prominent brothers, Tamakae and Tamakou, vied for the hand of a beautiful high-ranking Waikato chieftainess. Tamakae washed in the wai (water) and uku (a white mud) of the stream that flows into the Manukau Harbour, before he met her. Tamakae won her heart and married her. From then the place was named Waiuku.

The local Iwi of Waiuku or Mana Whenua of Waiuku is Te Iwi o Ngati Te Ata Waiohua. A striking statue of Tamakae stands in the township, carved from swamp kauri logs found during some excavation work at New Zealand Steel and gifted to the local iwi, Ngati Te Ata.

Waiuku came into existence as a port in about 1843, and an important trade route between Auckland and the agricultural area of the Waikato. Waiuku later grew as a farming centre and from 1914, it has been a town district of Franklin with now approximately 8,000 people.

A major development for the town was New Zealand’s first steel plant at Glenbrook to convert iron sand brought from the black sand deposits at Waikato Heads into steel. The company continues to be a major employer in and influence on the town.

The ethnic makeup of Waiuku is 62.6% European; 26.4% Māori, 4.4% Asian, 3.8% Pasifika and 2.1 other ethnicities.

English is the most commonly spoken language in Waiuku, spoken by virtually the entire population.