The village of Manakau was established in the early 1890s as a service town to the sawmills operating in the Tararua Ranges.
By the turn of the century the population had climbed to 385. The population reached a peak of 1500 before the timber resources were exhausted. World War 1 reduced the male working population drastically and this led to further reductions.
Until 30 years ago the village was based on the local agricultural industry and on workers from the local towns of Otaki and Levin who chose to live in Manakau.
Recently the population of Manakau village has changed. The village enjoys an exceptionally pleasant microclimate, and has fertile soils with very good drainage. There has been an influx of older people who have retired to the village to enjoy its climate, gardening potential, and village charm. Today there is a mixture: some properties are used for horticultural activities such as plant nurseries and flower production, others are residences for retired people or traditional workers from Levin or Otaki; and there are some weekend homes.
Residents have guarded their tranqullity by insisting the narrow tree-lined streets stay that way, avoiding the suburban look and feel of sealed footpaths and kerbed and channelled edges.