7- New Zealand Part 1: The Drinks in the North
First up was a stop deep in the heart of the relatively beerless and less well established northern part of the North Island of New Zealand (Te Ika-a-Maui), sitting on an outside table at The Lumsden in Newmarket, Auckland getting stuck into my first Garage Project of the trip – a Red Zep. The sun was shining, it was 18 degrees in the middle of summer and things were looking up.
This was the perfect introduction and preparation for an adventure which over the next few days would include everything we could get to in the area extending from Auckland to Rotorua. It normally turns out that the chance to spend more time on the ground at more venues is keenly desired (by me) but is never realised and this visit to NZ maintained that narrative. Trying to whittle down a list of delicious sounding/looking places to get to in a finite time period when you’ve been drinking is tough but ultimately worthwhile.
To say that this region is rather beerless is actually unfair. Compared to the glut of breweries, wineries and distilleries near the bottom of the North Island and top of the South Island there the craft scene definitely seems smaller and possibly newer but still offers a big list of options which get even broader when you branch out away from the exclusively searching for beer. In and around Auckland there are a few distinct districts for some of the best drinking (and eating if you’re so inclined) you’re likely to find in the city. Ponsonby is pretty fashionable with lots of food options and tends to be more upmarket than other parts of the city. Centrally there are a lot of eateries and bars in the viaduct area. I managed to get to Brew on Quay which was nearby, their taplist offering was mainly focused on macro beers when I went but they did have some good bottle stock to try. Cornerbar was another one on my hit list but unfortunately it was closed for a private function when I was in town.
Outside of the city centre you can find Waiheke island. It’s a short ferry ride out of the harbour it is a magical enclave of wineries and first class food. Personally I only got to explore the tip of the iceberg at Mudbrick but if you can make it over you’re in for a treat. I could easily have spent at least a day to experience everything on offer. It is an entirely beautiful spot without question but probably not an experience typical of Auckland as it seems to be aimed atthe social elite and high end visitors (even more so than the trendy Ponsonby area). But if you’re already on holidays you may as well enjoy it.
A couple of hours south of Auckland brings you to the little hamlet of Hamilton. I stopped in at the Good George which is essentially a brew pub. Overall the venue was laid out really well and the décor gave it a great vibe, also their beer was great which is a big plus. I got my lips around a white stout here and it prompted me to pickup and arm full of takeaways on the way out. The Rocky Road White Stout was my pick of the litter on the day, I also had a few of their beers on in bars and taprooms around the country but strongly encourage you to get to the source if you have the chance and Hamilton Gardens is a great themed attraction while you’re there to keep the family or friends busy and provide a great secondary legitimate reason for spending time.
The highway then took us further south to Rotorua and apart from the geysers and sulphur pools I was also looking forward to getting to Croucher. I was a little familiar with them after having had a few of their brews in Australia before and generally remember them being really decent. Their restaurant and taphouse: Brew, is located in an outdoor mall near the foreshore area around Lake Rotorua. It was suitably cool December weather for a lineup featuring some darker ales than what you would normally find in summer time in other parts of the world. It was a lovely taphouse in a great part of the city with lots of other restaurants and bars to check out and I would highly recommend the visit.
I thoroughly enjoyed all of my Northern beer experiences in NZ and encourage you all to build on this when you visit for yourselves. I’d be really excited to hear about any venues or breweries that you consider must visit destinations on your voyage around the fun and beautiful North Island of NZ. Obviously and regrettably I didn’t get to Wellington on this trip but I think due to the enormous amount of world-class craft beer in the city that deserves a post in it’s own right which is definitely upcoming (or central crafty island). I like to consider myself an honorary New Zealander as I worship the country and feel a special bond with the beautiful people and places I get to see every time I go. If you’re from elsewhere, I can’t stress enough how much it is worth the visit.