We defied the widespread Covid-paranoia this summer and went on holiday to Kerikeri in the Bay of Islands. There is a healthy craft beer scene emerging in the Far North as well as some fantastic heritage pubs.

Both of these elements are combined at the Plough and Feather, a gastro-pub located in the historic Kororipo-Kerikeri Basin. This is one of the most historically important places in New Zealand with the both the oldest wooden and stone building next to each other on the shore of the inlet where Ngāpuhi’s “musket war” campaigns were launched in the 1820s. The Plough and Feather is in a renovated historic house overlooking the inlet and it is the taproom for local ‘farmhouse’ craft brewer Kainui Brew Co.

I made a number of visits to the Plough during my stay in Kerikeri and enjoyed beers sitting under the trees as well as with a three-course dinner one evening. Of the 21 beers on tap I enjoyed the malt-sweet Ploughman’s Best Bitter with its spicy hop taste and roasted malt finish and the Milkman milk stout with its roasted coffee flavours and sweet chocolate note. The big surprise package was however the Hell Hole of the Pacific (a reference to the description given to Kororareka when grog shops and brothels lined the shore to cater for the whaling crews when they came ashore). A manuka-smoked red IPA of 6.66%, Hell Hole of the Pacific had a smoky aroma and smoked malt flavour with some drying hops in the finish. It was reminiscent of a Rauchbier, but more approachable.

While in Kerikeri I also went to Ferment — an off- and on-license on Kerikeri Road. They had five craft beer taps and takeaway glass bottles available to fill. I had a half pint of Paradise pale ale from Northland brewer McLeod’s which was a relatively straight forward pale ale with a nice hoppy aroma. I also bought a can of McLeod’s Great Wave Japanese Dark Lager there which had an aroma of coffee-cocoa, a light body, a dry finish and dark malt roastiness in taste.

We dropped into Waipu (just south of Whangarei) one day and tried in vain (for the second year running) to get into McLeod’s brewery and pizzeria. To compensate for missing out I had a pint of their Pacific Dreamin’ in Auckland on the way home. There was tropical fruit in a big hop aroma, a strong watermelon taste with some minty notes, and a big dry finish.

Further up Kerikeri Road from the town is the Old Packhouse café and weekend farmers’ market. There was another on-off license arrangement there and I picked up a couple of bottles of Phat House ales from nearby Haruru. This lifestyle brewery and bar is on the way to Paihia and Waitangi and we pulled in on the way back from a visit to the Treaty grounds. The brewery has the ‘light industrial’ vibe, a food truck and a shaded outside bar area (which was desperately needed on the day we visited). It’s just down the road from the Twin Pines Hotel that was the location of Putts Brewery back in 1990s.

Phat House Pale Ale and IPA were similar in body and taste — both had a robust, ‘chewy’ malt flavour with the only discernible difference being the hopping levels. The Mega Mega lager was full flavoured with a sweet taste that mellowed out to a bitter finish. The Midnight Espresso coffee stout was my favourite, smooth with a good coffee taste and concentration of flavour.

Our day trip to Russell was capped off with a couple of beers from the historic Duke of Marlborough Hotel served under Pohutukawa trees on the foreshore. We did however have to listen to a busker annihilating a selection of popular tunes. The beers were from the newish Bay of Islands Brewery located in Kerikeri. The Schwartz was light and refreshing with some roasted bitter notes while the Hazy IPA was quaffable, but lacked the fruit hit of many New Zealand hazies.

Our final Northland day-trip was to Mangonui in Doubtless Bay to swim at the idyllic Coopers Beach and mooch about the historic town. The Mangonui Hotel is an old-fashioned Lion public bar with Sky Sport, a TAB, and a light blue macaw sitting on a perch. It was a screechingly hot day, so I had a cold glass of Panhead Port Road Pils with its lemony thing going and another of Panhead Supercharger which still rocks. The Mangonui fish and chip shop is a legend in Kiwi hospitality and tourism circles. We went large on our time there and I had to wash it all down with a McLeod’s Longboarder lager. A fish and chip shop with a bar? Glorious.