Journeys to The Mussel Inn: A Legend of New Zealand Hospitality

A woman sitting down looking at camera.

Jane Dixon

It started over 30 years ago with a bare paddock and a vision; to create a space for family and friends to gather and for music to be played. Fast forward a few decades, and The Mussel Inn is one of New Zealand's most loved hospitality destinations. A pub, brewery and live music venue in Golden Bay on the way to the top of Te Waipounamu South Island.

Words by: Johnny Gibson

Photo by: Anna Briggs

As a festival organiser in a previous life, and an enthusiast of unique New Zealand rural hospitality, Johnny Gibson jumped at the chance to chat with Jane Dixon about what makes The Mussel Inn so special and her family's journey. 

Like many New Zealanders, some of my best holiday memories are visiting The Mussel Inn during the festive season. Driving north from Takaka, I eagerly wanted the next rise to be the one, but it was always a little further to The Mussel Inn than I remembered. The first sign that you'd arrived was the row of cars parked on either side of the road; however, that's no more, thanks to a recent car park in the neighbouring paddock. 

I would have a ticket to one of the acts but only managed to catch half, as I usually got sidetracked sitting around the fire drinking crafties (before they were cool) and hearing travellers’ stories, with adventurous Weka darting around our feet.  I would return the next day for a bowl of mussels, a Captain Cooker and stories of the night. 

There are not many places left in New Zealand like this. An authentic off-the-beaten-track destination with organic social connection with some new and some old (as it's always surprising who wanders in) friends. Or the chance to fall in love with an artist you weren't all that familiar with previously but now share a special memory of. It's a truly unique place and a symbol of a simpler time.   

So how did it all start? 

We had been moving around New Zealand locations building log houses, and then returned to Golden Bay, where we already owned a roadside paddock. During the first ten years that we owned the property, we built a log house, and then a year later, we built the bar.

We wanted something for ourselves—a place for friends and family to hang out, play and enjoy music. Music has been a big part of our life. We've been volunteers at some festivals, including a couple of small festivals in Takaka, but there were always issues with noise, etc., so that steered us towards opening our own place.

Tell us about the development of the property and bar

We initially thought to build the bar with logs but decided we just wanted something non-demanding, low-key and simple. There was an old shed on the property, which we had lived in on and off, and we wanted to use the iron and bits off that, so we decided to build a Kiwi farmhouse-style building with a door straight down the middle and a big open fire. 

Andrew has been a home brewer since he was a teenager, so that side made sense. Water for the brewery comes from a small stream in the hills behind the brewery. We have a few experimental hops and one and a half hectares of apples and feijoas which we use for the ciders.  A vegetable garden supplies some food for the kitchen and chillies for the chilli beer, and the grain from the brewery goes around the apple trees.   We are all about building sustainable systems that work.  

How many people are involved in the day-to-day? 

Andrew has three full-time staff in the brewery, and I look after the bar/restaurant with around 20 - 30 staff over the summer months. Our son Henry is a general dog's body around the place, plus he's learning to do sound for the gigs, which will give Andrew a break. His kids are getting involved now too. We've been in the business long enough that children of school kids who worked here in the early days are now working for us! We used to close for a period during the winter, but staff were keen for us to stay open all year, so we do that now.

What do you think the keys to success have been? 

Everything we do is genuine and unpretentious. It's authentic to who we are and want to be. I think people relate to that. 

You've had the same core menu and range of beers for a long time. What's been the most popular aspect of that, and why do you think it has resonated with people so much? 

People feel comfortable and relaxed knowing what to expect. So much these days is about new, new, new, but we find that people really appreciate that things haven't changed. 

Some people have returned after 20+ years and been so relieved to find the place still here and much the same as they remembered it.

What are some of your best memories? 

There have been so many. One would be a night when Oakley Grenell played. There was a big storm and a power cut, so we got the candles out, and everyone sat on the floor while Oakley played an acoustic set.  Then the power miraculously came back on, and the band was able to play.

I also love that we have young artists just starting out, and we get to watch their journey - most will return and play again. Artists also get to stay in the log house, which adds to their experience. 

What do you like to do when you're not working? 

There are many owner-operated hospitality businesses around here, and we like supporting them. We also love going to the Village Theatre. Winter is the quiet season for us, not as much as it used to be now we are open during winters. We used to go overseas a bit, but more recently, we have stayed here as it's a great time to rest, restore, go for walks and to the beach.