A 10-minute drive north of Wellington on State Highway 2—with magnificent harbor views all the way—leads you to the Hutt Valley and its namesake river.
The Petone Esplanade on the eastern side of the harbor, has good fishing from the wharf and is overlooked by houses clinging to steep bush-clad hills. Follow the winding road about 8 km (5 mi) through to the suburb of Eastbourne. Stop in the tiny shopping area for an alfresco bite before driving on to where
the road eventually transforms into a 4-km (2½-mi) walking track, following the coast to Pencarrow Head and its lighthouse, with views across the strait. (There's a kiosk where you can rent a bike if you wish.)
Back in Petone the Hutt River Trail starts at Hikoikoi Reserve on Petone Marine Parade near the Hutt River mouth. Specifically for walkers and cyclists, this scenic trail follows the river for more than 32 km (20 mi) between Hutt City and Upper Hutt. It is now extended to link up with the Rimutaka Track to the Wairarapa.
Back on State Highway 2 heading north, enjoy the views of the distant Tararua Ranges, snow covered in winter. If you're a Lord of the Rings fan, stop by the Dry Creek Quarry, where the scenes of Helms Deep and Minas Tirith were filmed; it's at the bottom of Haywards Hill Road—look for the traffic lights for the turnoff from State Highway 2.
The Dowse Art Museum. A changing array of exhibitions showcases the creativity of New Zealand's artisans, including extraordinary jewelry, fashion, photography, and ceramics. Sites such as the Hetet Art Space are adding a fresh dimension to tourism in the area and the tempting shops and cafés around Jackson Street in Petone make for an interesting morning. 45 Laings Rd., Hutt City, 5010. 04/570–6500. www.dowse.org.nz.
Petone Settlers Museum. Don't miss the small-but-interesting Petone Settlers Museum, which is housed in an historic building, the Wellington Provincial Centennial Memorial. It stands on the waterfront of Wellington Harbour near the landing site of the first organized European settlement in New Zealand, which was at Petone in 1840. The Esplanade, Hutt City, 5012. 04/568–8373. www.petonesettlers.org.nz. Free. Wed.–Sun. 10–4.