Whatever kind of nighttime entertainment you're looking for, you can find it somewhere in New Zealand. With only a handful of big cities and many small towns, New Zealand isn't a very densely populated country, so bigger nightclubs and cocktail bars are mostly concentrated in the cities, particularly Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch, and Dunedin. Smaller clubs, bars, pubs, and restaurants with extended evening hours can be found all over the country, though, so even in the smallest towns, you'll usually be able to find somewhere to grab a beer or glass of wine. Here's what you need to know about nightlife in New Zealand.
You can find all kinds of bars throughout New Zealand, such as fancy cocktail bars, student bars, micro-brew bars, and backpacker hangouts. There's a wide variety in the big cities and larger towns. In smaller towns, bars are normally called pubs, and you can usually find a good pint of local beer or a house wine.
Here are a few popular bars in New Zealand's main centers:
- Auckland: Dr Rudi's Rooftop Brewing Co. in Viaduct Basin has amazing views and craft beers, some brewed on site. Housebar at Hotel DeBrett serves classy cocktails in an Art Deco setting. Queen Street and the Viaduct Basin area are great nightlife spots.
- Wellington: Hawthorn Lounge, a 1930s-style speakeasy cocktail bar, stands out in Wellington's trendy bar scene. The Library wins points for its novelty factor of walls lined with books, and it offers great tapas, cheese, and desserts as well as drinks. In Wellington, the area around the Cuba Street Mall has a dense concentration of restaurants and bars.
- Christchurch: O.G.B. is set in a heritage building and has an outdoor courtyard and frequent live music, so it's a favorite in the warmer months but consistently busy every night of the week. In Christchurch, the Central Business District (CBD) is your best bet after dark.
- Dunedin: Inch Bar, as the name suggests, is small! They serve great beer in a cozy setting in the North East Valley. Other popular bars can be found around the Octagon and on George Street and Princes Street. The closer you get to the University of Otago, the more the bars are suited to students.
If you want to dance but prefer an alternative to live music, a club is your best bet. There are plenty to choose from in the big cities and a decent range in towns with sizable student populations or that are popular with tourists. But clubbing isn't as much of a big deal in New Zealand as in some other parts of the world, so you won't be able to find them everywhere. Clubs are more likely to have cover charges and strict dress codes than bars. The line between bar and club in New Zealand is quite hazy.
New Zealanders tend to eat dinner fairly early, with dinner service in most places ending around 9 p.m. and the busiest hours happening between 7 p.m. and 8 p.m. But New Zealand's liquor licensing laws mean that everywhere that serves alcoholic drinks must have food available to purchase (the rationale being that eating while drinking significantly reduces the risk, and level, of intoxication). So the line between restaurant and bar can sometimes be very fine with some bars selling excellent food and some restaurants turning into bars later at night.
Live music is popular in New Zealand, and on the weekends, you can expect to find a cover band playing somewhere in small cities and large towns. In the big cities, there's much more variety and you'll be able to find original acts, too. There's usually some kind of cover charge to watch live music, especially on weekend nights.
There's only one dedicated comedy club in Auckland, the Classic, but it hosts the annual New Zealand International Comedy Festival, so it's a big deal in the comedy world. Many other music and entertainment venues in Auckland and other big cities host comedy shows, and in smaller towns you may be able to catch a touring or one-off comedy show from time to time.
Wine and beer festivals are especially popular in New Zealand, as the country produces excellent wine and craft beers, and there are many opportunities to celebrate these. While they're not exclusively held at night, you can start on a sunny afternoon and keep going after the sun goes down if you wish. Some of New Zealand's most popular wine and beer festivals include the following:
- Rhythm and Vines (Gisborne): Enjoy music and wine in one of New Zealand's premier wine-producing regions.
- Beervana (Wellington): Celebrate craft beer in the capital.
- Gabs Festival (Auckland): Also held in several Australian cities, this festival celebrates good beer, cider, and food.
- Toast (Martinborough): A wine-focused festival held in sunny late spring.
- Marlborough Wine and Food Festival (Marlborough region): This is New Zealand's longest-running festival of its kind.
Tips for Going Out in New Zealand
- New Zealand's drinking age is 18, but in practice anyone who looks under 25 will probably be asked to show ID. A passport or driver's license (or a NZ 18+ card, which most tourists are unlikely to have) are the only valid forms of ID. If you're drinking in a restaurant, you're less likely to be asked for ID (unless you look very young) than when lining up to enter a club.
- Dress codes vary depending on whether you're out in a big city or small town. In the cities and larger towns, dress codes are usually more applicable to men, who will be asked to wear closed-toe dress shoes (no flip-flops or sports shoes). Some places also specify a collared shirt and may prohibit singlets (sleeveless vest tops) or shorts. In small towns, there's rarely a dress code, and standards tend to be extremely casual. However, one thing that almost every respectable bar, restaurant, or club will prohibit is gang insignia or gang colors. As a tourist, you won't really need to worry about this. Opt for smart casual in most places, and you won't be turned away.
- Tipping is not standard in New Zealand. It's not expected in most places and will even be considered odd. Bar and restaurant workers (along with everyone else in the country) are paid at least the minimum national wage, often more, so tipping is considered unnecessary.
- In the big cities, taxis or rideshare apps will be available at night after public transit shuts down. In smaller towns, there are rarely taxis or public transit, so you'll either need to stay within walking distance of the nightlife, or designate a sober driver to get you home safely if you plan to drink.
- Local laws vary, but many cities and towns prohibit drinking in the streets at any time of day. You will often see signs saying that you're in a "liquor ban area," or something similar. If you're having a quiet lunchtime picnic in a park with food and discreet drinks, you're unlikely to run into any trouble, but be aware that this might technically be illegal depending on where you are. Drinking in the streets at night is illegal.
- Smoking is prohibited in New Zealand bars, restaurants, clubs, and any public indoor areas.
- Cover charges are usually more common in clubs in the cities on popular weekend nights or if there's a live band playing. These can range from a couple of dollars to about $20 per person.
- Closing hours differ according to location and type of establishment. By law, bars and clubs must close at 4 a.m. Some venues, especially in smaller towns, will close earlier than this.