Jamie Morton

Jamie Morton is science reporter at the NZ Herald.

Champions of the Coromandel: Annie Oyster's tasty ocean passion

Jamie Morton meets some of the people who make the Coromandel Peninsula so special.

They call her Annie Oyster, the bubbly, hard-case face of the seafood stall on the outskirts of Coromandel town.

But Anne Louden wasn't always that hardy, sleeves-rolled-up type you might think has spent her life hauling mussels and oysters out of the peninsula's harbours.

The co-owner of the Coromandel Oyster Company, a summer institution for countless Kiwis, grew up in Titirangi and once worked an office job in advertising.

Yet when it comes to her personality, locally famous, little has changed.

Over the years, her hearty attitude has helped her start a business, expand it and keep it afloat during hard times, such as when oyster farms all over the country were recently ravaged by herpes.

"You've got to maintain that positive outlook, because if you don't, it just climbs on top of you."

Mrs Louden has happily found her place in Coromandel, her connection to the relaxed peninsula going back to the holidays she'd spend there as a teenager.

"I remember lying on the beach, diving through the waves at Rings Beach, just being a teenager and loving summer."

After backpacking across India and South America as a young woman, she wasn't sure where she wanted to live when she returned to New Zealand.

Anne Louden's enjoyment comes from introducing people to Coromandel's oysters and mussels. Photo / Alan Gibson
Anne Louden's enjoyment comes from introducing people to Coromandel's oysters and mussels. Photo / Alan Gibson

Then she drove over Kirita Hill, just outside of Coromandel town.

"You see that amazing view of the Coromandel, and the islands, and I felt, 'this is me, that's where I want to live'."

Her mother had already moved to the peninsula. The two bought a place in Little Bay and later opened a crafts shop in town.

She remembered walking barefooted down the road in a bright hippie dress, inviting strangers to the store's Christmas party.

"There were a few people who thought, 'God, who is she?', but I don't have too many enemies in town anymore," she said with a laugh.

She met John Louden one night at the Colville dance, then again at a friend's 21st birthday party, "and it blossomed from there".

John had grown up around the aquaculture industry, and his passion soon rubbed off on Anne.

What became the business she and her husband run today began under a canopy at the back of a section John's father had in town.

After gathering oysters from the farms Rex Louden had at the time, the couple and one or two others would take them to the section, part them among the mud, and send them off to processing factories.

Eventually they picked up the lease of the highwayside building the Coromandel Oyster Company now occupies, and began processing the shellfish and selling to local outlets.

Over the years, the operation has grown, as have daughters Gemma, 11, who helps out in the shop, and Brooke, 9, who helps by putting ice in the freezer.

The family are setting up a garden next to the store for customers who stop by to buy a pottle of fresh oysters and mussels, or some chowder or bisque.

Mrs Louden has been a big part of Coromandel's identity over the years, putting on a craft market, helping organise an annual food festival, fronting a weekly radio spot on Coromandel FM and taking part in a promotional cafe crawl.

These days, she tries not to involve herself so much.

"My husband is always telling me as I walk out the door, that when you go to that meeting, say no or keep your mouth shut please."

A new challenge comes along each day, but she offsets it with the joy she gets from introducing people to Coromandel's mussels and oysters.

"I love seeing the girls when they are opening the oysters, and they go, 'wow, these are so amazing'," she said.

"I think it's turning people on to our product, and giving them a Coromandel experience."

- NZ Herald

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