While it may be a small country town in the heart of Southland, Gore does not live up to its parochial reputation. Discover internationally renowned art, beautiful public gardens, incredible heritage aircraft; learn about the history of illegal whisky making and try your hand at some of the best fly fishing spots in the world.
1. Gore Public Gardens
In the centre of Gore you’ll find the perfectly manicured public gardens bursting with blooms. Depending on the season you can wander amongst a huge variety of roses, colourful camellias, peonies, tulips and springtime blossoms, and there are several magnificent specimen trees providing shade for picnics in summer. But the unexpected highlight here are the large aviaries, populated with curious exotic birds. Golden pheasants and peacocks proudly show off their multi-coloured plumage, finches flutter, quails scurry and cheeky green parakeets will flit down to eye level while wolf-whistling. Best of all, a visit to the Gore Public Gardens is completely free.
2. Eastern Southland Gallery
For a small town, Gore punches well above its weight when it comes to art. The Eastern Southland Gallery, housed in a beautiful brick building that was once the Carnegie Public Library, is recognised as one of the best provincial galleries in New Zealand. Works from Rita Angus, Len Lye, Ralph Hotere and the controversial Theo Schoon sit alongside the internationally significant John Money Collection, gifted to the gallery by the Baltimore-based academic, philanthropist and arts patron. With regularly changing exhibitions alongside these historically important works, it’s a great place to soak up some artistic edification.
3. Hokonui Moonshine Museum
The Hokonui Moonshine Museum explores the history of Gore’s intrepid, innovative and at times illegal distilling industry. Scottish settlers the McCrae family began distilling whisky here in the late 1800s. Mary McCrae was the matriarch of moonshine; historically women were responsible for home distilling in the 1800s, and Mary emigrated from Scotland with her own still. Inside the soon-to-open and completely revamped museum you’ll be confronted by an installation from renowned Ōamaru artist Donna Demente called 'The Broad Way' graphically illustrating the early battles with booze in the South Island. Other exhibits tell the story of the fights between publicans and those in the temperance movement, with rival newspapers pushing both sides of the cause. Dioramas show cowboy distillers in farm sheds and bush huts with homemade copper stills. The museum also features a new, onsite distillery with a bespoke still made by the team who built the Len Lye Centre in New Plymouth. The all-new Hokonui Moonshine Museum is located inside the Gore Visitor Centre and is due to open in early 2022.
4. Croydon Aviation Heritage Centre
At Mandeville, on the outskirts of Gore, a country airstrip in the middle of nowhere has evolved into an extensive collection of aircraft and an onsite restoration workshop, thanks to a passionate team of locals. Wander through the cavernous aircraft hangar to get up close with beautifully restored planes – predominantly De Havillands, with cheerful yellow Tiger Moths and an impressive blue Dragonfly sitting alongside a bright orange Fox Moth that was once a passenger plane on the West Coast. You can also visit the working workshop next door to see the restorations in progress. Planes can be considered original rather than replicas if there are some existing parts, so the team of skilled craftspeople in the workshop create beautiful, aerodynamic pieces out of wood with fabric literally zipped along the undercarriage to contain the wires and other mechanisms. Stay for a coffee or lunch at the excellent Miss Cocoa café within the precinct, and check out the selection of homeware and gifts.
5. Fly Fishing
Gore is also renowned as one of the world’s best spots for fly fishing. In fact it boasts the title of ‘Brown Trout Capital of the World,’ with a giant trout statue in the middle of town to reinforce the point. But there’s no denying that the Mataura River, which runs through the centre of town, is rich in fish. If you want to try your hand at this specialist sport, hire a local guide like Barry Perkins from Fly Fish Mataura to show you the ropes. Fly fishing is an art form, with anglers taking pride in their handmade flies and their careful conservation and catch and release techniques.