The town is located at the southern end of the Waiuku River which is an estuarial arm of the Manukau Harbour. It is 40 kilometres southwest of Auckland city centre, and 12 kilometres north of the mouth of the Waikato River.
Waiuku came into existence as a port in about 1843, on the then important trade route between Auckland and the agricultural area of the Waikato. It was also the terminal of an ancient Maori portage between the Waikato River and the Manukau Harbour. Waiuku was marked out by the Government as a town in 1851. During the Waikato War (1863–64), Waiuku became a frontier stockade guarded by a blockhouse. The Waikato War ended the traffic responsible for the early development of the town as a trading post. Waiuku later grew as a farming centre under road board administration, and in 1914 became a town district. It was constituted a borough in 1955, and subsequently amalgamated into the Franklin District Council [in 1988]. A major development for the town was the Government sponsored establishment, from the mid 1960s, of New Zealand's first steel plant at Glenbrook to convert ironsand brought from the black sand deposits at Waikato Heads into steel. After many changes of ownership and name, the company has returned to being called New Zealand Steel and is a division of Bluescope Steel of Australia. The company continues to be a major employer in and influence on the town.
At the entrance to the Reserve stands a striking statue of Tamakae carved from swamp kauri logs. The logs were found during some excavation work at New Zealand Steel and gifted to the local iwi (tribe), Ngati Te Ata. The Reserve also has a small historic “village” with several restored buildings including Hartmann House, dating back to 1886, now operating as a local craft studio, Pollock Cottage (1890), Waiuku Jail (1865) and The Creamery (1890’s). The nearby Waiuku Museum has colonial era memorabilia, Māori artifacts, old sailing boats and historic photographs. A Heritage Trail around town points out further sites of historic interest in Waiuku including Wesley Methodist Church (1883) from where visitors to the town can get a panoramic view across Waiuku and the waterfront reserve.
Neighbouring attractions include the West Coast black sand beach of Karioitahi and the Glenbrook Vintage Railway.
Several cafes and restaurants are now open at the weekends. An increasing number of Waiuku shops are opening longer on Saturdays and many on Sundays too with a wide range from boutique fashion stores to antique and artifact stores, a traditional Butcher/Fishmonger, hardware store, handmade solid furniture store and even a macadamia “chocolatier and ice-cream” maker. A “veggie and craft” market runs on the first and 3rd Saturday of each month (9am-2pm).
In 2006, 24.2 percent of people are aged under 15 years in Waiuku, compared with 22.1 percent for all of Auckland Region. In 2001, 26.5% of people in Waiuku were under the age of 15 years compared with 22.7% for all of New Zealand.
In 2006, 13.5% of people in Waiuku are aged 65 years and over, compared with 9.9% of the total Auckland Region population. This compared with 2001 when 11.4% of people in Waiuku were aged 65 years and over compared with 12.1% for all of New Zealand.
In 2006, 34.5% of people aged 15 years and over in Waiuku had a post-school qualification, compared with 42.5% of people throughout Auckland Region. In Waiuku, 31.0% of people aged 15 years and over had no formal qualifications, compared with 20.3% for Auckland Region as a whole. This compares with 2001, when 26.6% of people aged 15 years and over in Waiuku had a post-school qualification, compared with 32.2% for New Zealand as a whole
According to the 2006 Census, the Waiuku population's ethic origin was 75.6% European; 17.7% Māori; 3.6% Pacific peoples; 3.6% Asian; 0.3% Middle Eastern/Latin American/African; and 11.0% other ethnicity. In the Auckland Region, the 2006 census split ethnicity as follows: European 56.5%; Māori 11.1%; Pacific peoples 14.4%; Asian 18.9%; Middle Eastern/Latin American/African 1.5%; and other ethnicity 8.1%. By contrast, in 2001, 86.2% of people in Waiuku said they belong to the European ethnic group, compared with 80.1% for all of New Zealand.
In terms of birthplace 20.7% of people in Waiuku were born overseas, compared with 37.0% for Auckland Region as a whole. For people born overseas living in Waiuku in 2006, the most common birthplace was the UK and Ireland, compared with Asia for all of Auckland Region.
English is the most commonly spoken language in Waiuku, spoken by virtually the entire population. According to the 2006 census, 3.6% of people in Waiuku speak Māori, compared with 2.7% of people for all of Auckland Region. New Zealand Sign Language is used by 0.4% of people in Waiuku, compared with 0.6% of people for all of Auckland Region. 87.6% of people in Waiuku speak only one language, compared with 70.7% of people for all of Auckland Region.
According to the 2006 census, for people aged 15 years and over, the median income (half earn more, and half less, than this amount) in Waiuku was $24,500. This compares with a median of $26,800 for all of Auckland Region. 42.4 percent of people aged 15 years and over in Waiuku had an annual income of $20,000 or less, compared with 40.9 percent of people for Auckland Region as a whole. In Waiuku, 21.3 percent of people aged 15 years and over had an annual income of more than $50,000, compared with 21.6 percent of people in Auckland Region. In 2001, The median income of people in Waiuku was $19,200, compared with $18,500 for all of New Zealand.
In the 2006 census, the unemployment rate in Waiuku is 5.0 percent for people aged 15 years and over, compared with 5.6 percent for all of Auckland Region. The most common occupational group in Waiuku was 'Technicians and trades workers' and 'Professionals' is the most common occupational group in Auckland Region. By comparison, in 2001, the unemployment rate in Waiuku was 6.4 percent, compared with 7.5 percent for all of New Zealand.
In 2006, 29.3% of people aged 15 years and over living in Waiuku had never married, 49.7% were married, and 20.9% were separated, divorced or widowed. 32.3% of people aged 15 years and over in Waiuku who have never married, live with a partner.Couples with children made up 42.4% of all families in Waiuku, while couples without children made up 37.4% of all families. In Auckland Region, couples with children make up 46.3% of all families, while couples without children make up 34.8 percent of all families. 20.2% of families in Waiuku are one-parent-with-children families, compared with 18.9% of families for Auckland Region as a whole.
In Waiuku, according to the 2006 census, 64.8% of households in private occupied dwellings own the dwelling, with or without a mortgage. For Auckland Region as a whole, 50.7% of households in private occupied dwellings own the dwelling, with or without a mortgage.
According to the 2006 census, 88.% of Waiuku households have a telephone, compared to 92.6% of people in the Auckland region. 57.4 percent of households in Waiuku have access to the Internet, compared with 65.5 percent of households throughout Auckland Region. In Waiuku 76.6 percent of households have access to a cellphone, compared with 76.4 percent of households for Auckland Region as a whole.
16.0% of households in Waiuku have access to three or more motor vehicles, compared with 17.7% of all households in Auckland Region.
The local Iwi of Waiuku or Mana Whenua of Waiuku are Te Iwi o Ngati Te Ata Waiohua.
Waiuku is the hometown of Waikato Chiefs rugby teams star kicker Stephen Donald. He played his first game for the All-Blacks against England on June 14 2008, becoming the first All-Black ever to have attended Waiuku College (although Alan Dawson did make the All Black Squad, he never actually played for them). Though born in Papakura on December 3, 1983, Stephen attended Sandspit Primary School,in Wauku then four years at Waiuku College where his father is a long-serving teacher, before spending his seventh form at Wesley College.
Waiuku was also the birth place of rugby legend and former All Black Zinzan Brooke, but he attended Mahurangi College. Noted all Blacks Kevin Skinner and Pat Walsh were already accomplished adult players when they joined Waiuku.
Elsie Locke, then named Elsie Violet Farrelly, was born in Waiuku, New Zealand on 17 August 1912. She attended Waiuku District High School from 1925 until 1929, where she was the sole student in her class during her final two years. She was widely known as a peace activist and historian but she was also a groundbreaking and successful author of children’s literature. Her literary reputation rests primarily on her historical novels set in New Zealand’s colonial past, many of which have been reprinted. Attending university during the Depression, she associated with many of New Zealand’s emerging literary figures. She also became a socialist because of her experiences and observations of poverty at this time. Her son is Keith LockeGreen Party MP.
David Aspin competed in the freestyle wrestling discipline, and was the 1974 Commonwealth Games champion and 1970 Commonwealth Games bronze medalist, in the middleweight category. He was also New Zealand's flag bearer at the opening ceremonies of the 1972 Summer Olympics, in Munich, and of the 1976 Summer Olympics in Montreal.
Air Vice-Marshal F. H. M. Maynard, CB, AFC, Legion of Merit (US); RAF (retd.); England; was born in Waiuku,on 1 May 1893. He joined the Royal Naval Air Service in 1915 and served in France and United Kingdom in First World War in RNAS and RAF. He was AOC RAF, Mediterranean, 26 Jan 1940-1 Jun 1941; Air Officer in Charge of Administration, RAF Coastal Command, 1941–44; AOC No. 19 Group, Coastal Command, 1944–45.