Nelson Hops Lead the World


At the centre of a good beer lies quality aromatic hops and, as luck would have it, the early English and German settlers to Nelson found the region perfectly situated to grow the perfect crop for the bitter brew. Nelson is now the hop centre of New Zealand.

Hops are the essential ingredient that gives beer its bitter taste. The flavour comes from the alpha acid contained in the catkins  of the hop plant.1

Wood Hop GardensWood Hop Gardens, The Nelson Provincial Museum, Miscellaneous Collection, half 763
Click on photo to enlarge

Early immigrants to Nelson from southern England and Germany brought hop seedlings with them and fortunately found that the region’s latitude ensured the warm summers, regular rainfall and relative lack of wind required to grow them. Later, a Motueka man, Jeffrey McGlashen (Mac) Inglis, was instrumental in helping the fledgling hop industry develop into the major venture it is today. His hop garden, Northwood Gardens, became the largest in New Zealand and continues to grow hops today.2 The region rapidly became the only hop growing area in the country and remains the centre of the hop industry.3

Group harvesting hops in NelsonGroup harvesting hops in Nelson
Photograph taken by Sydney Charles Smith, circa 1908, Alexander Turnbull Library
Click on photo to enlarge

In the early days of the colony, hop gardens could be found throughout the region, but today they are centred in Motueka, Riwaka, the Moutere, Waimea Plains and Tapawera. Initially the hop industry was vital to the region and required a large workforce at harvest time. Schools recognised the importance of the harvest, timing hop-picking holidays for February/March so adults and children could pick the crop. Many families packed up and moved into tents or cabins at the gardens, while others took the train out each day. Groups of pickers from outside the region also flocked to Nelson during the season.4

In the 1920s a new variety of hops, known as Late Cluster, was introduced from California to Nelson, where it grew even more abundantly than the European and English versions. It was wiped out in the 1940s by the root-rotting disease Phytophthora, however, and a hop research station was set up in Riwaka, in the hope of breeding new disease resistant varieties.5

Three resistant strains had been developed by 1960, but the world’s breweries were beginning to demand seedless hops. Hop seeds are detrimental to beer quality,6 so the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research established a hop research station at Riwaka and began working to develop the world’s first triploid (seedless) hop vines. Under the guidance of Dr R.H.J Roborogh, the New Zealand Hop Research Station began a breeding programme, releasing the first triploid in the 1970s. Continued research and development has seen a range of new cultivars released.7

The Richmond-based New Zealand Hop Marketing Board, which had been established in 1939, was revamped in 2005 as a growers’ co-operative company, New Zealand Hops Ltd.8

Women and children working in a hop garden in MoutereWomen and children working in a hop garden in Moutere, Nelson, between 1915 and 1920. Photograph taken by Frederick Nelson Jones, Alexander Turnbull Library
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Harvest group 1945, The Nelson Provincial Museum, Ellis Dudgeon CollectionHarvest group 1945, The Nelson Provincial Museum, Ellis Dudgeon Collection  212513/7
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New Zealand’s particular advantage is its continued development of unique varieties in a hop-disease-free environment. This also enables the production of organic hops, with the world’s largest organic hop garden being located at Tapawera. Research is also being carried out into the health benefits of hops. Nelson’s southern hemisphere position means the industry can supply the northern hemisphere in its off-season, with eighty percent of New Zealand’s hops being exported.9

Twenty commercial hop varieties were being grown by the New Zealand industry by 2007, including twelve locally bred triploid varieties. In 2008, seventeen growers had 352 ha planted in hops in the Nelson region, harvesting 700,000 kg annually. New Zealand hop exports make up less than one percent of the world’s hop harvest, but are worth around $16 million to New Zealand.10

2008 (updated 2022)

Sources used in this story

  1. McLauchlan, Gordon (1994), The Story of Beer, Beer and Brewing, A New Zealand History, Auckland, New Zealand: Penguin Books, p.155.
  2. Motueka District Museum, Report on Inglis Street, named for Jeffrey McGlashen 'Mac' Inglis.
  3. New Zealand Hops Ltd
  4. Roborogh, Jess (1999). Hops and Motueka. In Ian Munro (ed.), Back Then…Threads from Motueka’s Past, Motueka, New Zealand: Motueka High School, p.101 ; Stade, K. (2008) The School by the Sands, A Century of Tahunanui School Nelson, Nelson, New Zealand: Tahunanui School, pp 18-19.
  5. New Zealand Hops Ltd
  6. Donelan, Doug. (2008, April). New World Hops with a Difference. The Brewer and Distiller International, 4(4). p.33.
  7. New Zealand Hops Ltd
  8. Conversation with Doug Donelan, NZ Hops Ltd, August 2008.
  9. Donelan, p.35.
  10. Conversation with Doug Donelan

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  • Very interesting.... hic !

    Posted by Bruce Utting, ()

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Further sources - Nelson Hops Lead the World



  • Barton, S. (2001, Sept/Oct). Memories of hops. New Zealand Geographic, 9-11
  • Basham, L. (2000, March 27). Lager hops into wine realm. The Nelson Mail, p.3.
  • Donelan, D. (2008, April). New world hops with a difference. The Brewer and Distiller International (4), 3-35
  • Hallinan, L. (2001, September). Beer and skittles. New Zealand Growing Today, 15, 34-39
  • Hardie, A. (2007, April 2). The beer necessities. The Nelson Mail, p.15.
  • Honour for hop industry stalwart. (2006, June 5) The Nelson Mail, p.3.
  • Kuckuck, F. & Grau, M. (2013, March 8) How Nelson became the craft brewing capital. Nelson Mail. Retrieved from Stuff:
  • Mackay, D. (1999, May). Bitter harvest - Nelson's hops industry. Orchardist, 32-34.
  • 'True and proper drink' (1971)  New Zealand's heritage, v. 5. Sydney: Hamlyn Paul, pp.1423-1428


Ngā Taonga Sound & VisionNew Zealand Film Archive

Unpublished Sources:

From the Nelson Provincial Museum:

  • Benseman, Johanne. (1998). She worked her heart out: hops: farming women in the Nelson region, 1920s-1950s. UMS 1102
  • E. Buxton & Co. (18976-1941). Business Records. AG 136
  • Tutbury, John. (1883-1885). Farm Diary. qMS TUT

From the Motueka District Museum

  • A hop press made of railway lines sits outside the Motueka District Museum. It came from a hop farm in Old School Road and dates back to the early 20th century
  • A permanent exhibition on hops is a feature of the museum - created in the shape of an old kiln.

From Founders Heritage Park (Nelson):

Web Resources

Images links 

  • Carting hops in Nelson - Sacks of hops being piled on to a horse drawn cart, Nelson, circa 1915-1920. Photograph taken by Frederick Nelson Jones (National Library of NZ)
  • Mill Buildings, Maitai River Nelson 1866 (John Gully painting) [Shows mill buildings and oast houses at the left, on the banks of the Maitai River, Nelson foreshore, in golden light. Dr Bush's windmill can be seen on the opposite bank of the river, along with houses. The windmill, on Miller's acre, was burned down in 1867. It was located on present-day Trafalgar Street, diagonally opposite the Nelson Chief Post Office, and was for some time around 1990 the site of Miller's Acre carpark]