The Hutt Valley comprises a southern basin (Lower Hutt and Petone) and a northern basin (Upper Hutt).
2013 population, Lower Hutt: 98,238
Named after Sir William Hutt, a New Zealand Company director, the Hutt River rises in the southern Tararua Range. It travels south-west along the Wellington Fault until it reaches Lower Hutt, where it turns south to Wellington Harbour.
Flooding impeded Lower Hutt’s development, and the great earthquake of 1855 sent a tsunami up the river. Three years later, a severe flood drowned nine people at Taitā. Another big flood in 1893 prompted the building of stopbanks. Once the river was contained, Lower Hutt began to grow.
Naming the river
Early residents such as the Ngāi Tara people called the Hutt River Te Awakairangi, ‘the watercourse of greatest value’. It was navigable by canoe far inland, giving access to plentiful food. Later tribes knew it as Te Wai o Orutu, ‘the waters of Orutu’, a Ngāti Māmoe ancestor. When European settlers arrived it was known as the Heretaunga River, after the district in Hawke’s Bay.
The area was mainly a market garden area until the 1920s, when the government bought large tracts of land for housing. By 1941 Lower Hutt had become a city. In the mid-1940s state housing for 20,000 people was built. Many of the new residents commuted by train to Wellington, or found jobs in the valley’s burgeoning industrial sector.
Lower Hutt has grown steadily. Manufacturing remains important, although it has declined since the 1980s removal of tariff protection.
Lower Hutt suburbs
During the 20th century, Petone, Alicetown and the state-housing suburbs grew largely as working-class communities. Affluent residents clustered around leafy Woburn and Eastbourne. From the 1960s, middle-class home buyers headed for Maungaraki and the western hill suburbs.
Petone and Gracefield
The first European immigrants settled at Pito-one (‘the end of the sand beach’), now known as Petone. The settlement lay close to the pā of Te Puni, the paramount Te Āti Awa chief who sold a vast tract of land around the harbour to the New Zealand Company for settlement. Later, flooding led many settlers to leave Petone for a new site at Thorndon.
Brimming with culture
In the early 1900s Petone’s 7,000 residents supported three brass bands, six dance bands, two orchestral societies, an operatic society, a vaudeville company, a comedy club, a literary and debating society, a chess club and several church choirs.
Those who stayed had to cope with regular floods until 1900, when the completion of a series of stopbanks reduced flooding. Petone then flourished and soon became an important industrial centre. Until the 1980s, Petone and neighbouring Gracefield had woollen mills, the railway workshops, meat processors and car assembly plants.
Many of these industries collapsed when protective tariffs were lifted after 1984. Other businesses took their place, and the site of the Gear meat works became a large retail precinct. The area has strong working-class roots, but is now characterised by its diversity.
Alicetown, Moera and Waiwhetū
Initially a farming settlement, Alicetown was settled from the early 1900s by workers from Petone’s factories. Situated next to the main railway and road to Wellington city, the suburb also attracted warehousing and light industry.
Moera was established by the government in the 1920s. Prefabricated housing, designed and built by the Railways Department, was sold to workers. Many residents worked in the railway workshops in nearby Woburn.
Waiwhetū is built on land largely set aside as a native reserve for its former owners, the Te Āti Awa tribe, in the 1840s. The government compulsorily acquired the land in the 1930s, building new homes for Te Āti Awa people. Waiwhetū marae (completed in 1960) was built in the centre of the new housing.