Australian shares end lower on mining, energy stocks; NZ at all-time high

* ASX volumes lowest since early Oct in pre-Christmas trade

* Bega Cheese hits near 2-month high on maintaining FY outlook

* Restaurant Brands NZ at record high, buys 70 KFC stores in USA (Updates to close)

Dec 23 (Reuters) - Australian shares declined in thin trade on Monday as mining stocks retreated after a run of strong gains and lower oil prices weighed on the energy sector.

The S&P/ASX 200 index closed down 0.5%, or 31.20 points, at 6,785.10, with volumes at their lowest level since early October. The benchmark slipped 0.3% on Friday.

The metals and mining sub-index fell 1.3%, after clocking two straight weeks of gains.

BHP Group Ltd, the world’s biggest miner, fell 1.3%, while rival Rio Tinto Ltd lost 1.8%. Australia’s No. 3 iron ore miner Fortescue Metals Group Ltd declined 1.2%.

Gold stocks lost 0.8% as investors booked profits after a recent rally. The index rose 3.5% last week, clocking its best weekly gain since late September.

Sector heavyweight Newcrest Mining Ltd slipped 0.7%, while smaller peer Saracen Mineral Holdings Ltd fell 3.6%.

Shares of Northern Star Resources Ltd closed down 0.8%, after falling up to 3.5% during the session.

Northern Star said it was aware of proceedings filed against some of its units over a joint venture agreement dispute. It said the proceedings were not material and would be defended.

Oil and gas companies Woodside Petroleum Ltd and Oil Search Ltd lost 0.3% and 1.2%, respectively, as crude prices slipped.

Dairy products maker Bega Cheese Ltd hit a near two-month high and was the biggest gainer on the bourse after it maintained its fiscal 2020 earnings outlook.

Outside the main index, rare earths developer Arafura Resources Ltd ended up 3.5% after it said it struck a preliminary deal with a U.S. company for the latter to process its rare earths product.

The ASX is set to close early on Tuesday and will remain closed for two days from Wednesday for Christmas and Boxing day.

New Zealand’s benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index rose 0.6%, or 64.94 points, to finish the session at an all-time high of 11,547.23.

Restaurant Brands New Zealand Ltd firmed 6.5% to a record close and was the best performer on the benchmark after the food retailer said it would buy 70 stores of KFC U.S. franchisee in Southern California. (Reporting by Niyati Shetty in Bengaluru; Editing by Aditya Soni)