The following morning, we headed out to Golden Bay at the other end of the Nelson Beer Trail. As we drove along Hwy 60, vineyards and orchards flashed by, a countryside very similar to home. Hop fields emerged in the the patchwork of fields with their large, fragrant cones ready for harvest. Passing through hop-named towns Motueka and Riwaka, we crossed over the mountains on this scary, windy road into an idyllic-looking coastal plain with Golden Bay in the distance.
Pulling into the Te Waikoropupu Springs carpark, beer’s most under-appreciated ingredient (water) was not foremost on our minds. After that somewhat harrowing drive crossing the mountain, we fancied a bit of a walk to stretch our legs.
Translated from Maori as “Place of the Dancing Sands,” the spring water was billed as some of the cleanest in the world. Most of the 30 minute board-walked loop took us through what appeared to me to be swampland, not really my idea of clear water. But at the very end, we emerged out of the trees to see a large pond with sparkling crystal clear water. The vents were clearly visible, bubbling at the surface. Given the warm weather, the water looked very inviting, but the springs are closed to all forms of contact as they are considered sacred to the Maori.
Learning part of the day complete, our next destination was the Mussell Inn, the furthest most brewery along the beer trail. With a such a name, I expected the pub to sit on the water. All during the several hour drive I had visions of enjoying their beers with an ocean view. But in fact, the Mussel Inn was well hidden in a grove of trees, its location only given away by a sign along the road.
Combined with the scenery, the remoteness of the Mussel Inn reminded me of parts of coastal California, even down to the nouveau hippies strumming on guitars on the front patio as we entered. Still early in the day, only a few other customers milled about the dim interior of the pub. Merideth and I were focused on the task at hand and quickly ordered a sample flight and lunch.
With a 4-beer, 1-cider sample paddle in hand, we decided to sit in the outdoor area at the side. When I drop out of society to some remote coastal area or the Bavarian Alps, I picture my patio looking just like this. The roomy space was filled with large, natural wood furniture that encouraged community drinking. We were shaded from the summer sun by massive growth of hops interwoven into the beams overhead.
With the warm, slightly steamy weather, the two light colored beers, White Heron Wheat and Golden Goose Lager, both went down quite nicely. Although not cider drinkers, even the Apple Roughy, a “mix of Sturmers, Grannies and other random apples from around the hood,” was a welcomed quencher.
The most anticipated beer was the 4.4% ABV deep amber Captain Cooker Manuka beer, brewed with freshly picked tips of the Manuka tree. Safe to say this was our very first beer brewed with this native shrub of New Zealand. Used for medicinal purposes for centuries, the tips gave the beer a slightly herbaceous quality.
I didn’t pair my lunch very well with the warm weather, but it seemed to me to be a requirement to eat mussels at the Mussel Inn. The hearty, warm chowder was thick and full of the meaty mollusks.The beer that paired best with the chowder, and thus my favorite, was Dark Horse Black Beer, a roasty 4% ABV brew.
Lunch over, it was time to brave the hill again. happily, the return didn’t seem as treacherous because we knew what to expect this time. Cresting the hill we could see the vast orchards and hop fields of Riwaka below. When we reached level ground we bee-lined for our next brewery stop which had already been spotted on the outward journey.
It was mid afternoon when we parked in front of Hop Federation. In the summer heat, the ice cream parlor across the street was doing a crackin’ business. Meanwhile there was not even one customer in the brewery tasting room until Merideth and I stepped through the doorway. Well, besides the young gentleman behind the bar.
After exchanging greetings, he offered us four beers to sample: Golden and Pale Ales, an American Brown and finally a Red IPA. Probably the first ‘wow’ brewery of our journey, all the beers were well-crafted and delicious. Merideth’s favorite beer of the trip was Hop Ferderation’s 4.5% ABV Brown Ale, which combined nice roast and chocolate notes with a lighter than expected body. I fancied the 6.4% ABV Red IPA. Hopped with Simcoe, New Zealand Cascade, Motueka and Southern Cross, this brew reminded me a lot of home.
As we sampled the beers, I perused the cold box. Hop Federation had bottled beers but much to my surprise beers were also available in 1.25 and 2 liter plastic bottles. Not something I normally associate with beer, I found out later plastic packaging was some popular on South Island.
Like a number of our favorite breweries on the trip, Hop Federation only served tastes. They were strictly an off-license. Liking the beer as we did, we would have hung out, had a pint or two and played scrabble. Disappointed that this idyllic vision wouldn’t pan out, we bought several bottles including one plastic and moved on.
We shared the American Brown Ale from the plastic bottle several weeks later with friends at home. It tasted great. Bring on the plastic bottle revolution!
While the modern, industrial Golden Bear Brewing seemed somewhat out of place amongst the older structures of Mapua Wharf, it had one of the best feels of all the breweries we visited on the trip. In slow-paced New Zealand, the setting along the old wharf turned the pace down even another notch.
Being Cal grads, we were obviously very excited about going to a brewery called Golden Bear. This was despite the fact that the owner’s ties, a California ex-pat, were to our sister school to the south, UCLA. Even if we didn’t know this history going in, three of the ten available beers being IPAs hinted at West Coast roots.
No flight, we guessed at beers to sample before buying from the diverse selection available. A much easier task for me with the three IPAs on the board. Merideth started with the Watou-zea Wit but changed to Hot Lips Pils, a brew more to her liking. The three IPAs were all excellent. Seismic, dry-hopped with Simcoe, was probably my favorite, but I chose the lower ABV, Citra-hopped Fortress for a pint.
With pints in hand, Merideth and I grabbed a seat outside. We watched the Mapua community stroll by, most seemingly headed down to the nearby water for a swim. Every now and then, a dad would let the rest of the family go ahead while he grabbed a pint to go. Usually on the go when traveling, it felt very relaxing sitting at Mapua Wharf enjoying a beer.
Our last day on South Island was devoted to hiking. Given the rain and cold conditions we endured on our previous hike, we were excited to see this day dawn sunny and warm. On the road early, we re-traced part of our drive from the previous day on our way to Abel Tasman National Park.
The smallest of New Zealand’s national parks, the 87 square mile Abel Tasman is famous for its Coast Track. Following the coast line for 32 miles, it can be hiked in three to five days but is also accessible via water taxis that drop people off at different points in the park. We are not campers, so we opted for a speedy boat ride to Bark Bay in the middle of the park. From there, we would enjoy a seven mile hike to Anchorage, the beach were we would be picked up by another boat later.
Everything about the day in Abel Tasman was a sheer joy. The ride out in the small, speedy boat was exhilarating. The hike, while not too strenuous, was chalk full of great scenery and German tourists. And the big boat that we caught back had a snack bar that stocked beer. Merideth and I enjoyed a McCashins Pilsner keeping up our Hike-n-Beer tradition.
Prior to the trip, I looked at this three day leg as the focal point of our first New Zealand adventure. In a reflective mood on the 3-hour ferry ride to Wellington on the North Island the following morning, I couldn’t help but think what an almost perfect three days Merideth and I had visiting the “Craft Brewing Capital of New Zealand.” It’s always nice when traveling this far that reality meets expectation.