Before the journey could begin there were plans to be made and some serious research.... Where were the best brewpubs, brewery bars and best eateries in the Land of the Long White Cloud?
STEP 1 - get this booklet
It's from SOBA [Society of Beer Associates NZ]
Plan your trip around their suggestions and you won't go too far wrong
This is the other way to find the craftbrewers of NZ and the "Free Houses".
Free Houses are the small pubs with no ties to the big breweries which have a stranglehold on many hotels in NZ (and all over the world!).
You can plan your trip around the Beer Festivals!
The biggie is MARCHFEST
So let's take the tour....
Grab a beer, sit back and relax and follow the journey from Christchurch, down the East Coast, around the Southern Scenic Highway to Invercargill, then to the tourist hotspots of Milford Sound and Queenstown.
Enjoy the Monteith's brewery tour in Greymouth and our visit to the Hop co-op in Nelson.
I hope you're inspired to go in search of quality craft beers.
We were warned, 3 weeks wasn't enough time and we spent so much time wandering in the South Island that we rushed the North. Need to go back and finish the tour.
The plan was to fly to Christchurch on the South Island and rent a car which I drop in Auckland in the North Island to avoid returning over the same ground.
**** These photos are from March 2010 before the Earthquake... so things will have changed quite dramatically - tours mentioned are still in operation however***
Just a short hop, flying Jetstar out of Brisbane it was only about 3.5 hours... barely time to watch an inflight movie we arrived late at night and headed for the strangest hotel we've ever seen.
It's called the Hotel SO, don't pass this one up.
It's a futuristic hotel right in the heart of the city and pretty good rates too for inner city. Located 1 block from Cathedral square and the Twisted Hop and Dux de Lux Brewbars.
City Tram ride is cute.. it's 2.5km around the city with commentary. You buy a 24 hour ticket and get off and on as you please.
Good food alert! Don't shy away from this Tramcar Restaurant.
I will rave about the food in New Zealand and this goes for the Tramcar dinner as well.
And another piece of advice, pay up front for the "Cathedral Dinner" which is five courses AND all your drinks..... and they do not scrimp on the beer! It's good quality NZ & imported beer (and wines).
I saw another table who'd taken the cheaper dinner option... ordering more drinks and then they got their bill............ yes, you know that feeling @ $8 a beer x 4 people x 3 hours..... Ouch!
So pay the extra up front - $125NZ per person for the best, fresh [chef on board] meal, great steak, superb salmon, everything was above expectation and the beers flow freely and cheerfully from the staff.
p.s. the Tram doesn't go anywhere... about 8 loops of the city circuit... but who cares, it's pretty and sociable and a pleasant way to spend an evening.
Here are the tourist shots of Christchurch so you can see it's a wild blend of modern city and quaint old stuff. (before Quake)
The classic old centrepiece of Cathedral Square... with ultramodern sculptures and vendors everywhere.
The city has a man-made river running through it. The Avon River.
There are stately homes along the banks as well as riverwalks, and parkland.
You can even take a Punt out onto the river if you're up to it... all quite English and quaint, wouldn't you say?
It was time to get out of town and take a full day adventure tour.
I highly recommend Hassle Free Tours - they're a brilliant outfit with tours to suit your interest and budget.
They include city tours, Lord of the Ring's tours...
I took the Alpine Safari tour a full day of; Crazy Four-Wheel driving in these mountains
Linking up with their Alpine Jet boat ride buddies for a 1hour jet boat on the Waimak [full name is Waimakariri Canyon].
The Boat ride has the usual 360 degree spins but the driver also stopped and explained the geology of the canyon and river and allowed time for photographs.
The boats are smaller than some of the BIG tourist rivers which made it a better experience.
Hassle Free's Alpine Safari Tour drops you at Arthur's Pass in the Alps.
Where you board the Tranz Scenic railway for a journey back to Christchurch.
The rail journey is one of the worlds top scenic railways with amazing views as you rattle along high in the mountains and passing over skinny little bridges.
Note, there is a buffet car [and cheap beer] on train.
Hassle Free meet you again at the Christchurch station and drop you back at the hotel.... Why?
Because the new train station a long way out of town... Strangely it only has enough platform for the engine & one carriage! The rest of the train ends up way down the track... it's a huge step down and you struggle along the gravel for the long walk up to the station...
I thought that was funny, considering the station won an AWARD! Pity it's pretty but not useful.
First stop.... the Brew pub everyone said not to miss... The Dux De Lux ...... OK, I went.... I honestly tried to like it... but their beer was quite mediocre in my not so humble opinion
Quaint little English style building with beautiful courtyard setting for the arework but not much else. It was easy to jump off the Tram at the Art Gallery to find it.... but hardly worth the effort.
Food is a big part of their pub.... Maybe it's just me but....
Sorry, could barely finish them. They print a specky beer menu but I suspect it would taste better than the beers. Nasty, harsh hopping - that's my summation. Sort of when you Hop just for the sake of it. Nothing pleasing to our palate and dull bar staff who could barely be stuffed to serve us - big on reputation unfortunately didn't deliver the matching beer experience.
The Dux Beer Menu
So we saw THE DUX but wouldn't recommend you go out of your way to try their beers.
Next visit was to the Twisted Hop in Poplar Lane
This laneway in the city is full of bars and restaurants.
Ordered their 6 beer tasting tray to get a better feel for their beers...... can you spell disappointing?
The Golding Bitter which claimed "aromas of spicy pine & blackcurrant" was so fruity as to be sickly.
As with their Challenger... total grapefruit... what happened to "slight overtones of grapefruit".
Once again I walked away and summed it up as "Harsh use of hops".
It seems to us that someone is confusing the use of Hops... since when did they have to blow your head off? What happened to flavour and subtlety?
Perhaps this is what people think Craft Beers should be.... so overpowering with non-beer flavours so the drinker brags about strong flavours?
Their Sauvin Pilsner was the best of the bunch... the only one without "fruit".....
I'll keep searching, somebody must be making beer with body and drinkable flavours.
Picked up a small rental car....and have nothing but good things to say about NZRentacar.
Yes the cars are older, but they're good Japanese vehicles with a few scratches on the outside and instead of paying the big companies over $100 a day we paid $37 NZ ($30AUD) for their small car.
It was a Mazda Familia- a model we don't see in Oz, it coped well with the hills and had enough power to overtake campervans that struggle on the mountain roads.
Christchurch NZRentacar office were honest to deal with took photos of the car to protect us because we were leaving it in the North Island. (We think they're loosely bound, privately owned franchises who work together really well to cover NZ)
And here's another tio for driving around NZ... pick up these free books from any Information centre.
By being region-specific I could pick and choose points of interest and saw some amazing places that would otherwise be missed.
AA is your friend in NZ and they offer the accommodation guides as well.
People recommended that we visit this small french village of Akaroa and it was our first introduction to the anomaly that is NZ.... it may say 70km to your destination but leave at lot of time to get there.
Most NZ maps show "times" between towns, as well as distance to allow for the constantly winding roads through the rugged landscape.
Akaroa itself has good restaurants and there's a cheese factory on the way called Barry's - worth a visit too.
I usually ride/ drive through a town, find the pubs and then nearest motel....and ask the owner about the best pubs...
It's an old and useful habit that I repeat often.... it doesn't pay to have to walk too far after sampling the local brews.... and you go where the locals go!
Liked Omaru the minute I arrived... so adopt plan 1.
Found a motel - get owners recommendations etc etc.. Everyone sent us off to the pub they like to drink at!... and it's not what you expect.
The directions were:- Go to the historical Wharf precinct where folks dress up in period costume and take you on historical walks around the Victorian architecture....
Look for an old colonial building that looks like a bank... See name above... it's the Criterion Hotel and it's where the best beer and locals can be found.
Isn't it a grand hotel?
As with most NZ pubs they will offer you a small 'taster' of any beer you express an interest in. They keep a good cellar and know their stuff too.
There's accommodation as well but it might not be the best place to stay unless you're part of the party downstairs.
Someone left a review which said "Mine Host had a good party night, with his friends!!!" and " Bar is frequented by locals who like a good drink!! hahaha pretty harsh stuff.... unless you're one of the party like we were.
So that's our tip... don't go there to "observe" or wait for it all to happen.
It's one of those places that you'd better be open and talk to the locals... they're a tough bunch and hard workers but they know how to play and will con you out of a beer or two.
I partied hard and by the end of the night someone had a guitar and we're singing sentimental old songs - squabbling about Aussies, Kiwi's and having a grand old time.
It was time to move on... I had penguins to see
A city with beautiful old classic architecture and a claim to the world's steepest street.
Dunedin is apparently more scottish than Scotland.... it's known as a Scarfies town because of the University students all being rather British apparently.
Could not get a room in the whole city.... there was Rugby match scheduled and a Bicycle Event passing through town... but that didn't deter me from spending the day.
Ventured out to the Royal Albatross Centre. At $40 per person it's a bit steep but I know that it would have seemed worthwhile if we'd seen an adult Albatross come in to feed their chicks. Your ticket buys a guided tour of an audio/video display and being taken up onto Taiaroa Point where the Albatross colony breeds. It's windswept and desolate but the chicks snuggle into the grass and wait for mum and dad to come back with food..... sometimes they wait 3 days! So if you go and you're lucky enough to catch sight of the adult it would be wonderful.
Either way, think of your $40 as going to preserve and protect these magnificent creatures. The rangers tag them and catch vermin like rats which threaten the nests (it's a securely fenced sanctuary and you can't wander up there without a guide). They had 107 adults fly in for the season and 17 pairs made nests and laid their single egg. These chicks born around December will not fly off until following September, they just sit and grow and then waddle about trying out their wings.
If you don't know the story of the life of an Albatross - do yourself a favour and go find out. You will be truly amazed at what mother nature has in store for these magnificent birds.
To get to the Sanctuary you leave Dunedin and travel along the shore of Dunedin Harbour out onto the Otago Peninsular. It is a simply stunning drive so go and have a look even if you just wander around the old Taiaroa Head fort and lighthouse.
Along the way you pass Larnach Castle, built in 1871 and a nice stop off.
You can tour the magnificent gardens and grab a coffee or tour the castle as well which is a privately owned family home.
There is accommodation in the fancy rooms of the 'Lodge" or budget rooms in the converted stables.
Enough of Albatross and Castles it was time to go where very few tourists venture and certainly where most Kiwi's have never been.
It's a tour of the Catlins - the southern most coastline of the South Island. You can pick up maps of the Southern Scenic Route.
It was a real highlight for me, such lonely rugged coastline, lighhouses and Seals at play in the kelp
The sweeping coastlines found at the end of short spur roads.
The Petrified forrest
This is a 170million year old forest that was flooded with silica laden volcanic mud... the trees sucked up the silica and were turned to stone in a couple of months. These tree trunks are only visible at low tide.
Tiny villages, art galleries and lookouts abound around the Catlins
The road swings you back around to the major Southern aluminium smelting city of Invercargill.
The trees show just how windy it gets down South... Single lane bridges with traffic lights are common
It was time to head North and check out the more touristy places. If you're so inclined this is the gateway into the Fiordland where bush walkers really get off the beaten track for weeks at a time.
If you're more into comfort, drive from Te Anau into Milford sound, over the southern Alps, it's worth the drive for the spectacular scenery. It's a dead end - so you turn around at Milford and drive back out again. There are boat rides on the Sound and tour ships come in from the open sea as well.
And down into Milford Sound...
It was and overcast day and low tide but still a spectacular sight.
Some quite large passenger liners come up into the Sound
The drive in is amazing as you run alongside The Remarkables range and follow Lake Wakatipu. The town is a tourist trap but with international flights it suits some people to fly in and get their adrenaline fix, jumping off and over things!
The town hugs the lakeshore so boating and adventure activities abound but if you're not so physical it's pretty much a one-night stand
There's a funny irish pub with great food and fantastic bar staff... Called Pog Mahones... once inside you'll see it's real name is Pog MoThoin... which means "Kiss my Ass".... not one to be missed.
Sadly the weather closed in and grounded the choppers. Even guided tours stopped on the ice due to heavy rain and instability
My trip was in late March and luckily the weather wasn't too bad.
It would rain some nights but leave clear days for driving.... except for our trip to the Glacier country...
It rained heavilly the night before and the glacier valleys were very unstable.
New rope lines went up to keep people back and all helicopter flights were grounded.
So my planned heli-hike - which is a helicopter trip up onto the Franz Josef Glacier and a hike into the ice caves - was cancelled.
The weather forecast looked bad for the next few days so the best I got was some photos from the terminal moraine.
This is the West coast where rainforests grow down to the sea.
Not a lot of tourists go this way but the sight of the debris coast and the Tasman Sea at Hokitika were breathtaking.
Monteith's Brewery in Greymouth
The Brewery tour costs $15 and well worth it.
They only have a staff of 6 and 2 of then are the brewers.
On bottling day all the staff plus a few casuals come in and run the operation.
This brewery is now owned by the big DB consortium and they did try to close down this small West coast operation.
The nation's beer drinkers literally rebelled and boycotted all DB products!
Within days the brewery was reopened. And the best part of a brewery tour is the sampling at the bar !
They now make the "Monteith's Original" there as well as the new "Crushed Apple Cider" which we found to be the best commercial cider in NZ..
What can we say about the thrill of standing in a cool room filled with HOPS!
The co-op is New Zealand Hops Limited and they pack and process for about 19 hop farmers in the area.
Doreen showed us around and opened the cool room so we could delight in the sight.
Not before a quick visit to the Golden Bear brewing company just down the road from the Hop company.
We spent the night in Nelson and went in search of the best bar in town - as recommended by everyone at the hop factory.
It's called the Free House and as the name suggests, it's free of all ties to breweries selling great beers from smaller brewers. A great place to visit.
If you're thinking it looks like a church... you'd be right. They converted a church into a brew pub - what a fitting thing to do, should be more of it.
Inside the FreeHouse is a little weird but the funky taps and constantly changing beer menu board are a delight.
- they make the call and have it delivered to you at the pub.
They even provide some cutlery if you need it.... now that's good sense. Don't waste your resources on kitchen staff.... put your efforts into beer and let the good food places around town get a slice of the action.
Everyone is happy including the patrons who can end up with a table full of Pizza, Thai and Indian if they so desire.
The Mussel Pot
A drive on an incredibly twisting road... in blinding rain... will takes you via Havelock and that's where you find the real green lip NZ mussels, fresh off the boats.
The smaller of the two Ferry Companies
We decided to try the newer/smaller Bluebridge ferry company.
The price wasn't much different from the Inter-Islander company - maybe saved a few dollars (2 people and a small sedan $250NZ) but the 8am time-slot suited us and we had no need of all the super duper amenities that the other company offered.
It's a bracing couple of hours and sitting out on the rear deck watching the south island disappear and winding our way through the Sounds - such a lovely sight.
Lighthouses and wind farm visable from the harbour into Wellington
"Beehive" Parliament building
Take a moment to check the signage
What you don't expect to find in Taupo. A DC3 in main street
The town of Taupo sits at the top of Lake Taupo and is memorable to us for two reasons. Firstly there is a complete McDonald Douglas DC3 in the playground of the McDonalds! Secondly we had the BEST steak ever eaten anywhere in the world.
Now that's quite a statement we know but our motel host said, go to the On Tap Steak House on Tuwharetoa St... and damn he was right. The price for a Rib on the Bone was only $38NZ, was huge and cooked to perfection. The beef quality was great but the chef knows his stuff too.
Before dinner and waiting for the On Tap to open we had a couple of drinks at The Shed. Just a a couple of doors away and it's a rocking pub. Great bar staff too with girls who love a laugh.
A lost paradise, don't miss it
We were headed next to Rotorua as everyone says you mustn't miss the thermal stuff but we were sidetracked by some locals who said they knew of something better.
There were two places, first just a little way outside of Taupo is the Craters of the Moon. It wasn't there a few years ago but suddenly appeared when the power station tapped into the hot artesian waters. The whole area went beserk and is now a mass of steam vents and bubbling pockets.
There's an excellent walk around the area and only a couple of dollars to get in. It's manned by volunteers who want the public to come and see, that's why it's so cheap. Well worth the mini detour on the road north.
Ok so you thought the craters were impressive - well trust the locals again and go to Orakei Korako cave and themal park. It's a detour of about 15km off the road between Taupo and Rotorua but is the most magnificent, undeveloped (non-commercial) place to visit.
You arrive at a pristine lake and take a little boat ride to the other side and just wander at leisure around the 2.5km tracks. When you're ready just come back to the dock and ring the bell for the boat to come and get you.
It is breathtaking and photos just can't do it justice. This is a must see. Do it quietly by yourselves and you'll feel that you're in prehistoric place and time.
We dragged ourselves away from Orakei Korako and finally made Rotorua.
You must check out this cafe, the Fat Dog.
We don't want to spoil it for you but it's worth the wait for a seat
What's peculiar about this photo from the Northern Steamship Brewbar?
We were beginning to run out of town and still had so much we wanted to see.
We headed north to the Coromandels and stopped off at Waihi to see this enormous open cut gold mine right in the centre of town
It's run by Newmont Mining and is slated to close in a few years. They also have an underground gold mine nearby.
Must keep heading North - next stop Auckland.
First we travelled straight through Auckland so we could sample the beers at the Hallertau Brew Bar on the Coatesville Riverhead Highway.
They number their beers rather than name them hence the 1,2,3 & 4.
Now finally back to Auckland. It's a sleasy city but we mean that in a nice way. It's not clean and pretty like the South Island, it's gritty and a working city. Reminds me of Chicago and parts of Melbourne.
Where to get a good steak in Auckland? The Angus Steak House
And the best HAMBURGER in Auckland?
Auckland is a combination of old, some gothic and brilliant new steel and glass buildings but then you come across quaint secluded alleys.
Every tourist must go and see the skytower. You can pay money to walk around the outer ledge.... wearing overalls and harness or you can just jump off. It's only a 192m fall!
We opted for the more dignified Luncheon high up in the revolving restaurant - with the occassional interuption as someone fell past the window.
Now you'll agree that most tourist restaurants like this are a bit dismal. The one is Sydney is just a joke, the food's a disgrace but Auckland is outstanding.
The food was just the freshest and best combination of flavours we've had in years. Well done Auckland.
OK, Now about beer
The much acclaimed Northern Steamship Brewbar had only 'commercial' beers on tap . Did enjoy their Hop rocker Pilsner and the Sassy Red Best Bitter.
It's a fun pub to visit and browse around... there's some truely weird artwork and bric-a-brac, including this sign over the urinal which I had to get a man to photograph! For those who don't speak Latin ...
One more brew pub on the list - The Shakespeare Hotel and Brewery
At first glance the Shakespeare isn't much to look at, a little old and tired looking.
But looks can be deceiving and you can party bigtime with staff and guests alike. Once again, if you're prepared to settle in and be civilized... all manner of good things can happen to you.... Ended up using this as my 'local' and went back 3 times and each time was better than the last. Thanks Genevieve & Gary
In an area behind the bar you can see the brewery gear and the master brewer works a few days a week keeping the beers up to the menu. It's on the corner of Albert and Wyndham Streets and they have budget accommodation as well.
What else to do in Auckland?
Take the day ferry to Devonport... if you've got time to kill and need to stay out of the Shakespeare until at least lunchtime. Take the ferry over and try a mini bus tour. Spent a pleasant few hours touring the expensive real estate and historical places.
Auckland seems to be the place for all budgets. You can do it on a shoestring or shop at the luxury stores on Queen Street.
Bicycles are really catered for.... you can hire them everywhere and there are self serve & vending machines for bicycle repairs.... Perhaps I should have been peddling around to soak up some of the great New Zealand beers I'd been taking in?
Where would I visit again?
Definitely visit Auckland again, it's a bit more like the underbelly of NZ but so rich and down to earth. Christchurch has to be seen but it has nothing to hold you a second time. Wellington, yes... must allow time to see the beer-life that I missed.
I'll be going back.... will rent another small car and take time to tour the North Island.
Hope you enjoyed the tour
We're also glad to receive any feedback. Cheers !