Kicking off north of Christchurch in the wine country of the Waipara Valley, this South Island journey takes in the diverse craft beer scene of fast-changing Christchurch, before heading south to the Scottish heritage and university vibe of Dunedin. Take the (slightly) longer route through the Catlins to reach Invercargill, New Zealand's southernmost city.
Since 2002, Brew Moon has been flying the flag for craft beer while being surrounded by some of the Waipara Valley's best vineyards – nearby Pegasus Bay is renowned for their pinot noir and late harvest dessert wines. This relaxed taphouse in sleepy downtown Amberley is an easygoing launchpad for this South Island journey. Brew Moon's most popular beer is the easy-drinking Hophead IPA, but regular seasonal brews could include yeasty saisons infused with local apples, or sour beers fermented with riesling grape juice or in pinot noir barrels. That's just what happens when you're a craft brewery in the middle of wine country.
Before the 2010 and 2011 Christchurch earthquakes, The Twisted Hop was a thriving business in downtown Poplar Lane, but damage to the heritage architecture of central Christchurch has seen the brewery relaunch in this bustling location near Sumner Beach. Count on about an hours' drive south from Amberley, and enjoy some of New Zealand's best English-style cask conditioned beers. Fans of big hop flavours should definitely order the Hopback IPA, and the Sauvin pilsner doesn't skimp on zesty Sauvin hops grown around Nelson at the top of the South Island. More experimental Twisted Hop beers are brewed and served at The Laboratory, around 30 minutes drive southwest in the rural town of Lincoln.
Another of the Christchurch brewers forced to relocate after earthquake damage in 2011 – local beer-makers are definitely tenacious and flexible – Three Boy's Woolston brewpub is a relaxed showcase for this well-established company. Three Boys originally launched in 2005 and their popular Oyster Stout is now regarded as New Zealand's best example of this interesting style. Their core range is available throughout the country, but it's only at the brewery itself that diverse one-off and seasonal brews like a red IPA using smoked malt from the nearby Canterbury plains are available. Three Boys is an easy 150m stroll along Ferry Rd from The Twisted Hop.
Staying in the Woolston area – Cassels is less than 2km from both Three Boys and The Twisted Hop – this excellent brewpub was the initial catalyst for the development of the neighbourhood following the Christchurch earthquakes. Dubbed The Brewery, any lack of imagination in the name is easily offset by the excellent beers on offer – try the British-style Milk Stout or the Best Bitter – their good wood-fired pizzas and occasional live music. Renovation and development of the adjacent area - dubbed The Tannery - was also completed by the Cassels family, and there's regular music (and more good Cassels beer) at the excellent Blue Smoke venue. Folk and country gigs usually kick off around 4pm on Sunday afternoons.
Central Christchurch certainly doesn't lack a few good craft beer bars either – we're looking at you Volstead Trading Co, Smash Palace and Dux Central – but the ever-changing chalkboard of guest beers make Pomeroy's an essential destination. Look forward to more than 30 beers from around the country, including occasional brews crafted by the Beer Baroness, Christchurch local Ava Wilson. There's plenty of brewing history here – the heritage building was originally the Ward's Brewery in the 19th-century - and regular live music as well as the city's best pub food means savvy travellers are wise to book accommodation at Pomeroy's cosy cottage located just next door so they can indulge in it all.
Nighttime viewing of penguins, a superb collection of Victorian-era architecture, and a quirky focus on Steampunk art and culture all combine to make Oamaru an essential stop for visitors to New Zealand. And this town three hours south of Christchurch is also worth visiting for travelling craft beer fans. Oamaru locals Craftwork Brewery make award-winning and authentic Belgian-style beers that include farmhouse ales and sour and barrel-aged brews. There's no taproom – these guys are tiny and do everything by hand – but their seriously good beers are usually available at local restaurants including Riverstone Kitchen and the Harbour St Collective.
To many New Zealand craft brewers, their 'Eureka!' moment came when they first tasted Emerson's Bookbinder bitter. Who knew beer could be so flavourful? Bookbinder was first brewed back in the 1990s, and Richard Emerson's brewing setup has now expanded from his mother's kitchen to this multi-million dollar brewhouse near Dunedin's busy waterfront. Showing off grassy New Zealand hops, their pilsner is another Kiwi classic deserving praise. Dunedin is 110km south of Oamaru, but en route, stop at Fleur's Place in Moeraki, a rustic seafront restaurant with the best in local seafood. The nearby Moeraki Boulders are giant spheres sitting half-submerged on a windswept Tasman Sea beach, so take a wander around them after your Fleur’s meal.
The clue is definitely in the name, and Dunedin's most recently launched craft brewery is an innovative flipside to the heritage and tradition of Emerson's. A short 3km drive around Dunedin's waterfront from Emerson's, New New New's modern taproom is only open on Friday evenings, but you'll also find their brews in restaurants around town. Interesting ingredients come as standard with most New New New beers – try the Belgian-style sour beer with peaches and nectarines from the nearby central Otago region or the rich and malty Poppy Seed ale. Friday nights normally see the best of Dunedin's food trucks on hand too so you can explore their range at the same time.
Travellers heading from Dunedin to New Zealand's southernmost city have two options – zip down SH1, or divert at Balclutha and meander through the Catlins, a stunning area of windswept cliffs and rugged surf beaches. Established in 1999, Invercargill Brewery is another of New Zealand's pioneering craft breweries and the world-famous-in-Southland beers include Pitch Black, one of the country's best stouts and Wasp, a crisp and refreshing lager infused with honey. Check out gigs at their new Asylum concert venue – opened in September 2017 – and make time to head out to nearby Oreti Beach. The beach's 26km stretch of sand was used to break land speed records in earlier decades. Maybe just check with your rental car company before trying the same thing yourself.