Petone, Wainuiomata, Eastbourne and the lower river valley suburbs combine as an outdoor haven known as Lower Hutt - or "the Hutt" to locals
Facing central Wellington from the eastern side of the harbour sits the charming city of Lower Hutt.
While a little smaller in population than Wellington City, this area is big on beautiful outdoors experiences, big on fresh produce from the land and sea, and huge on hospitality.
Lower Hutt is one of the four cities that makes up the Wellington region. Generally called “The Hutt” by its residents and around the region, the area is made up of Wainuiomata, Petone, Eastbourne and a few other suburbs in the southern half of the Hutt Valley. If you’re heading there from Wellington City, a train or bus ride will get you there in no time, or take the even-more-scenic route with a quick trip on the East By West Ferry from downtown Wellington to picturesque Eastbourne.
Lower Hutt was covered in lush forest before European settlers began arriving in the 1840s, and there’s still large swathes of this dense bushland intact across the region. It’s easy to explore a perfect slice of New Zealand’s great outdoors in the Western Hills, located not far from the Hutt’s CBD. Take the kids on a crawl of the 14 playgrounds (newly-refurbished Avalon Park is a must-do), spot glow worms after dark, or head to Percy Scenic Reserve and hunt for giant native insects in the Weta Cave before discovering the waterfall.
For a perfectly outdoorsy trip to Lower Hutt, pack your hiking boots and explore the idyllic surrounds of Belmont Regional Park on foot. It’s got a range of tracks to pick from, from straightforward loop tracks to more challenging hikes, but Korokoro Dam Loop is a good starting point - it’ll take you up to an epic man-made waterfall and back in about an hour.
Lower Hutt is lucky to have the harbour, the hills and the river, so you probably won’t be surprised to hear that the city is known for its high-quality local produce and humming food scene. Eateries don’t have to search far and wide for fresh kai moana (sea food), fruit and veggies, and they cook up some fine fare with all these excellent ingredients. Local diners probably live in neighbourhoods once home to market gardens and now a growing network of community gardens.
Family-run organic dairy producers Zany Zeus started off by supplying restaurants, but their incredible cheeses and ice creams were so popular they opened a small cafe and shop in Moera. This tiny spot makes Scarlett Johannson’s favourite chocolate cake and sells halloumi sandwiches that any Wellingtonian will wax lyrical about. And Petone’s The Butcher & Brewer is the sort of pub dreams are made of, serving up craft brews and swanky pub meals in a friendly atmosphere where kids are more than welcome.
Perfectly positioned in the heart of this creative city, The Dowse Art Museum is a thoroughly modern museum. The Dowse looks after one of the country’s most important art and craft collections and hosts some of the country’s most fascinating exhibitions. There’s nothing pretentious or stuffy here. The programme is all about showing off how diverse and exciting modern Kiwi art can be, and the constantly-changing programme often features edgy immersive installations and exhibitions of fashion, ceramics and jewellery.
On your way out, we recommend you exit through the gift shop. With work by incredible local New Zealand ceramicists and jewellers, you’d be hard pressed not to take home a little piece of local art. And if all that awe has worked up an appetite, lucky for you Dowse has an onsite café, Bellbird Eatery. This is a very local spot – the café, tap beer and bread are all from around the region, and their cheese scones are the stuff of Lower Hutt legend.
If you ask about riding the trails in the valley’s hills you’ll soon hear about Waiu Park with its handbuilt network of sheltered bush trails. A local favourite is to explore the Freewheel and Superplus trails from the top of the road over to Wainuiomata. You can you admire the views across the harbour and get creative with tricks while innovators in New Zealand’s innovation agency in the industry park below get creative with technology.
Lower Hutt’s several suburbs combine and share their strengths - the sheltered bays of Eastbourne contrast against the wild cost of Wainuiomata; the international culinary heaven of Petone is the perfect foil to the bushwalks in Belmont Regional Park. And all these wild experiences form a city that punches well above its weight.