Gold miners drag down Australian shares; NZ falls 2%

* Gold stocks see worst day in over 1-1/2 months

* Energy stocks finish at highest in 10 months

* NZ stocks see worst day in six months, down 2%

* NZ central bank looking into data systems breach (Updates to close)

Jan 11 (Reuters) - Australian shares settled lower on Monday as cases of highly transmissible new COVID-19 variants dimmed hopes for a quick economic recovery, with gold miners leading the retreat on bullion sell-offs.

While New South Wales eased lockdown measures introduced to contain an outbreak in its northern coastal suburbs, health officials said over the weekend that they were on high alert after cases of the new COVID-19 variants discovered in Britain and South Africa were identified in the country.

“Although there is light at the end of the tunnel, the end of the tunnel is still some way away,” said Henry Jennings, a senior analyst at Marcus Today Financial Newsletter.

“Given our experiences with lockdowns coming in at very short notice and borders closing, it does make it very hard for businesses to recover in a proper, orderly fashion.”

The S&P/ASX 200 index fell 0.9% to 6,697.2, led by a 4.3% drop in gold stocks as bullion prices slumped to a near six-week low on a firmer U.S. dollar and higher Treasury yields.

Newcrest Mining gave up 3.6% and AngloGold Ashanti eased 4.3% to be the biggest drags on the sub-index.

The weakness in gold stocks pressured miners, which declined 1.3%. Weaker Chinese steel futures on growing inventories and easing demand also hurt heavyweight miners.

The healthcare sub-index settled 1.2% lower, with industry giant CSL Ltd shedding 1.5% and Sonic Healthcare losing 1.1%.

Woodside Petroleum and Santos helped the energy sub-index rise 0.7% to close at its highest since March 2020.

New Zealand’s benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index fell 2% to 13,290.09 in its worst session since July 9.

The country’s central bank said it was responding to a breach of one of its data systems after a third-party file-sharing service it uses to share and store some sensitive information was illegally accessed. (Reporting by Arpit Nayak in Bengaluru; Editing by Subhranshu Sahu)