Bluff Oyster season is well underway, and these briny delights are best enjoyed down south, as Emma Gleason discovers
It's the highlight in every seafood connoisseurs' calendar, the chapter of the year when Bluff oysters are harvested, served up and enjoyed around Aotearoa. Though this delicacy can be enjoyed in restaurants and eateries across the country, it's hard to surpass the taste of a fresh Bluff oyster at its namesake locale – Bluff.
Perched at the end of the South Island, Bluff is one of the pearls of Southland. A seaport town with a splash of tourism due to its economic focus on seafood and picturesque location, many oyster aficionados make a pilgrimage each year to enjoy these delicacies in situ. The region is also famed for its blue cod, which is well worth trying while you're down there.
We stayed at the appropriately named Land's End hotel. Right by the water at Stirling Point, it looks out across the dramatic expanse of the Foveaux Strait, with Rakiura Stewart Island on the horizon. One of a handful of accommodation options on booking.com for Bluff, it was an easy choice to make. As we were in Bluff in winter, we wanted to ensure that we would be comfortable and Land's End's listing boasted heated rooms, free Wi-Fi and a complimentary continental breakfast. Pictures showed a warm, cottage-style boutique hotel with a crackling fire. And it was by that fire that we found ourselves in the depths of July, watching the weather roll in and planning our oyster strategy.
First, we tried them au naturel at the hotel's neighbouring restaurant Oyster Cove. Delicate and briny, they were served up raw and fresh as could be, alongside some crusty bread. I washed mine down with a buttery chardonnay that, though squally weather was lashing at the window, was the perfect match for a delicacy like Bluff oysters.
Bluff is only 30km from Invercargill and sits on a dramatic peninsula. It's overlooked by Motupōhue (Bluff Hill), which offers a commanding view of the coast if you can withstand the powerful wind, which we managed after lunch – just. Windswept and keen to explore the cinematic township, we then wandered along the main stretch of road that winds around the coast – old cottages, bungalows and Art Deco homes standing steadfast in the face of the southern winds.
We soon found ourselves at the pub for a cold beer: The Eagle on Gore St, with a characterful brick exterior and wood-panelling inside, giving shelter to a handful of locals. At only $11.60 for two handles, we felt like locals too. Hungry again – winter down south will do that to you – we headed into the nearby Galley takeaway shop.
We ordered battered oysters which, though some may think sacrilegious, are truly divine. So good in fact we ate them in the carpark, straight out of the paper wrapping with greasy, salty fingers while reading a copy of the Bluff Beacon that we'd picked up while we were there. As we bite in, the crisp golden batter gives way to reveal an oyster so tender it's almost melting, with its already rich, meaty flavour heightened from being cooked – an altogether different experience than the fresh ones we had earlier, but equally delicious.
There are countless ways to enjoy this famous delicacy in Bluff and the surrounding Southland area and, though the Bluff Oyster Festival in May is already sold out, visitors can enjoy oysters at eateries around the region, or buy your own directly from suppliers like Barnes Wild Bluff Oysters or Fowlers Oysters.
Book a visit to Bluff now and experience this special, salty corner of Aotearoa for yourself.
The Bluff Oyster Festival takes place on May 22. Tickets are sold out but you can enjoy oyster season in the region until August. bluff.co.nz
Find and book Land's End Hotel on booking.com