I stood on the hilltop and gazed out at the azure sea below. Penguins played in crisp waves as snow-capped mountains twinkled in a cloudless sky. New Zealand is the home of sand and surf, exotic Southern Hemisphere wildlife, a bounty of tropical rainforests and tramping trails that wind endlessly. It's no secret that New Zealand is an outdoor wonderland. However, New Zealand's beauty is only part of its allure.

On a recent trip exploring the country's great outdoors, I also experienced some of its great indoors. More than just a pretty face, New Zealand is a progressive, hip country that prides itself in hosting a wide variety of trendy nightlife spots and fantastic dining.

As the largest city on New Zealand's South Island, Christchurch feels like someone spilled a country town over a metropolitan city. Uncomplicated and low-key, Christchurch still offers big-city amenities "” including plenty of eateries, shopping and after-hours fun.

Popular with the college crowd, the Grumpy Mole "” decorated in a country-cowboy motif "” also features a dance floor, 24-hour alcohol service and wide-screen TVs.

Down the road, the ultra-hip Foam Lounge Bar features nightly house and hip-hop music, with a decor accented by white vinyl, red velour and a pool table, as well as the city's first train tracks running through the bar. Foam offers a menu of 40 different cocktails.

In general, Manchester Street hosts popular pubs and hangouts catering to a variety of late-night tastes. Agents should point travelers toward the best restaurant row in town at Oxford Terrace, which offers numerous dining options by the river, like the delicious Sticky Fingers.

Agents recommending nightspots to Wellington-bound clients should consider Courtenay Place for a more established setting and Cuba Street for a slightly livelier scene. Both streets offer plenty of places to stop for a drink, but Wellington remains more of a young college town.

Clients looking for something hidden might try Good Luck. The scene is so hip, the bar doesn't need a sign. Found on Cuba Street, visitors should go down the stairs next to the Thai restaurant with the yellow sign by the Matterhorn (another popular hangout) to see this trendy retreat. Once inside, partiers will find a dimly lit, brick-walled bar playing cool Motown music with beer on tap and a cover charge after 10 p.m.

Logan Brown is my favorite Wellington spot. While primarily a fantastic restaurant, Logan Brown touts a clear glass bar filled with sea horses, starfish and other aquatics.

While on Courtenay Place, Hummingbird offers a warm, cozy restaurant and bar catering to those beyond the college scene "” serving up wine, French cuisine and New Zealand-style tapas. Hummingbird also has live music.

Visitors should note that venturing beyond downtown Wellington by foot is a workout. The city's hills are comparable to San Francisco's steepest slopes.

Auckland is the most populous and cosmopolitan city in New Zealand. Although there is no shortage of trendy stops, the area around the Viaduct offers the best nightlife in the city. The Viaduct is also in walking distance to legendary Queen Street's many bars, clubs and the tourist center.

The Viaduct's Minus 5 invites clients into the world's coolest bar "” literally. Visitors will find ice sculptures, ice chairs and ice glasses served atop an icy bar. For a $17 cover, patrons get a parka and boots for a frozen 30-minute experience.

After chillin' at Minus 5, clients can warm up by the fireplace in another stylish spot. Pasha offers exotic Middle-Eastern appeal with a full bar, tapas and plush, red decor.

Ponsonby Street is another notable Auckland area. The stretch is loaded with clubs to suit most tastes, including favorites like Lime and Vicky's Bar. Clients can also find a dance partner at the outrageous and gay-friendly SPQR.

And when morning comes, travelers can always escape to New Zealand's great outdoors.


Minus 5


Vicky's Bar


The Grumpy Mole

Sticky Fingers

Good Luck Bar


Logan Brown


Written and photographed by Devin Galaudet
Originally published in TravelAge West