The land now part of East Harbour Regional Park has long been a place of Maori occupation with archaeological evidence recorded particularly around Fitzroy Bay and Lakes Kohangatera and Kohangapiripiri. Maori also used a network of routes along the eastern harbour ridges to connect their settlements on the Pencarrow coast, Fitzroy Bay and beyond. The current track of Butterfly Creek was one of these routes.
By the time the New Zealand Company arrived in Wellington in 1839, Parangarehu near Baring Head was a place that Te Atiawa from Pito-one (Petone) visited seasonally to fish and collect berries. This area was occupied throughout most of the 19th century.
The eastern harbour land and beaches were important routes to and from the Wairarapa for European settlers arriving in the new port and town of Wellington. Pencarrow Head itself featured almost immediately in New Zealand Company plans to protect shipping and as early as 1842 a white beacon was erected there. As shipwreck followed upon shipwreck, public pressure rose for more effective protection and eventually New Zealand’s first permanent lighthouse opened on 1 January 1859. The keeper of the new lighthouse was Mary Jane Bennett – New Zealand’s first and only woman lighthouse keeper – and she held the position for six years.
In 1906, a light was also built on the shoreline at Pencarrow and another lighthouse built at Baring Head in 1935. Despite all these precautions, the eastern harbour coast remained dangerous to shipping, especially in fog and rain. Up to 21 wrecks have been recorded on the Pencarrow coast, the most recent being in 1981.
Away from the shoreline, the lands within East Harbour Regional Park have long been a place for recreation for Wellingtonians. From the 1890s, Days Bay became the main centre for picnics and walking. The Butterfly Creek picnic area gained popularity during the 1930s when unemployed workmen cut access tracks from Kowhai Street and Muritai Park during the Depression.
In 1973, these areas became the base of the proposed Regional Park. Today Greater Wellington Regional Council manages the park which includes land owned by Hutt City Council and the Crown.