It had been over three years since I’d been in New Zealand and 23 years since I’d had a summer Christmas with my family. I had a couple of free weeks before my wife followed so I decided to try to make a definitive list of every brewery in the North Island and visit them over the course of a month. 

I live in Portland, Oregon, which has over 100 breweries within one hour of my house. A few years back I visited (and sipped beer at) 77 of them in one day ( The North Island in a month should be a breeze!

Creating the list of active North Island breweries wasn’t easy. Weeks of online research got me most of the way there, then Andrew Childs from Behemoth put me in touch with Michael Donaldson from the Pursuit of Hoppiness. Between the two of us, we came up with about 85 breweries that were currently operational and open to the public. I disregarded the biggies (Lion and DB) and smaller breweries that had no public facing taproom or cellar door. 

I arranged a variety of accommodations, including staying with friends and family where possible, within walking distance of breweries. I had the use of my mother’s Suzuki Swift, but had also pre-arranged a number of designated drivers in various cities. 

I started in Manawatu/Whanganui, at Brew Union in Palmerston North. Whanganui was next up, and I visited Roots, Mothership and Lad’s. Andrew at Roots Brewing also let me know about Brews On Drews, a small brewery inside Porridge Watson in downtown Whanganui. 

I was headed to Auckland next, took the eastern route, stopping in Gisborne. I hadn’t been to Gisborne since 199 and did no research outside of looking up the Sunshine Brewery taproom’s hours. I wrongly assumed all they made was Gisborne Gold, and boy, was I wrong! That night, there were 23 different beers on draught and a dozen different styles. Coming into Gisborne, I was stopped for my first compulsory police breath test. I was thankful I had a motel down the street, and a great reminder that at no point during the month could I drive after more than a small glass of beer.

Hopscotch Beer Company / Mandrake Brewery
At Hopscotch Beer Company / Mandrake Brewery

On the way to Auckland, I stopped at a couple of Bay of Plenty breweries, as I knew I would be short on time when I returned there after Christmas. In Auckland that afternoon, I had brief stops at Epic and Hopscotch (Mandrake), then checked in to my Airbnb a short stumble from Churly’s (Behemoth). Behemoth is my favourite New Zealand brewery, as their line-up, gimmicky as it is, is similar to many of my local Portland breweries.

The next morning I racked up 35000 steps in Auckland. I walked downtown at 8am and talked about my mission with Jono and Ben on The Hits. By lunchtime, I’d been to The Shakespeare and Galbraith’s, then headed back to the waterfront to catch the Waiheke Island ferry. 

Waiheke has three breweries, two of them based at wineries. My first stop was The Heke, known for its namesake lager. The owner showed me their under-construction brewery and distillery. A five-minute walk down the road is Tantalus Estate, home to Alibi Brewing, and next door to that is Wild Estate Vineyard, home to Wild On Waiheke and Waiheke Island Brewing. Waiheke’s becoming quite the craft beer destination! I had time for some delicious fish & chips at Little Oneroa Beach before heading back to the city. I ended the night at Dr Rudi’s on the waterfront, with excellent harbour views. 

Later that week, a friend from Wellington and I had a road trip planned. I would fly to Wellington, and he’d drive me to every Wellington area brewery, then to Hawke’s Bay, then back to Auckland to finish off the Auckland and Northland breweries. A couple of days before my flight, he tested positive for Covid! My main designated driver was out for the longest leg of my trip! I was able to quickly rearrange my trip, which gave me an extra day in Auckland.

I’d stopped in at The Rock radio station and chatted to Jay and Dunc about my mission. I asked for a designated driver and found one willing to drive me to Northland and back.

We started early, and were at New Zealand’s northernmost brewery, Kainui, outside Kerikeri by 11. On the way back south, we hit Phat House, McLeod’s (beer and pizza!), Sawmill and 8 Wired. The next day I spend on foot in central Auckland, visiting Sweat Shop Brew Kitchen, Urbanaut, Brewport and Brothers.

8 Wired Barrel Room
8 Wired Barrel Room

The next day, I flew to New Plymouth for a few hours, because I didn’t have time to drive. I took an early morning flight and a taxi into town. I’d lived in New Plymouth in the 90s, and spent a couple of hours seeing the sights before the breweries opened. New Plymouth is home to four breweries — The Theoretical Brewer, Mike’s, Shining Peak and Three Sisters. My pick of the bunch was Three Sisters. They had a smoked manuka beer, Hot Rod, which was one of the best beers I’d had in New Zealand to date. 

The next couple of days were spent finishing off the remaining breweries in the suburbs north and west of Auckland. I stayed with an old family friend on the North Shore and was able to arrange a driver. Those breweries included Hallertau and Liberty to the west of Auckland, and Little Creatures, Mythica, Laughing Bones, Browns Bay/Deep Creek, and Paraoa Brewing to the North. 

Next up, Auckland to Roturua (Crouchers/BREW), then Taupo for lunch. Taupo has two breweries — Crafty Trout, a quirky upstairs spot, and rurally-located Lakeman, who have Jimmy Coops as the their taproom in town. I only had small sips at each, as this was my first big driving day. 

I arrived in Napier in the late afternoon and met up with another friend who would drive me to the Hawke’s Bay breweries. There are seven —Zeelandt, Hawkes Bay Brewing (The Filter Room), GodsOwn, Abbey, Roosters, Brave and Giant. 

Sitting in the hop field at GodsOwn
In the hop field at GodsOwn

I was looking forward to Zeelandt, but unfortunately they were closed for a private event. I got to look around and bought a can to drink later. I’m a huge fish & chips fan and was excited to see that The Filter Room had a fish & chip shop attached! The highlight of Hawkes Bay was GodsOwn, which also had a private event on, but I got to sit by a firepit and watch the shenanigans.

Bright and early the next morning, I headed to Tui HQ in Mangatainoka. There are some beers only available at the HQ. My next brief stop was at Kereru in Upper Hutt — their limited hours made it difficult to visit, but I picked up some cans for later. I was in Wellington by lunchtime, and my cousin drove me into the central city. I got to see Jordan Luck and King Kapisi at the Wellington Wine and Food Festival, then did an epic pub crawl on foot in central Wellington. I went to The Occasional Brewer, Mean Doses, Heyday, Garage Project (both locations), Whistling Sisters, Fortune Favours, Choice Bros, Waitoa, and Fork & Brewer. It was a gloriously sunny day, and I racked up another 22000 steps. Wellington’s breweries are all amazing but on this trip I particularly enjoyed a pineapple beer at Fork & Brewer. 

The next day a friend and I drove up the Kapiti coast. I was starving and didn’t realise North End Brewing had such an amazing restaurant attached — Salt and Wood Collective. The brisket brunch was delicious, and this quickly became one of my favourite New Zealand breweries. 

We headed back to Wellington — with stops at Tuatara, Duncan’s, and Abandoned —  and continued on to Miramar to hit Parrotdog and Double Vision. On the way home, I met an old college friend at Baylands in Petone for happy hour. 

Abandoned Brewery
Abandoned Brewery

I was staying in the Hutt Valley, and my cousin drove us to Brewtown in Upper Hutt that evening. Brewtown is a great idea, and we don’t have anything like it in Portland. It was a Sunday night, and for some reason the breweries and restaurants had all decided to close an hour earlier than usual, so we had to rush to Boneface, Te Aro, and Panhead before last call. 

I took a break for a couple of days after that, spending time with family. A few days later, my wife flew in from the US and we ended up in Hamilton for a couple of days. She became my designated driver for the rest of the trip! Growing up, I spent my summers in Whangamata, and for some reason never made it to Raglan. I think it was because of a surfing-related rivalry that may have been in my head. Workshop Brewing in Raglan was next, and I thoroughly enjoyed Raglan, and plan to return. That weekend, in Hamilton, we visited Patrons, Good George, Brewaucracy and Bootleg, and discovered a new brewery not on my original list, Hopnotic, in Tamahere. Well worth a visit. 

We then spent a week off the beaten path, in the Central North Island. We hiked the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, the Bridge To Nowhere, and spent a night in Whangamomona. 

Our first brewery a week later was Ruapehu Brewing in Ohakune. We then headed to the Wairarapa and had a couple of beers at Martinborough Brewery. 

After a day on Kapiti Island, I met up with the guy who was supposed to have been my Wellington-to-Auckland designated driver, and we went to a spot in Titahi Bay called The Beer Engine. Their brewing equipment is installed but was not yet operational. I’m counting it though! I was driving, so drank Garage Project’s non-alcoholic beer, Tiny. 

At this point, I’d been to 80 North Island breweries in 23 days. We were spending the rest of the trip in Whangamata, where I’d spent every summer for the first 25 years of my life. 

After spending Christmas with family, we took a couple of day trips, one up to the Coromandel to visit Hot Water Brewing (aka The Family), Coromandel Brewing (aka The Pour House) and Blue Fridge Brewing (aka Luke’s Kitchen). Weird that all three Coromandel breweries go by a couple of different names. 

Blue Fridge aka Luke's Kitchen
Blue Fridge aka Luke’s Kitchen

Our last day trip was down to Tauranga. We climbed Mauao summit (“The Mount”), then went to The Island in Papamoa, Slab Brewing, and Fitzpatrick’s. My 87th and final brewery of the trip was Mount Brewing (aka The Rising Tide). 

In total, I racked up 7124 kms in December, the trip requiring multiple back-and-forths the length of the island. It could have been a lot easier, but various things such as work commitments, the weather at Tongariro, and limited hours at breweries all resulted in a lot more driving than is necessary. 

Pictures from (almost) every brewery can be found on Instagram @johnthekiwi

Here is the full list of the breweries (taprooms, cellar doors and brewpubs) that I visited:

143 BrewingForgotten 43Taranaki
28 Wired8 Wired BrewingWest/North Auckland
3AbandonedAbandoned BreweryGreater Wellington
4AbbeyAbbey BreweryHawkes Bay
5AlibiAlibi Brewing CompanyWaiheke Island
6AnannLumberjack BrewingBay of Plenty
7BaylandsBaylands BreweryGreater Wellington
8Beer EngineBeer EngineGreater Wellington
9Behemoth/ChurleysBehemoth (Chur) Brewing CompanyCentral Auckland
10BonefaceBoneface BrewingGreater Wellington
11BootlegBootleg Brewery LtdWaikato
12BraveBrave Brewing Co.Hawkes Bay
13BREW RotoruaCroucher BrewingBay of Plenty
14Brew UnionBrew Union Brewing CompanyManawatu
16BrewportBrewportCentral Auckland
17Brews On DrewsBrews On Drews (Porridge Watson)Whanganui
18BrothersBrothers BeerCentral Auckland
19Choice BrosChoice Bros. BrewingWellington CBD
20Coromandel BrewingCoromandel BrewingCoromandel
21CraftyCrafty TROUT Brewing Co.Taupo
22Deep CreekBrowns Bay Brewing/Deep CreekWest/North Auckland
23Double VisionDouble Vision BrewingGreater Wellington
24Dr RudiDr Rudi’sCentral Auckland
25Duncan’s Brewing Co.Duncan’s Brewing Co.Greater Wellington
26Epic Brewing Company (NZ)Epic Brewing Company (NZ)Central Auckland
27Filter RoomHawkes Bay BreweryHawkes Bay
28FitzpatricksFitzpatrick’s Brewing Co.Bay of Plenty
29Fork and BrewerFork & BrewerWellington CBD
30Fortune FavorsFortune FavoursWellington CBD
31GalbraithsGalbraith’s Brewing CompanyCentral Auckland
32Garage Project AroGarage Project AroWellington CBD
33Garage Project KingslandGarage Project KingslandCentral Auckland
34Garage Project WorkshopGarage Project WorkshopWellington CBD
35GiantGiant BrewingHawkes Bay
36GodzoneGodsOwnHawkes Bay
37Good GeorgeGood George BrewingWaikato
38HallertauHallertau Brewbar & RestaurantWest/North Auckland
39HekeWaiheke Brewing – The HekeWaiheke Island
40HeyDayHeyday Beer CoWellington CBD
42HopscotchHopscotch (Mandrake/Coaster)Central Auckland
43Hot Water BrewingHot Water BrewingCoromandel
44KainuiKainui Brew CoWest/North Auckland
45KereruKereru Brewing CompanyGreater Wellington
47Lake MenLakeman Brewing/Jimmy CoopsTaupo
48Laughing BonesLaughing Bones Brewing CompanyWest/North Auckland
49LibertyLiberty Brewing CompanyWest/North Auckland
50Little CreaturesLittle CreaturesWest/North Auckland
51Lukes KitchenBlue Fridge Brewery/Lukes KitchenCoromandel
52MartinboroghMartinborough BreweryWairarapa
53MataMata BreweryBay of Plenty
54McLeodsMcLeod’s BreweryWest/North Auckland
55Mean DosesMean DosesWellington CBD
56MikesMike’s BreweryTaranaki
58Mount BrewingMount Brewing CompanyBay of Plenty
59MythicaMythica Brewing LimitedWest/North Auckland
60North EndNorth End Brewing/Salt and WoodGreater Wellington
61OccasionalOccasional BrewerWellington CBD
62PanheadPanheadGreater Wellington
63ParaoaParaoa BrewingWest/North Auckland
64ParrotdogParrotDogGreater Wellington
66Phat HousePhatHouse Brewing Co.West/North Auckland
67RoostersRoosters Brew HouseHawkes Bay
69Ruapehu Brewing Co.Ruapehu Brewing Co.Taupo
70SawmillSawmill Brewing Company (NZ)West/North Auckland
71ShakespeareShakespeare Tavern & BreweryCentral Auckland
72Shining PeakShining Peak BrewingTaranaki
73SlabSlab BrewingBay of Plenty
74SunshineSunshine BreweryHawkes Bay
75Sweat ShopSweat Shop Brew KitchenCentral Auckland
76Te AroTe Aro BrewingGreater Wellington
77The IslandThe IslandBay of Plenty
78TheoreticalThe Theoretical BrewerTaranaki
79Three SistersThree Sisters Brewery LtdTaranaki
80TuataraTuatara Brewing CompanyGreater Wellington
81TuiTui BreweryWairarapa
82UrbanautUrbanaut Brewing CoCentral Auckland
83Waiheke Island BrewingWaiheke Island BreweryWaiheke Island
84WaitoaWaitoa Social ClubWellington CBD
85Whistling Sisters Beer CoWhistling Sisters Beer CoWellington CBD
86WorkshopWorkshop Brewing Co.Waikato
87ZeelandtZeelandt Brewery/Cone and FlowerHawkes Bay

Thanks heaps to Andrew Childs at Behemoth for encouraging my shenanigans, Michael Donaldson at Pursuit of Hoppiness for helping me with the list, and my more-than-understanding wife for allowing these ridiculous road trips.