Bottoms Up ... 9 of the Best South Island Pubs

A wooden bar with green downlights where there are 4 beers on tap.

Pack up the car, gather a group of mates and most importantly designate a sober driver… it’s time to embark on a tour of the South Island.

Words by: Julia Rutherford

The navigation and route in this instance are driven by the all-important stops at classic pubs (hence the responsible sober driver) around Te Waipounamu. Sure the definition of the South Island might be slightly extended to include a Stewart Island location, but the pub here was just too good to let a little geography stand in the way.

What is more important in this instance is what makes up a classic pub; of course, a welcoming vibe and friendly atmosphere is a must. There has to be that perfect bowl of chips on offer, and a range of thirst-quenching beverages ready to be poured. That most quintessential of quizzes also contributes to classic pub status, as does having a TV screen or two to watch the game of the day. Whatever you are looking for in a pub, you’re sure to find it at one of these classic South Island (+ one Stewart Island) gems.

Albar

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135 Stuart Street, Central Dunedin, Dunedin

Walk in the doors of Dunedin’s Albar, and you are quite quickly transported to a small slice of Scotland. Cozy pub vibes abound here and being Scottish something that is highly valued at Albar is, of course, the all-important whisky. So much so there are in-house whisky tastings and there’s always a special on the ‘malt of the month’.

Local Dunedin brewery Emersons, can always be found on tap at Albar and there are often new launches or limited editions, so make sure to give these a go if you see them on the menu. When it comes to food, they embrace a tapas-style menu with something to tempt every tastebud - there are even Scottish favourites like haggis and oatcakes.

The Fort Enfield

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625 Weston-Ngapara Road, Enfield, Ōamaru & Waitaki

With a history spanning over 40 years, this much-loved Kiwi pub is a classic for a reason. Located just 12 kilometres from Oamaru, The Fort Enfield has a loyal patronage, and it’s clear to see why.

Warm hospitality is what they do best and owners Amber and Johnny take great pride in serving their community and visitors alike. They’ve kept things classic on the menu front, there are pub favourites aplenty, but with an elevated take and delicious execution. Think fresh fish and chips and perfectly cooked steaks with all the trimmings. The beer taps honour locals such as Speights and Ranfurly Draught, whilst also embracing craft labels, and some Waitaki wines are in the mix too.

South Sea Hotel

26 Elgin Terrace, Oban, Stewart Island

So there may be slight liberties taken with including the South Sea Hotel in this list, being as it is on Stewart Island and geographically speaking, that is a completely separate island to the South. No matter, it’s too good and too classic of a pub to miss off this list and definitely well worth the effort of crossing the Foveaux Strait to get there.

The South Sea is a true icon of Stewart Island, situated in Halfmoon Bay with a stunning view of the water; it’s easy to see how an afternoon here easily melts into the evening too! Locally sourced seafood is a huge focus for the team at the restaurant and pub here, but they cater to all tastes and dietary requirements. There’s also that classic pub fixture… a weekly pub quiz. So make sure if you’re planning a visit to South Sea, factor in a Sunday night so you can join in.

Cardrona Hotel

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Cardrona Valley Road, Cardrona, Wānaka

Perhaps one of the most recognisable names on this list is the Cardrona Hotel. It definitely has the ‘gram factor and is a popular stop if you’re driving between Queenstown and Wanaka on the Crown Range.

Steeped in history, it was first established in 1863 and was a place for weary miners to stay. It’s had a few lives since then and is currently a bustling pub and busy hotel all year round. The pub fare is hearty and the menu changes seasonally throughout the year. The kitchen team here is motivated by fresh produce and showcasing the very best from the region. And like any pub worth their weight in gold, there’s a good selection of draught beers on tap and a mix of craft beers, wines and spirits available too. So stop for the pic, stay for the classic pub experience.   

Pomeroy's Old Brewery Inn

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292 Kilmore Street, Christchurch Central City, Christchurch, Christchurch & Canterbury

This family-owned pub on the edge of the central city is a well-loved favourite among many Christchurch locals. The aesthetic is quintessential Olde’ English pub, and the vibe reverberates with warmth and cosiness. Burgers feature heavily on the food menu at Pomeroys, alongside typical pub grub, such as Seafood Chowder and Fish and Chips, all executed deliciously well. The tap list is plentiful and celebrates a range of craft labels from around Aotearoa. So why not branch out from your regular brew and try something different?

Silverstream Hotel

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762 State Highway 8, Kimbell, South Canterbury

Pubs don’t come more classic in the South Island, than Silverstream Hotel in Kimbell. Located in the heart of the Mackenzie district, this historic country pub is a true icon and in recent times has been given a new lease of life by owners Lockie and Caroline. The pub is well-loved by locals, and for many travellers, it has become a pivotal pit stop in their journeys around the South Island. With live music, regular events, a pool table, an outdoor fire pit, a kids play area and even a petanque court there really is something for all ages at Silverstream. And that’s before digging into a hearty meal and well-earned drink!

The Pier Hotel

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1 Avoca Street, Kaikōura

There’s plenty to love about the Pier Hotel and its stunning views of the Kaikōura Peninsula are just the beginning. This classic Kiwi pub and restaurant embraces its waterfront position, from its nautical-themed interior to its seafood-heavy menu. Crayfish is a particular highlight, and it’s always hard to go past the seafood platter, laden with many tempting offerings. If you’ve got the time, why not stay the night in one of the nine rooms above the pub - more opportunity to take in those beautiful peninsula views!

The Moutere Inn

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1406 Moutere Highway, Upper Moutere, Nelson Tasman

Able to lay claim to being New Zealand’s oldest pub is a pretty cool feat for The Moutere Inn, and you can feel the history as soon as you walk in the front door. Craft beers from around the country are served at the bar, and the wine list is incredibly locally-focused. Labels are chosen from wineries within a 10km radius of the pub. Gastro pub fare is the name of the food game at the Inn, with the kids well taken care of with their menu. There’s always some kind of event going on too, from pub quizzes to live music to curry nights, it’s all happening at The Moutere Inn.

The Mussel Inn

259 State Highway 60, Onekaka

In the heart of Golden Bay, at the top of the South Island, you will find The Mussel Inn and you will be so glad you made the drive over Takaka Hill to get here.

Renowned for their fresh steamed mussels (availability permitting) and other wholesome fare, the vibe is warm and inviting. They even have a small brewery on site that produces a range of beers, ales, ciders and the occasional house wine. Live music performances happen regularly at The Mussel Inn, so make sure you check their website for the gig schedule, and there is, of course, a weekly quiz.

Neat Christchurch & Canterbury Places

Ally & Sid

The counter and coffee machine at Ally & Sid café in Christchurch.
Place Christchurch & Canterbury
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Everything about Ally & Sid is inviting - a breezy spot for excellent coffee, tasty cabinet fare and a big side of sunshine.

Tramway Restaurant

Tramway Restaurant exterior.
Place Christchurch & Canterbury
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The Tramway Restaurant is somewhat of a moving Christchurch institution. Most of us have seen it roll past us lit up with warm lighting, filled with happy diners waving at passers by.

Brew Academy

Side view of a man pouring a beer from taps at Brew Academy in Christchurch.
Place Christchurch & Canterbury

Brew Academy gives you the chance to learn to brew, grab a pint from their tap room, and get a mean feed from Smoke ’n’ Barrel, who operate out of the same premises. There’s a lot on offer at Brew Academy, and good beer ties it all together.

Shopology

Shelve of warm winter scarfs at Shopology.
Place Christchurch & Canterbury

Shopology is a collaborative retail space, where talented artisans, makers and designers come together.