It was important to research before the journey to find the best brewpubs, brewery bars and eateries in the Land of the Long White Cloud.
The trip began in Christchurch, renting a car and heading down the East Coast, around the Southern Scenic Highway to Invercargill, then to the tourist hotspots of Milford Sound and Queenstown. Visited Greymouth, Nelson and crossed to the North Island as well.
Three 3 weeks wasn't enough time and wandering in the South Island didn't leave much time for the North Island. I need to go back...
*These are photos from 2010 before the Earthquake - things have changed but the tours mentioned are still in operation*
Checked into the ultra modern Hotel SO.
It's right in the heart of the city one 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.
Tram has commentary and conductors
Good food alert! Try the Tamcar Restaurant.
I will rave about the food in New Zealand and the Tramcar was no exception.
With a chef on board, great steak, salmon and free flowing beers.
The Tram doesn't go anywhere, rather, it loops around the city circuit and it's 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?
Took a full day Alpine Safari tour with Hassle Free Tours - what a brilliant outfit.
Some four-wheel driving in these mountains
Linked up with their Alpine Jet boat ride buddies for a jet boat ride on the Waimak [full name is Waimakariri Canyon]. The Boat ride has the usual thrills but the driver also stopped and explained the geology of the canyon and river.
The boats are smaller than some of the BIG tourist operators so it made for a better experience.
Did you know that they get over 800 earthquakes A YEAR! The mountains are still young and absorb most of the shocks. But this folding is evidence of an earthquake a long while back.
This pic is taken from the jetboat and later I crossed over this bridge on the Tranz Scenic train
The guide/driver left me at Arthur's Pass in the Alps to 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 pass over skinny little bridges.
Hassle Free met me again at the Christchurch station and took me back to the hotel.
The Dux De Lux was ok, didn't live up to its hype although the pub itself is quaint with courtyard showcasing artwork.
Interesting artwork in the garden, non-friendly and not very knowledgable bar staff.... all in all a bit of a Yawn
Next visit was to the Twisted Hop in Poplar Lane. A laneway in the city is full of bars and restaurants.
It was St Patrick's day, the place was jumping. Their 6 beer tasting tray was ok, but again, nothing like I was expecting. br Loading beers up with spice and hop made them sickly rather than interesting. What happened to flavour and subtlety?
I'll keep searching, somebody must be making beer with body and drinkable flavours.
Picked up a small rental car from NZRentacar who use older Japanese vehicles. They may have a few scratches on the outside but they're less than half the price of the big rental companies.
This small Mazda Familia coped well with the hills and and mountain roads.
You can pick up these free booklets from Information centres - a handy guide to each region.
AA is your friend in NZ and they offer the accommodation guides as well.
People recommended a visit to the small french village of Akaroa... 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.
Hilltop cafe sits above Akaroa - a must stop to get this view. It could almost be a painting but it's a real photo
Akaroa has quaint cottages snuggled into the hillside around this tranquil lake, and good restaurants. There is a cheese factory on the way called Barry's - worth a visit too.
Liked Omaru the minute I arrived so found a motel and found the best pub in town. It's in the historical Wharf precinct where folks dress up in period costume and take you on historical walks around the Victorian architecture.
The old colonial building that looks like a bank is Criterion Hotel and it's where the best beer and fun-loving locals are to be found.
Isn't it a grand hotel?
The locals are a tough bunch and hard workers but they know how to play and by the end of the night someone had a guitar and we were singing sentimental old songs - squabbling about Aussies & Kiwi's and generally having a great time.
It was time to move on... I had penguins to see
A city with classic architecture and a claim that Baldwin Street is 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.
Decided on a quick visit to the Royal Albatross Centre.
It's out on 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.
They had 17 pairs make nests and lay their single egg this year with chicks being born around December. They don't fly off until following September, they just sit and grow and then waddle about trying out their wings.
It's a stunning drive out to the Sanctuary along the Otago Peninsular, passing the old Taiaroa Head fort and lighthouse.
Tide was out and on the cliff is the Light on Taiaroa Head
Along the way you pass Larnach Castle, which is worth the stop. You can tour the magnificent gardens, grab a coffee or tour the castle as well which is a privately owned family home.
The castle sits atop the peninsular and has spectacular views of the Dunedin Harbour on one side and the Pacific Ocean on the other so the view from the roof is amazing
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.
Sweeping coastline and a bracing walk up to Nugget Point lighthouse, and Seals at play in the kelp
Petrified forest at Curio Bay 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 then road swings around to the major 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.
The Moose Bar in Te-Anau and this is a typical misty scene drving in the alps
The drive from Te Anau into Milford sound, over the southern Alps, is 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.
Driving through the Homer Tunnel is part of the experience.
And on the other side you descend into Milford Sound. Even on an overcast day and low tide it was still a spectacular sight.
Some quite large passenger liners come up into the Sound
Another really nice drive 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!
Lake Wakatipu with The Remarkables in background. 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.
Sadly the weather closed in and my Heli hike up the Franz Josef Glacier was grounded. Even the guided tours on the ice couldn't proceed due to heavy rain and instability
The best I got was some photos from the terminal moraine and this photo is just all shades of grey around the river
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 is quite spectacular. Debris is thrown up by the ocean and travellers stop and build it into shapes... these ad hoc sculptures go on for miles and miles.
The Brewery tour worth taking. They make the Monteith's Original there, as well as their Crushed Apple Cider which is the best commercial cider in NZ.
The brewers were happily cleaning heat exchanger plates even though they'd been there since 2am. I guess being able to take home your mistakes makes for happy employees.
They open ferment in large stainless vessels and the coils inside allow them to adjust temperatures as required.
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 let me check out the cool room and snarfle through some bales of fresh hop flowers.
I purchased a bulk supply of hops and it was time to move on.
Not before a quick visit to the Golden Bear brewing company just down the road from the Hop company
Spent the night in Nelson and found a pub in a converted church. It was 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.
They have funky taps and constantly changing beer menu board and rather than run a kitchen they encourage you to order from all the local eateries and have it delivered to you there. Sit, eat, drink... pretty smart huh.
A drive on an incredibly twisting road... in blinding rain, via via Havelock and on to Picton and the Ferry terminal.
Took the Blueridge Ferry Company for the crossing, the
prices are about the same as the Inter-Islander company.
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.
Nearing Wellington a huge wind farm becomes evident on a barren headland
Lighthouses and wind farm visable from the harbour into Wellington
'Beehive' Parliament building
Architecture or sculpture? An overpass bridge in Wellington
What you don't expect to find in Taupo a town at the top of Lake Taupo. There is a DC3 in main street, in the McDonalds playground!
Driving Highway 1, The Desert highway beside 3 volcanoes of the Tongariro National Park shrouded in cloud
Next morning was clear and a photo opportunity looking back from Taupo to the 3 volcanoes
I'm heading to Rotorua to see the thermal stuff but was sidetracked by 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 well worth the mini detour on the road north.
Hissing steam vents and bubbling mud craters at Craters of the Moon
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 a great, undeveloped (non-commercial) place to visit.
A lost paradise, don't miss it
You arrive at a pristine lake and take a 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.
When you've had enough just ring the bell for the little ferry
Dragged myself away from Orakei Korako and finally made Rotorua.
A quick diversion to the Coromandels and stopped off at Waihi to see the enormous open cut gold mine right in the centre of town. It is slated to close, I wonder what they'll do with the hole?
Detoured to sample the beers at the Hallertau Brew Bar on the Coatesville Riverhead Highway.
Now finally back to Auckland. It's a sleasy city but 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.
The White lady food truck.
The WHITE LADY, a food caravan that's been open for over 22151 nights - 60years!
Auckland is a combination of old, some gothic and brilliant new steel and glass buildings but then you come across quaint secluded alleys.
Tourists like the skytower where you pay to walk around the outer ledge, wearing overalls and harness or you can just jump off. It's only a 192m fall!
I had lunch which was surprisingly great, fresh and delicious (I'm always wary of these revolving places - more hype than quality). The only interuption was the occassional person falling past the window.
Views from the top of Sky Tower
Auckland has a working harbour right in the CBD, the fence is a work of art.
The Brew on Quay was much raved about, and I did visit the heritage building to sample their wares. Also the much acclaimed Northern Steamship Brewbar had only 'commercial' beers on tap but their Hop Rocker Pilsner and the Sassy Red Best Bitter were quite good.
The Northern Steamship Brewbar is 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 ...
Sign over the Urinal - "What is natural cannot be bad"
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 this became my 'local'. 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.
Quaint font dispensing house brewed beers and the beer menu.
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.
They really cater for bicycles & you can hire them everywhere from self serve vending machines. Perhaps I should have been peddling around to soak up some of the great New Zealand beers I'd been taking in?
If you're fit... why not pedal about? Not for me... I'm tired and it's time to go home.
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 will go back and rent another small car, this time taking more time to tour the North Island.