Petone's home to coffee roasters, food producers, fashion labels and more artisan products keeping the innovative early settler spirit alive
Quaint settlers’ cottages with manicured front gardens rub shoulders with industrial history in charming Petone.
This Lower Hutt suburb is the place where the Wellington region’s European history begins and still lives on, with its historic attractions and architecture. But don’t for a minute think Petone is stuck in the past - its stylish eateries and creative artisan producers are proof of this area’s appeal, and they’re all centred around a stretch of wild beach.
Petone was the Wellington region’s first colonial settlements. The area was already home to a fortified Māori village, known as a pa, when the first English immigrants arrived in 1840. The new settlement soon grew and became an industrial hub. Petone’s origin story means it’s still home to plenty of historic buildings and sites from the 19th and 20th centuries, which have been well looked after. At the Petone Settlers Museum find out about the region’s fascinating social history, from the esteemed chiefs who presided over the area to the woollen mills and railway workshops that fuelled the area’s growth in the 20th century.
These days, this small town has become an unlikely but thriving hub for multicultural cuisine. Petone’s Jackson Street, which runs parallel to the seashore, is a round-the-world tour of spices, meat, cheese, wine, pastries and sweets, with specialist food importers and producers tucked between vintage shops and coffee roasters. It’s become a place of pilgrimage for foodies from around the wider Wellington region, whether they’re stocking up on treats they miss from home or keen cooks searching for obscure ingredients. Scheckter’s Deli, The Dutch Shop, The Spice Rack and La Bella Italia will have your pantry stocked in no time.
Right across the eclectic mix of specialist stores you’ll often meet the owners over the counter who’ll freely offer tips on how to use their products, share recipes or coach you through more tools. Discover a mecca of candles at Lluma, unique essentials at the aptly named Knobs and Knockers or a treasure at Lo Cost Records.
The area is also known for its incredible eateries. Seashore Cabaret is housed in a rowing club, which can only mean one thing: bloody good views out across the water. The area’s Māori name, Pito-one, describes its long, sandy beach, and this quirky industrial cafe and restaurant is designed to make the most of that vista. Snag a window seat and you’ll be entranced by what you see (the stormy days are just as entertaining as the sunny). The team roast their own coffee onsite, so make sure you order a long black alongside your braised lamb burger or fish tacos. Visit chic modern cafe Comes and Goes, where it’s a struggle to resist Instagramming the exquisitely-presented dishes, or enjoy stylish East-meets-West dining at Oli & Mi, housed in a historic dentists’ building.
It may sound slightly odd, but Petone is as famous for its water as it is for its food. At the corner of Buick and Jackson Streets, a sculptural installation marks Te Puna Wai Ora, a spring of pure water that’s naturally filtered through underground aquifers (then UV filtered to ensure it’s extra clean). There are taps all round to have a drink or fill up your bottle - dedicated fans of this pure water source even drive in from central Wellington and neighbouring Wairarapa region to fill up.
Petone’s Jackson Street, which hosts lots of its food and fashion businesses, transforms into a fairground for the annual Petone Rotary Fair. Every summer, this fair closes off the street to cars and fills it with street food, stalls, performers, rides, fun and frivolity. It’s a huge family occasion, as well as a fundraiser for some very worthy local causes.
If you’d like a hand discovering the best of Petone, choose a tour with local know-how. Zozo Travel will take you on a culinary odyssey around the town, taking you behind the scenes with artisans and importers who are responsible for some of Petone’s greatest eats. If fashion is more your scene, Walk In Style hosts guided tours through boutiques and designer studios, with expert stylists who know Petone’s thriving fashion scene inside and out. Their tours include a platter and wine afterwards, over which you’ll undoubtedly show off your new purchases.
Far from shaking off its history, Petone combines lessons from the past with future-facing businesses to create the perfect foodie, fashionable day out. The indigenous manaakitanga (kindness and hospitality) spirit amongst the neighbourhood is matched with innovative colonial settler spirit is well and truly alive every corner.