Framed by heritage neighbourhoods and a compact harbour, New Zealand's capital city features excellent museums and great cafes and restaurants, and due to Wellington's pioneering brewers it's also regarded as the country's craft beer capital. Start this journey north of Wellington on the Kapiti Coast before exploring the best of the innovative brewing scene in the central city.
A testament to following your dreams – head brewer Kieran Haslett-Moore transitioned from being a cheese expert and keen home brewer to operate this brewpub in the coastal town of Waikanae 60km north of Wellington – North End crafts some of the region's more interesting beers. While bold American-style IPAs and crisp lagers are popular throughout New Zealand, Haslett-Moore prefers to also harness English and Belgian styles. Visit North End's brewing base at the Salt & Wood Collective pub in Waikanae on Wellington's Kapiti Coast, and try the easy going ESB (Extra Special Bitter). Also ask if any of their barrel-aged and Belgian brews are available, or have a go at the summer like Farmhouse Saison which is perfect for warmer weather.
Venture south around 9km – en route stop at the superb Southward Car Museum which features more than 400 vintage vehicles – to Tuatara's modern tasting room. Established in 2000 and one of New Zealand's pioneering craft breweries, Tuatara is now owned by multi-national DB Breweries, but a strong tradition of innovation continues. The Mot-Eureka pilsner is a great showcase of vibrant New Zealand hops, while the German-style Weiz Guy is the country's best wheat beer. Regular seasonal brews include stronger Belgian brews, and further south in central Wellington, Tuatara's Third Eye brewpub – located in a restored heritage building – is where their experimental beers are crafted. Don't leave without trying one of Tuatara's stouts infused with gourmet beans from Wellington's Mojo Coffee.
It's now time to move from one of Wellington's biggest craft breweries to one of the city's smallest. With one of the country's best beer labels – featuring a punky skull adorned with an eye patch and a mohawk haircut – Boneface dispense their excellent brews from a hip and rustic tasting room around 30 minutes drive north of central Wellington. Look forward to good bar snacks – the wagyu beef burger with bacon, cheese and pickles is a winner – and beers to check out include a hopped Indian Pale Lager and the punchy Hoptron American pale ale. Bonus points too for some of New Zealand's best craft beer merchandise including cool truckers' caps and T-shirts.
Ask another New Zealand craft brewer who their favourite brewer is, and chances are they'll nominate Kelly Ryan from the Fork & Brewer. Forever pushing the boundaries and harnessing innovative ingredients – how does native kawakawa bush pepper or seawater from nearby Cook Strait sound? – the 40 taps at the Fork & Brewer's inner-city brewpub are packed with examples of Ryan's curiosity and expertise. He's no slouch at brewing the classic styles either – the Godzone Beat pale ale is a multi-award winner – and barrel-aged beers are prepared in wine and bourbon barrels. Welcome to a stellar introduction to the world-class beer scene of central Wellington.
One part cool craft brewery and one part hip coffee roaster, Husk is one of Wellington's smaller brewpubs, but that doesn't stop Choice Bros' brewer Kerry Gray from letting his imagination and creativity run riot. At first you may struggle to find the compact space – tip: turn left off Ghuznee St just before Amy's Hair & Nail Design after a 500m stroll from the Fork & Brewer – but you'll eventually be rewarded with innovative brews like the Reet Petite red ale with ginger or the Serious Moonlight stout with spiced rum and cacao nibs. There's also a beer dubbed Modern Love, so it's safe to say the Choice team are big fans of David Bowie.
Restless creativity is also an everyday dynamic at Garage Project, renowned as one of New Zealand's best breweries, and also making a big splash internationally. Their core range includes Kiwi classics like Aro Noir stout and Hapi Daze pale ale – named after the Maori word for hops – but every year sees many one-off and seasonal brews crafted using ingredients as diverse as chilli, Vietnamese mint, cardamom and Tahitian vanilla. Make the Garage Project pilgrimage around 2km southeast of central Wellington to the bohemian suburb of Te Aro Valley, and experience some of the planet's most interesting brews in their taproom housed in a former automotive garage.
You don't have to be called Matt to work at ParrotDog, but it certainly helps. Started by three mates called Matt making home brew in the basement of their student flat, a popular crowdfunding campaign has now seen them graduate to expansive and export volume-ready premises in the oceanfront suburb of Lyall Bay. From Te Aro Valley, it's around 7km to the sandy curve of the beachfront neighbourhood, enough time to work up a mini-thirst for popular ParrotDog beers like Bloodhound red ale and DeadCanary pale ale. For something different, check out the RareBird series named after native New Zealand birds. Our pick is to try the Ruru Black IPA, named after New Zealand's native forest owl.
Back in central Wellington, an essential last stop is The Malthouse, proudly selling craft beer in New Zealand's capital city several years before it became the next big thing. A total of 28 beer taps are complemented by quite probably the country's biggest beer fridge – so expansive a ladder is needed to access the wide range of canned and bottled beers from around the world. Many New Zealand craft breweries choose The Malthouse to launch new beers as the tap into the country's most passionate and brewing-literate market. In the improbable event you can't find anything you like, several other excellent beer bars are just a short walk away. Make a night of it, and also check out Golding's Free Dive, Hashigo Zake and Little Beer Quarter.