With a shed load of rural settlements and a penchant for a cold pint, it’s no wonder New Zealand does a great line in country pubs.
Here’s a thirst-quenching selection of pretty spots to imbibe the amber nectar.
Leigh Sawmill, Northland
Once a stalwart of the local logging industry, this historic sawmill an hour north of Auckland now cuts a sophisticated dash as a pub with a microbrewery and lawn beer garden. Pizza and a citrusy pale ale are a fine way to round off a day snorkelling at nearby Goat Island marine reserve, as is the live music that surfaces during the summer gig season. The Sawmill also offers accommodation.
Hallertau, Riverhead, Auckland region
Riding the craft beer wave that’s washing over New Zealand, Hallertau is brewing exciting ales such as wine-barrel-aged porter and the tongue-twisting hop-bomb, Maximus Humulus Lupulus. Located in West Auckland’s main wine-producing area, the brewbar and restaurant attracts beer aficionados from near and far with tastings, locally grown food, a vine-strewn terrace, DJs and occasional live music.
Te Puka Tavern, Tokomaru Bay, East Cape
One of the most picturesque spots along the Pacific Coast Highway – remote and rich in Maori history – Tokomaru Bay is a broad beach northeast of Gisborne, framed by sweeping cliffs. Te Puka Tavern perches alongside the waterfront, boasting perhaps the most inspiring ocean view of any pub in the land. The pub is the cornerstone of the community, keeping everyone fed and watered. Fish and chips, a beer, and the possibility of bingo? Kei te pai Te Puka Tav! (the Te Puka pub is great!)
Whangamomona Hotel, Whangamomona, Taranaki
About halfway along the Forgotten World Highway – a serpentine 155km road through hilly Taranaki bush country west of Lake Taupo – you’ll come across Whangamomona, famous for declaring itself an independent republic after a spat with the local council. Despite an itsy-bitsy population of around 30, the town retains its honourable position on the country-pub map courtesy of Whangamonoma Hotel (whangamomonahotel.co.nz), a grand old establishment offering generous home-cooked meals, simple accommodation and a place to tie up your horse.
Gladstone Inn, Wairarapa
In a region of the North Island awash with wine tastings and vineyard tours, the Gladstone is an unpretentious, middle-of-nowhere pub offering a breath of fresh country air. Sitting alongside the Ruamahanga River on a back road between Masterton and Martinborough, the ‘Gladdy’ gathers a broad clientele likely to include local farmers, townies on a lunch treat, mobs of motorcyclists and anyone with a nose for a good venison burger and wood-fired pizza. Gumboots at the door, please; garden bar out back.
Moutere Inn, Upper Moutere, Nelson
Hops have been grown around Nelson since the 1840s, so it’s no surprise that this South Island region punches well above its weight in the craft beer stakes. Built in 1850, the Moutere Inn has long been a champion of such industry, and remains a charming spot to sample brews from 16 taps. Pull up a pew in the delightfully retro lounge or outside on the sunny patio, and enjoy honest meals and regular live music.
Mussel Inn, Onekaka, Golden Bay
Hearty home cooking, a rambling beer garden and timber-clad farmhouse interior make The Mussel Inn in Onekaka, two hours from Nelson, feel genuinely rustic. Its own beers are interesting and delicious, especially Bitter Ass and Captain Cooker, a brown ale brewed with manuka honey. Regular live entertainment could be anything from raucous gigs to acoustic sets and poetry readings, performed in the barnlike bar but easily audible from the wraparound veranda, our favourite place to park up.
Theatre Royal, Kumara, the West Coast
Having manned the starting gate for the Coast-to-Coast multisport race in sterling style for more than 30 years, the old gold town of Kumara near Greymouth is well oiled to cope with the influx arriving by bike on the South Island’s West Coast Wilderness Trail (www.westcoastwildernesstrail.co.nz). Freshly primed for their arrival is the show-stopping Theatre Royal Hotel sporting a civilised bar, classy dining room and conservatory, and sumptuous bedrooms upstairs. Pull in for some of the best food on the coast and a yarn with the locals.
Cardrona Hotel, Queenstown Lakes District
With views extending across countless snowy peaks, the Crown Range Road near Queenstown is one of the South Island’s most scenic drives. Nestled into the foothills on the Wanaka side is the iconic Cardrona Hotel, a gold-rush-era pub dating back to 1863. The miners may be long gone, taking most of the town with them, but what’s left has charm in spades. Fashioned from timber and stone, and lovingly restored, it’s a cozy spot to enjoy a meal in the glow of the open fire, or some fresh mountain air in the beer garden.
South Sea Hotel, Oban, Stewart Island
The South Sea Hotel is New Zealand’s southernmost pub, sitting along the waterfront of Halfmoon Bay. It’s the de facto hub for Stewart Island’s close-knit community, who appear endlessly entertained by the trickle of tourists who venture into their salty, wild world. Beat them at their own game by entering the legendary Sunday-night quiz, tackling a big feed of blue cod and chips with a quart of beer in between the banter. An adjacent dining room offers a quieter, cafe-style ambience, but this is no way to catch up on local gossip.