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A Hipster Guide to New Zealand's South Island

Published June 23rd, 2015

Wellington may be hailed as New Zealand's hipster capital, but I found my fair share of man buns, craft brews and trendy pop-ups at the southern end of the country. Oh yes, the too-cool-for-school force is strong in this island.

Blazing through the South Island countryside, stopping for an organic coffee or a cider that was freshly crushed just down the road, my inner hipster could finally be set free.

So here it is. The unofficially official hipster guide to the South Island. It's pretty much just burgers and bars. Because what else is there?


CHRISTCHURCH: Brunch away at Black Betty Cafe



To borrow from Mark Twain, reports of Christchurch's death have been greatly exaggerated. While a large chunk of the CBD remains flattened, art installations and shipping container boutiques have sprung from the rubble. It's a new dawn, it's a new day.

NZ's second largest city has lost none of its soul. It remains the perfect springboard for South Island adventures and the place to fuel up before such adventures has to be Black Betty. There's free-range and organic errything but superfood cafe this ain't.

I can recommend Betty's Bacon Butty and the French Toast Crumpets with crispy bacon and grilled banana. Now THAT is super food.


CHRISTCHURCH: Take a nightcap at The Last Word


Quaint New Regent Street in #Christchurch

A photo posted by Ashton Rigg (@ashtonrigg) on


The Last Word was one of those hidden gems I found by merit of our own two feet. It was a frosty single-digit-degree Christchurch night when my hipster sense began to tingle. There, at the heart of the adorably Art Deco-style New Regent Street, was a tiny hidey-hole with 'whiskey & cocktail lounge' painted in glorious typography upon its door. The Last Word is a self-proclaimed whisky library open 'til late every evening, with leather-bound Scotch bibles on the mix-and-match tables and paper doilies beneath vintage crystal glasses. Sigh.


WANAKA: Fuel up at Urban Grind


Tea stop in #Wanaka. The coffee in #nz has had me bouncing off the walls! ☕️ #lovewanaka A photo posted by Ashton Rigg (@ashtonrigg) on


They call Wanaka the Byron Bay of the South Island. While spotlight-hogs like the Queenstown and the Gold Coast work it for the holiday paparazzi, Wanaka and Byron Bay remain their mega chill selves off the red carpet. Keep doing you, Wanaka.

This is a town so ultra-modern there is a dedicated hashtag for a particularly photogenic tree (#thatwanakatree). Where there are hashtags, there's bound to be some sweet cafe action. I particularly enjoyed Urban Grind, and not just for the free Wi-Fi.

Once again I went all butty up in the South Island. I like big butties and I cannot lie, but I also sampled the roti roll with pork belly, pickle cucumber and sesame.


QUEENSTOWN: Vintage cycle around Arrowtown


Lovely, lovely #Arrowtown

A photo posted by Ashton Rigg (@ashtonrigg) on


Arrowtown is perhaps the most downright adorable place you will ever encounter. It's all sandstone, chimneys and tiny doorways. The best / most hipsteriffic way to get around the former Gold Rush town is on two wheels. Hire a velo and weave through Arrowtown's autumnal streets, stopping off for lunch and a local pint at The Chop Shop Food Merchants and a Hokey Pokey ice cream or Jaffa milkshake from The Shed. You can keep on peddling through Otago wine country if you want, all the way back to Queenstown 20 clicks down the road.


QUEENSTOWN: Get in line for Fergburger


✅ Fergburger ✅ Fergbaker ✅Food coma A photo posted by Ashton Rigg (@ashtonrigg) on


Fergburger is Queenstown's worst kept secret. This is THE burger joint on the South Island, where people line up slavishly for their Ferg fix every day and night.

Savvy (and serious) burger lovers will want to rock up in the early evening before the sun has gone down. Even then, be prepared to throw elbows for a table.

If you dare stray beyond the classic beef Fergburger, try the Chief Wiggum – slow-roasted pork belly, lettuce, tomato, red onion, hashbrown, aioli and apricot seeded mustard. Ferg's has been around for nearly 15 years and is well worth making the pilgrimage for. I for one welcome our new burger overlords.


ALEXANDRA: Drool over the cakes at The Courthouse


A cabinet full of happiness in #Alexandra

A photo posted by Ashton Rigg (@ashtonrigg) on


If you're road-tripping the South isle, you will no doubt be mapping your journey around spots where you can fuel up both yourself and your motor vehicle. Alexandra is one such place where this magic can happen. Pin it on your route between Queenstown and Dunedin and swing into The Courthouse Cafe & Bar. The cawfee is a real heart-starter and the cakes... oh, the cakes... Beyond the ace lammos and GIGANTIC meringues on offer, Alexandra has plenty of quirk. Right in the heart of the Otago region, it's said to be the hottest, driest and coldest place in New Zealand. The more you know.


DUNEDIN: Put venison on your buns at Velvet Burger


Drinking L&P like a local A photo posted by Ashton Rigg (@ashtonrigg) on


It may sound like the name of a 70s porno, but Velvet Burger is very much G-rated. 'G' for 'get in my mouth'. A sizeable student population breathes life into the otherwise sleepy Dunedin (visiting on uni break can be a bit of a snooze-fest) and when the kids are in need of a study break, they go to Velvet Burger (or at least I would).

These home-grown burgers are pretty, pretty, pretty, pretty good, as Larry David would say. I myself opted for the Babe – crumbed chicken breast, bacon, pineapple, cheese, aioli, velvet relish and salad.

Go all out with a side of chups (choice between fatties or skinnies) and an L&P to wash it down. It doesn't get more kiwi than that, unless you're watching the All Blacks at the same time and using the NZ flag as a napkin.


DUNEDIN: Sneak upstairs for a tipple at Plato


That time in #Dunedin where we had a seafaring bar to ourselves...

A photo posted by Ashton Rigg (@ashtonrigg) on


"How did you find out about this place?" asked an incredulous Kiwi pair when a couple of half-cut Aussies invaded their private sanctuary. You know you're in the right place when the locals are miffed. Score!

Plato comes highly recommended and is located in the midst of industrial warehouses, instantly giving it a big hipster tick of approval. It also has an upstairs bar with a roaring fire, which I daresay has heard its fair share of sea shanties.

Do make a booking in advance and do order the fish coated in kelp crust. No 'chups' here, but there are root vegetables which, let's face it, are pretty much the hipster equivalent of chips anyway.

Ashton Rigg

When I'm not at home in Brisbane, you’ll find me wanderlusting around hipster bars, eclectic boutiques and arty nooks. From bagels in Brooklyn to strudel in Salzburg, I believe the best way to experience a destination is by taking a bite! Tweets & 'grams at @AshtonRigg