The frenzy that is the annual Bluff oyster season is upon us. But if you're new to the mollusc world and don't quite get the hype over these tasty treats, here's everything you need to know.
Where can you get them?
Bluff oysters are native to New Zealand and are mainly harvested from the Foveaux Strait, which separates Stewart Island from South Island.
These oysters form dense beds around the coast and have been fished commercially from the Foveaux Strait for hundreds of years.
They're in huge demand as the season opens, there's even an annual Bluff Oyster and Food Festival - but the May 23 event is already sold out.
When can you get them?
Now! The season runs from March 1 to August 31, weather permitting.
Why are they so special?
Invercargill King's Fish Market managing director Greg King tells the Herald part of the appeal is in the history.
"It's the uniqueness of flavour and the fact that they're part of our culture and heritage."
People travel from far and wide to get them.
"We get people from all around the world pulling up in their campervans for this," says King.
Bluff Oyster Management Company operations manager Graeme Wright says it's about the unique environment.
"The Fouveaux Strait is quite unique - that cold, clean, crisp environment definitely makes a difference.
"On the first day of the season we always get mowed down. It's amazing how passionate Southlanders are about oysters."
Why do they cost so much?
Bluff oysters are a delicacy, and part of their appeal is in their limited availability.
Canvas food critic Kim Knight says the difference between Bluff oysters and other varieties is like the difference between eye fillet and flank steak.
"The Bluff oyster has more rigour; more power and refinement than its Pacific counterpart which is, literally, sloppier around the edges."
How much can you expect to pay?
As the season goes on, demand will reduce, but you'll still be shelling out for these delicacies.
King says King's Fish Market sells cooked oysters at $34.40 a dozen and raw around $30 a dozen.
"It's been really busy," says King. "The demand is very strong."
What's the best way to serve them?
Wright says the best way to eat them is raw.
"Some people like them raw or oysters Kilpatrick (served in the shell with a tasty topping of Worcestershire sauce and crispy bacon)."
And King says "it depends who you talk to: Some love them raw, others prefer the flavour cooking brings out."
Chef and Restaurant Hub founder Mark Gregory says there's nothing like the season's first raw Bluff oyster.
"Bluff oysters are meatier and have a more intense flavour than their cousins around New Zealand.
"They are arguably best eaten fresh, raw and straight from the shell."
Where to get them in Auckland
Euro's three-course oyster-themed menu is a great place to start. You can get sesame prawn toast or six Bluff oysters served fresh, for $35 per person - and add more for $20.
The Culpeper is holding a "shellebration" of oysters on the 28th of March, kicking off with 200 free oysters on offer with six each for the first to arrive. They'll also be served freshly shucked with lemon for $2 each all month.
For the keen learners, there's an Oyster and Whisky Master Class at Coley &
Punch on March 10. For $120 you can learn everything there is to know for a couple of hours of oyster shuckin and whisky tasting.
And there's also The Crab Shack Boil Up. At $95 for a family of four or a group of friends, you can enjoy oysters here as part of a selection of delicious seafood in a spicy broth.