Bluff Oyster Festival: A Culinary Adventure at the Bottom of the World

For a small town, Bluff has made a pretty big splash on the international food scene (pun intended). Known for their world famous oysters, Bluff is also a prime fishing spot for sea urchin, Pāua, scallops, and blue cod to name a few. These tasty treats can be found everywhere from the local fish and chip shop to the high-end eatery in town and if you’re brave enough, you can even head to the shoreline and hop into the frigid water for a chance to catch your own dinner.

Every day, fishermen head out to the Foveaux Strait just off the coast to harvest the wild oysters. Bluff is one of the only places in the world still operating wild oyster fisheries and their delicious flavor is one of a kind.

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This small town of 1,850 residents hosts the annual Bluff Oyster Festival every May, inviting travelers to trek South for a sampling of their fresh seafood. Housed under pavilions built especially for the festival, visitors can taste the local fares from several fisheries all under one roof while still enjoying the crisp Southern air. At $35 a pop, tickets are very affordable but they do sell out fast, so plan accordingly.

I’d surprised Pete with tickets to the festival around Valentine’s day and couldn’t wait to head down for our oyster fix. The festival featured food stalls, oyster shucking & eating contests, and live music from 10:30-5:00pm.

Pro Tip: Muttonbird is a local specialty. With a short season, fresh muttonbird is a rare find but most locals prefer it salted anyway. 

This year, the weather leading up to the big day was horrendous. Storms pounded the region for days, keeping boats out of the water, and the fisheries only just managed to get a few boats out the day before the event. The high on the day of the festival was 10°C/50°F and saturated grey clouds hovered ominously over us all day. The occasional break in the rain gave everyone a chance to scurry between tents or briefly hang by the stage and listen to the live music.

Despite the weather, People remained in good spirits. This may have had something to do with the wine and beer tent being open for business from 10:30am onwards, but really,  whose to say. The crowd started got rowdier as the day went on so we left around 2:30pm (when they’d sold out of oysters) and headed to The Eagle, a local pub just one block from the festivities.

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This bar will forever be known as the place where Pete introduced me to Mudshakes. If you’re unfamiliar, they’re basically a premixed drink with chocolate milk and vodka and apparently the drink of choice for teenage girls. This is not the drink to order at a swanky hipster bar but man, oh, man are they delicious.

Even though we stuck out like sore thumbs, locals were so welcoming, coming over to chat and offering recommendations of where to go for a walk by Stirling point. This hospitality continued at our AMAZING Airbnb where our hosts Cindy and Shane invited us to join their family dinner, making us feel so welcome in their home. Their crayfish fried rice may have been one of the best things I ate all weekend; we will 100% stay there again if we ever find ourselves back in Bluff.

Always keen for a road trip, we’d decided to fly in and out of Dunedin,  renting a car to get the rest of the way down to Bluff. I’m so glad we did because driving through the Caitlins was one of the highlights of the trip. The rain kept us from exploring the coast but the views from the road were exceptional and now we have a reason to go back again.

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On the way home, we had a few hours to kill in Dunedin before flying back to Christchurch. Unsurprisingly it was still raining but that didn’t stop us from walking around the CBD and up to the Otago Museum.

I will definitely be keeping an eye on flight deals so I can head back to Dunedin for a longer trip. I’m keen to check out more of the city (they proudly boast the world’s steepest street) and to take a drive out towards the Otago Peninsula to see the wildlife.

All in all, it was a perfect weekend getaway with delicious food, beautiful scenery, and the best company. Pete’s about to disappear for a couple months as he hunkers down to study for his CPL (commercial pilot’s license) exam so I’m so happy we got in one more adventure before he embraces the hermit life.

I may have to start looking into some solo travel so let me know if you have any recs for good places in Canterbury. Also, if you have any Dunedin recommendations, let me know in the comments below!

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