© NZPocketGuide.com
© NZPocketGuide.com

From Moonshine to Movies: A Day in Gore

© NZPocketGuide.com

163 Days on the Road

Southland, what activity do you have for us today?! Our Southland adventure has brought us to the city of Gore, not only New Zealand’s “Trout Fishing Capital” but also New Zealand’s “Country Music Capital”! Honestly, they have two huge sculptures at the entrance of the city to prove it! We think Gore might be trying to find its identity nowadays, but Gore itself has an unusual history. One that we are about to discover today!

We drive into the city centre, and might we just add that we find parking with unbelievable ease?! You don’t know how difficult it is to find somewhere to park a 3.3 tonne camper, especially in a city! However, Gore’s city motto is “Rural City Living”, which we guess means you get all the luxuries of farming and the countryside here, while having the conveniences of a city. And, man, Gore is proving to be pretty damn convenient! We have even spotted a few stores we need to go to stock up on supplies, and we might even treat ourselves to the cinema if we have time!

The Hokonui Moonshine Museum

So back to Gore’s history, we pop into the Gore Information Centre which just happens to hold two museums: Gore Historical Museum and The Hokonui Moonshine Museum. That’s right, Gore has a whole museum dedicated to how its residents used to illegally make whisky back in the old days! We have to check this out.

From Scotland to Southland

Paintings of pioneers from yonder years point us down a couple of dark purple corridors until we reach a room titled: “From Scotland… To Southland.” Information panels and a mock up of an early New Zealand settler house tell the story of how whisky was first made in Scotland and then brought over to New Zealand during the mass emigration of Europeans started in the 1800s. One sassy lady in particular, Mary McRae, couldn’t leave home without her distillery kit and that’s how moonshine was introduced in the Hokonui area. (Hokonui is the name of the hills surrounding Gore).

A room to make you feel drunk

The next room is some sort of middle-finger-up to Christianity which taught people that drinking alcohol was a sin. The walls are decorated with 3D paintings of angels holding up banners against drinking. However, anyone out at sea during the early 1800s was notorious for drinking “a bottle o’ rum”, illustrated by mermaids holding bottles. All in all, the room itself makes you feel drunk.

Hotel open, hotel closed

Further down another royal purple corridor, we enter a mock-up of one of the fifteen hotels that used to serve alcohol in the Gore District/Hokonui area. Hokonui whisky lines the shelves behind the bar, and there is even a row of Hokonui Herald newspapers you could take home with you.

But then, everything starts to change. Another corridor leads to the hotel door being boarded up and a sign reads: “Closed until further notice”. We have just entered Gore during the prohibition period. Noooooo! What are we to do?! Where do we go from here without whisky warming our bellies and drowning our sorrows?

Reenacting the drunk moonshine drinkers of the good old days

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Making moonshine in the bush

Twigs hanging from the ceiling in the next room and the sound of birds indicate that we are now moving to the bush, or more specifically, the Hokonui Hills. A couple of scenes are set up with mannequins – you know the classic museum display. One guy distills his whisky in the forest with a huge set-up of homemade metal barrels, funnels and a large coil.

Information panels on the way explain exactly how the distiller works, as well as telling the story of a few instances when people got caught making whisky illegally… This is exactly what our next scene is showing us, three guys sweating over the making of the whisky, while a policeman watches through a hole in the wall. Busted!

Hilarious recollections

Often enough, the stories of men getting caught are quite hilarious, for instance, one dude was brutally honest when being caught with his distiller and then again, owning up to everything right there on the spot, something like: “I have been making whisky for two years, but I really thought I wouldn’t get caught this time. In hindsight, I should have hid the coil better…”

The Gore Historical Museum

Leaving the swinging bar doors marks us leaving the Hokonui Moonshine Museum, a quirky museum showing a snippet of Kiwi history not touched on by any other museum we have been to. Now we enter the mini museum of the Gore Historical Museum, showing displays of old pioneering relics, such as saws from the sawmill, whaling boat models, and more. They also have a section dedicated to the early Maori settlers living in the Gore area, displaying old toki (chisels, like the ones we carved out of jade for each other on Stewart Island), clubs used by warriors, clothing and baskets.

Tasting the Hokonui Moonshine

Before we leave the museums, we are given the opportunity to try some of the original-tasting Hokonui Moonshine and flavoured Hokonui liqueur. As predicted, the original Hokonui Moonshine is super strong, leaves an aftertaste, and warms up your chest! Yep, this stuff would definitely keep you warm in the bush… The honey liqueur is not much better, according to our tastes, but you have to try, don’t you…

An art-deco cinema

Bellies warmed up and throats on fire, we head to an afternoon showing at the St James Theatre! Do you know how long it’s been since we have gone to the cinema?! It’s been more than 163 days that’s for sure. Robin has been having movie withdrawal symptoms for quite a while, so we head to the art-deco styled building on Irk Street and sit down to the new Ben Affleck movie. What’s more, the movie tickets are a whole lot cheaper than what we used to pay for certain chain cinemas.

Popcorn and orange juice in hand – well, you have to stay semi-healthy, right? – we enjoy a relaxing afternoon zoning out to a movie.


Tonight, it’s back to Dolamore Park, Gore’s hidden gem with campground, walks, glowworms and an awesome playground. We’ll be checking out the Dolamore Park walks tomorrow if our scheduled flight in a vintage plane is cancelled… Find out what crazy stuff we do tomorrow!

A huge art-deco themed cinema and theatre in Gore!

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