Nestled between bush-clad hills and the Hutt River, it’s only natural that Upper Hutt boasts so many natural wonders
List off some of Upper Hutt’s suburbs - Pinehaven, Silverstream, Emerald Hill, Riverstone Terraces - and you’ll see some motifs emerging.
It all makes sense when you notice that this city is hemmed by mountain ranges and perched beside the Hutt River, which flows all the way out to Wellington harbour. One of the four cities that make up the wider Wellington region, it has always attracted those with a healthy respect for New Zealand’s great outdoors.
All this access to nature makes Upper Hutt a choose-your-own-adventure city. Pick one path, flip forward a few pages and you’ll find adrenaline-fuelled mountain bike runs through dense bush. Choose another direction to find yourself trout fishing in the clear, clean river. Another will take you to a wildlife park where you’ll meet New Zealand’s quirky native creatures. Whichever route you take, you’ll be charmed by the city’s rugged beauty.
While Wellington City is hardly famous for its stunning weather, it only takes a 45 minute train ride to get to Upper Hutt’s fairer climes. Its nifty position nestled in a valley means the seasons are generally more pronounced, with hotter summer days and colder, crisper winters. With an impressive 50 - yep, that’s five-zero - parks scattered around the city, from manicured suburban reserves to acres of native forest, start dreaming about how you’ll tick them all off.
When you arrive, hop off the train and hop onto the Hutt River Trail. This 29-kilometre path follows the Hutt River from the Tararua Mountains to the sea, but there’s no pressure to see the whole thing - you can join it at any point. Take a gentle stroll to get acquainted with Upper Hutt’s signature scenery, work up an appetite with a jog or bike ride along the riverside path, take a kayak out on the water for the day, or dive right in for a swim. The river is also known for its trout fishing, so bring your rod too.
If you’ve got the sprogs in tow, Upper Hutt is an ideal place for them to burn off some energy. If it’s too chilly for a dip in the Hutt River, pack your swimsuit anyway. H2O Xtream is a knockout aquatic park, whether you’re happy perfecting your form in a lap pool or a trio of thrilling hydroslides is more your thing. Float serenely around the river ride, or try to conquer the wave pool. There’s plenty for kids here too, including a shallower extra-warm pool for the little ones.
And while you might pretend you’re only going to Staglands Wildlife Reserve for the kids, it’s okay to admit you’re more excited about it than they are. This charming park features friendly animals, from barnyard favourites to some of New Zealand’s native creatures. Many of its residents are free to roam, and most are happy to be fed and patted, like the fluffy merino rams or adorable kunekune piglets. Staglands is set in a glorious slice of Akatarawa Valley, complete with verdant bushland and ponds and rivers.
Nearby Maidstone Max is an adventure playground with a buffet of activities that’ll keep both young ones and their parents very very happy. With a skate park of epic proportions, twin flying foxes, playgrounds, slides, swings, things to climb and plenty of open space. Most importantly, there are lots of comfy spots for adults to settle in to keep an eye on things.
This glorious array of outdoorsy activities is all propped up by a booming culinary and craft beer scene. Head to Maidstone, where a handful of breweries have established a ‘beer village’, creating a neighbourhood that smells distinctly of hops and attracts plenty of thirsty visitors. Dubbed Brewtown Upper Hutt, the precinct is home to Boneface Brewing Company, Panhead Custom Ales, Te Aro Brewing, Wild Kiwi, Kererū and Good George Brewing. Stroll between them, sample some of the country’s top craft brews and match it all to excellent local food.
If you’re a fan of the great indoors as much as the great outdoors, Expressions Whirinaki is an Upper Hutt must-do. This all-in-one arts complex hosts immersive installations, touring fine art exhibitions, festivals, talks and events - as well as hosting a brilliant cafe onsite.
Expressions suggests that its visitors take their time and look then look again, which is actually a great approach to take for exploring all of Upper Hutt. Pause to spot native birds in the trees by the river, to notice the distinct shades of green of the mountainsides, and to have a yarn with some locals - they might even tell you about their best fishing spots, if you’re lucky.