Just outside the Wellington city centre, the riverside town of Lower Hutt makes a quick escape from New Zealand’s capital. Made famous like much of New Zealand by Peter Jackson’s three-part film adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, this corner of the Wellington metropolitan area makes a splendid introduction to the country’s character.
New Zealand is best known for its incomparable natural beauty and adventure sports and Lower Hutt is no exception. Hiking, mountain biking and fishing are all popular activities in the area. A market in the Riverbank car park and the larger Westfield Queensgate shopping centre satisfy those who prefer shopping to getting outdoors. The Maori Treasures Complex, various galleries and cafes and the start of the Rimutaka Cycle Trail round out the city’s highlights. A medieval castle looms over the Taita suburb, but this is likely to be of more interest to moviegoers than history buffs. It was constructed for the Helm’s Deep and Minas Tirith scenes in The Lord of the Rings trilogy.
Part of the greater Wellington metropolitan area, Lower Hutt is little more than a 15-minute drive north of Wellington’s city centre. Metlink trains and buses leave multiple times a day from the Wellington Railway Station and reach Lower Hutt in about 20 minutes.
Lower Hutt is full of historical New Zealand milestones. Near the mouth of the Hutt River, the town was a point of entry for 19th century settlers. In fact, nearby Petone welcomed the earliest settlers. The 1853 Christ Church Taita is greater Wellington’s oldest church and in 1859 Lower Hutt became the site of New Zealand’s first permanent lighthouse. What’s more, the structure was run by the country’s only female lighthouse operator, Mary Jane Bennett.