Travel from the tree-fringed bays and coves of the Coromandel Peninsula to the shores of New Zealand's biggest lake on this hop-fuelled adventure also offering plenty of opportunities to get active amid the country's forests, rivers and beaches. Along the way, look forward to plenty of great food, and Middle Earth-inspired thrills for movie fans.
You'll struggle to find beers from the hyper-local Coromandel Brewing Company outside of the immediate region, so the best place to try their brews is The Pour House in the sleepy coastal town of Hahei - especially after completing the rolling 45-minute walk to the spectacular arch at nearby Cathedral Cove, or after digging your own natural spa pool in the sand at Hot Water Beach. During summer, the place to be is the styley garden bar where you just might get to meet Max, the friendly, four-legged mastermind of the whole operation. The little Jack Russell terrier's even got his own Instagram following @MaxFromThePourHouse.
Just a short drive 10km drive from Hahei – maybe including a detour to Hot Water Beach for another go at excavating your own jacuzzi – Hot Water Brewing combines an incongruous location near a caravan park with some very good beers. The Kauri Pale Ale is super refreshing and Canadian brewer Matt Kiss regularly concocts seasonal brews. Ask if the Barley Wine is available, though at 9.5% ABV, maybe buy a can to enjoy later when you don't have to drive. And while you're in the Coromandel region, keep an eye out for Serial Griller, a burger food truck run by Hot Water Brewing's former head brewer. Check them out on Facebook for spring and summer locations.
For a smallish population approaching just 200,000, Hamilton has a surprisingly good craft beer scene, and travelling J.R.R. Tolkien fans can even detour slightly en route from the Coromandel Peninsula to enjoy a cider or craft ale at the Green Dragon Inn at the Hobbiton film set. Once in Hamilton, an essential first stop is Craft, a beer bar dedicated to craft brews from New Zealand and around the world, and often showcasing local nano-breweries like Brewaucracy, Three Fat Pigs and Shunters Yard. Come for pub quiz on a Wednesday night and stay for the excellent brews on offer. The owners of Craft are big beer fans, and also run Wonderhorse, a cool cocktail bar, and Gothenburg, a riverside tapas restaurant regularly featuring local brews.
Located in the former Church of St George around 2km from central Hamilton, Good George runs regular tours of the brewery, and there's live music of songs you'll probably know all the words to on Sunday afternoons. Decent food – including tacos and wood-fired pizza – means visitors to Good George always linger longer. Try the Drop Hop Cider, a refreshing mashup of cider and beer.
OK, it's time to leave Hamilton and head to the beachy vibe of Mount Maunganui, and like surf towns around the world, “The Mount” is also developing into a top spot for craft beer. Build up a decent thirst by ascending Mauao, the forested hill marking the entrance to Tauranga harbour – count on about an hour for the return hike – before adjourning to Mount Brewing for a pint of Mermaid's Mirth IPA. They're also associated with Funk Estate, a hip craft brewery originally from New Zealand's craft beer capital of Wellington, and both Funk Estate's and Mount Brewing's beers are available at The Rising Tide, a 32-tap beer emporium a short 4km taxi ride away. Try Funk Estate's refreshing Jungle Boogie Blood Orange Sour beer with a plate of siu mai pork and prawn dumplings from the onsite Johney's Dumpling House.
If Mount Maunganui is a famous hub for surfing, the inland city of Rotorua is equally renowned for some of the southern hemisphere's best mountain biking. After negotiating the shaded tracks of the Redwoods forest or the jumps and downhill thrills of the Skyline MTB park, head to the Brew Craft Beer Pub in Rotorua's Eat Streat. (Yes, that's how it's spelt, but spelling aside, there are plenty of good restaurants and cafes under this bustling covered walkway). Brew is run by Rotorua-based Croucher Brewing, and their Enduro Pale Ale is packed with New Zealand hops and very refreshing after an afternoon's ride. Rotorua is also a centre of Maori culture. Take a guided stroll around the traditional Maori village of Whakarewarewa, and feast on sweetcorn freshly steamed amid the thermal activity surrounding the fascinating settlement.
The road south from Rotorua to Lake Taupo takes travellers through rugged landscapes punctuated by more geothermal and volcanic activity. Take a boat ride through Waimangu Volcanic Valley and negotiate a careful track around pools of boiling mud at Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland before descending downhill for brilliant views of New Zealand's biggest lake. Secure a view-friendly table at Lakehouse – with luck from the weather gods you'll be able to see the peaks of Tongariro National Park across the lake to the south – and order a brew from Taupo-based Lakeman Brewing. Their Hairy Hop IPA is deservedly an award winner, and best enjoyed when planning what to do next in New Zealand's northern adventure capital. With skydiving, kayaking and river rafting all on offer, you won't be short of ideas.