Thursday, May 17, 2012

Bluff Oysters on South Island - New Zealand

New Zealand’s South Island is wild and stunningly beautiful, with coves, fjords, and cliffs framing the cool, pristine waters of the Tasman Sea and Foveaux Strait. The cool-climate conditions at the island’s southernmost point have produced some fascinating wildlife and delicious foodstuffs, and it’s the world-renowned Bluff oysters that attract visitors from around the world.

The town of Bluff runs along the edge of New Zealand’s most southerly peninsula, sheltered by the high range of hills that reach a peak in the old volcanic cone of “Old Man Bluff,” or Bluff Hill. The South Island’s State Highway No. 1 ends just outside town, where the waters of the Foveaux Strait lap around the Bluff Scenic Reserve – or Motupōhue – and its Glory Walking Track.
From the summit of Bluff Hill there are panoramic views across the strait to Stewart Island, which offer a rare chance of glimpsing one of the rarest whales in the world, the southern right whale (tohorā), or the charming little blue penguin (titi).
For most of the year, Bluff is a sleepy addendum to the livelier nearby city of Invercargill, and it’s inhabited by hardy folks who celebrate living at the extremity of a country. But from May to August each year, this laid-back town becomes the focus for the world’s oyster lovers. Tiostrea chilensis oysters have been harvested commercially in New Zealand’s deep south since the 1860s, originally off Stewart Island, but closer to Bluff from the 1880s, giving the oysters their name. Today, up to 10 million of the succulent bivalves are gathered annually, and they are considered to be the finest oysters in the world. The first catches of the year take place in early March, and the boats’ return is eagerly awaited. In the restaurants of Auckland, a dozen of these delicious oysters cost more than NZ$50, but in Invercargill and Bluff, seafood suppliers sell the same number for less than half the price.
Tourists lucky enough to visit the area in May can attend the annual Bluff Oyster & Food Festival, which is proudly promoted with the tagline “Unsophisticated and proud of it!” The day’s oyster-opening and -eating competitions are appetizers to heaped plates of local crayfish, paua (abalone), scallops, and blue cod, and of course more Bluff oysters. Around 20,000 are eaten at the festival, all washed down with the fine wines of the Central Otago vineyards or local beers such as the Pitch Black stout of the Invercargill Brewing Company.
Bluff’s easy-going southern ambience infuses travel throughout the surrounding region. To the west lies the dreamlike scenery of the Fiordland National Park. In a country of astounding landscapes, Fiordland trumps everywhere else, with its jagged mountain peaks, fjords, lakes, vast alpine river valleys, and beautiful walking tracks. To the east, the isolated coves and clifftop lookouts of the Catlins coast provide the perfect places for impromptu seafood picnics.

Freshly shucked oysters, eaten raw with just a squeeze of lemon, are everyone’s favorite in Bluff

The 40-mile (53-km) Milford Track takes walkers past Mitre Peak, in the breathtaking wilderness of Milford Sound

Three Days on the Southern Scenic Route
This is a region of astonishing natural beauty – allow plenty of time to be captivated by the views and charmed by some of the southern hemisphere’s most engaging wildlife.
DAY ONE : From Dunedin head south along the rugged Catlins coastline. At Roaring Bay, hoiho (yellow-eyed penguins) waddle from the ocean at dusk. At Papatowai, visit Blair Sommerville’s quirky Lost Gypsy gallery. Detour to the spectacular Cathedral Caves, then look for dolphins in the surf along the graceful sweep of Porpoise Bay.
DAY TWO : Explore Invercargill. The Southland Museum has a great display of tuatara, New Zealand’s reptiles, which haven’t changed in 220 million years. Catch the ferry from nearby Bluff to Stewart Island for an opportunity to see kiwis in the wild.
DAY THREE : Continue west to the Fiordland National Park. Head for Doubtful Sound to go kayaking in a beautifully isolated spot – just getting there takes a languid combination of two boats and a bus. Or visit Milford Sound, punctuated by the iconic profile of Mitre Peak, the spectacular end point for the Milford Track.
Getting to South Island
Dunedin has regular flights from Auckland, New Zealand’s main international airport. The airport has a bus shuttle and car rental.
Where to stay in South Island
Living Space (inexpensive) has sleek rooms in a restored 1907 warehouse.
Nugget Lodge (moderate) has two beachfront cabins in the Catlins.
Te Anau Lodge (expensive) is a luxurious and stately B&B that was originally built as a convent in the 1930s.

The shy kiwi bird is indigenous to New Zealand and is found nowhere else in the world – it is the country’s national symbol

Oysters Around the World

Although most food now seems to be available virtually anywhere at any time of year, the only way to sample the finest oysters is to eat them close to their native waters. The exceptional oyster restaurants tend to be close to the best oyster beds.
Niagara Falls Café 
256 Niagara-Waikawa Rd., South Catlins;
Part roadside restaurant and part funky art gallery, the Niagara Falls Café partners Bluff oysters with flinty Central Otago Riesling or zingy Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc. Seafood aficionados should definitely follow up with the blue cod in a herb and Chardonnay sauce.
Redcliff Restaurant & Bar
12 Mokonui St., Te Anau; +64 3 249 7431
A dozen Bluff oysters or house-smoked salmon at Te Anau’s Redcliff Restaurant & Bar is the perfect celebration after completing Fiordland’s iconic Milford Track. Redcliff’s cozy bar is also the place to catch live music on summer weekends.
Seafood from Australia’s verdant island extension is venerated by mainland chefs in Sydney and Melbourne, especially oysters from Tasmania’s pristine, cooler waters. Eating a freshly shucked half-dozen at the source is an essential Down Under experience.
Get Shucked
1650 Bruny Island Main Rd., Bruny Island;
Keep it simple with a splash of Tabasco and a squeeze of lemon at Get Shucked’s roadside stand on rugged and robust Bruny Island. An essential complement is a zingy chili pepper (nonalcoholic) brew from the Tasmanian Chilli Beer Company.
Freycinet Marine Farm
1784 Coles Bay Rd., Coles Bay;
Simple wooden tables belie a sophisticated combo of oysters fresh from nearby Great Oyster Bay and the best of Tasmanian beer and wine. Improbably plump mussels and rock lobsters – from December to May only – are other tasty diversions.
Marque IV
Elizabeth St. Pier, Hobart;
Hobart’s brilliant southern light shimmers on rows of fishing boats as Marque IV’s elegant harborside dining room showcases the best Tasmanian produce.
For oyster fans, the most delicious and innovative enhancements include limoncello and chili pepper or cucumber sorbet and Avruga roe.
One of the world’s great harbor cities is also a brilliant destination for fresh seafood. The oyster experience here stretches from humble market stands to stylish waterfront bars. Fine Australian wine is usually close at hand.
Sydney Fish Market
Bank St., Prymont; After the fish bazaars of Japan, Sydney Fish Market offers the world’s widest variety of seafood.
Curious foodie travelers can seek out and sample at least ten different types of oysters, together with only-in-Australia seafood such as leather jackets, yabbies, and Moreton Bay bugs.
Doyles on the Beach
11 Marine Parade, Watson’s Bay;
With harbor views to downtown Sydney and a beachfront location, Doyles at Watson’s Bay is one of Australia’s iconic dining experiences. Highlights include creamy oysters Mornay and oysters Kilpatrick.
Sydney Cove Oyster Bar
1 East Circular Quay;
With unbeatable views of the cosmopolitan waterborne buzz of Circular Quay, this quintessential Sydney restaurant specializes in seafood – especially oysters – caught off New South Wales.
From oysters Bienville and Rockefeller to po’ boys, New Orleans has inspired more iconic oyster recipes than any other city.
Felix’s Restaurant & Oyster Bar
739 Iberville St., French Quarter;
Felix’s stays true to its 100-plus years of French Quarter history, and remains a favorite for New Orleans natives. After a night out on Bourbon Street, freshly shucked oysters and a Cajun-style Bloody Mary cocktail make for a reviving brunch.
Drago’s Seafood Restaurant
3232 North Arnoult Road, Metairie;
Grilled oysters dot the menus of many New Orleans restaurants, but reputedly Drago’s served them first in 1993. Try the locally grown Louisiana bivalves with peanuts and red pepper aïoli, or with sun-dried tomatoes and pine nuts for a Mediterranean spin.
The oldest of this city’s oyster bars opened in 1912, and San Francisco’s love affair with briny bivalves shows no sign of slowing down. North America’s best farmers’ markets are here too, and keep the local culinary scene buzzing.
Swan Oyster Depot
1517 Polk St. (between California St. & Sacramento St.); (415) 673 1101
Behind a century-old marble counter in this impossibly narrow restaurant, the wisecracking Sancimino brothers serve up oysters from around North America and the Pacific. Customers usually have to stand in line, but both the jokes and the oysters are worth waiting for.
Hog Island
Ferry Building Marketplace, One Ferry Building #11;
Pacific? Atlantic? West Coast? East Coast? There’s a different selection of American oysters every day at this sleek, modern oyster bar in San Francisco’s iconic Ferry Building. On Saturday mornings the action flows outside to the weekly farmers’ market.
Caressed by brisk Atlantic gusts on Ireland’s west coast, Galway’s combination of salt water and fresh water produces exceptional oysters.
This slice of natural good fortune is celebrated each September at the Galway International Oyster Festival (
Conlon & Sons
Eglington St., Galway City; +353 91 562 268 Surrounded by Galway’s best pubs, a big night in the city often kicks off at Conlon & Sons. From September to April, Galway oysters are served at the granite bar, and salmon, scallops, and mussels prove irresistible to seafood buffs.
Moran’s Oyster Cottage
The Weir, Kilcolgan;
Moran’s treats local Clarinbridge oysters simply and with respect; freshly shucked and served with a silky pint of Guinness and some Irish soda bread. A restaurant that’s been run by the same family for seven generations really doesn’t have a lot to prove.
The Romans, King Louis XIV, Marie Antoinette, and Napoleon Bonaparte were all fans of oysters from Cancale, in northwest France. Local huîtres include the delicate and nutty Plate Belon, and the robust and rare Pied de Cheval.
Quai Gambetta
Just yards from Cancale’s oyster beds, several enterprising locals on the quay offer a fresh dozen with a wedge of lemon for around €4. Ad hoc and alfresco dining is enhanced by salty Atlantic breezes.
A Contre Courant
3 Place du Calvaire, ‘Le Port’, Cancale;
With modern decor and regular exhibitions from local artists, A Contre Courant resembles a breezy slice of the Med on France’s Atlantic coast. Oysters are treated simply, and the wider menu includes scallops with andouille sausage and grilled shrimp skewers.

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