Māori chief Te Rauparaha established a base on Kapiti Island, and from this position, he was able to launch attacks on other tribes during the Musket Wars of the early 19th century. Around this time, Europeans began whaling in the area, and on 16 October 1839, William Wakefield of the New Zealand Company arrived in the Kapiti region to purchase land for permanent European settlement. Te Rauparaha sold him land in the Nelson and Golden Bay area.
European settlement of the Kapiti Coast only took place on a significant scale after the Wellington and Manawatu Railway Company (WMR) opened its railway line from Wellington to Longburn, just south of Palmerston North. The line was opened in 1886, with the final spike driven in on the Kapiti Coast at Otaihanga. Paekakariki was quickly established as a significant steam locomotive depot due to the need to swap locomotives at the location; powerful, heavy locomotives were required to handle trains over the rugged section from Wellington to Paekakariki, while lighter, faster locomotives were more suited to the relatively flat terrain north of Paekakariki. In 1908, the WMR was purchased by the New Zealand Railways Department, who incorporated the line into the North Island Main Trunk Railway.
In June 1940, the Wellington-Paekakariki section was electrified as electric locomotives provided better motive power. This meant trains would swap from steam (and later diesel-electric) to electric traction in Paekakariki and it retained its status as a significant locomotive depot. It also became the northern terminus of the Wellington commuter railway network until 8 May 1983, when it was extended to Paraparaumu. In February 2011 electrification reached Waikanae, which became the new terminus.
During World War II, Queen Elizabeth Park - a large tract of parkland between Raumati South and Paekakariki - was the location of two United States Army and Marines camps, McKay and Russell. US troops were stationed at the camps in 1942-44 prior to being sent into combat in the Pacific Ocean theatre.
After World War II, Wellington's Rongotai Airport was closed due to safety reasons in 1947 and Kapiti Coast Airport became the main airport for the Wellington Region. In 1949, it was New Zealand's busiest airport and helped to stimulate growth on the Kapiti Coast. The Wellington International Airport was opened in 1959 and Paraparaumu Airport never regained its status, with some of its land sold for residential development in the 1990s and 2000. There are limited flights in and out of Kapiti.
Recently, the Kapiti Coast has seen a significant population surge and is one of New Zealand's fastest growing areas. This has led to considerable growth and created opportunities for people looking to move into the region. One hour from Wellington many Kapiti residents travel to work either by a regular train service or via their own transport.