Crowds welcome return of oyster festival

    Invercargill resident Kiriama Russell (pictured) has been part of the festival from a young age. She was happy the event had returned after an enforced break last year due to the Covid-19 alert level restrictions.

    PEOPLE from throughout New Zealand descended on Bluff at the weekend for a “seafood extravaganza”.

    After a hiatus of a year due to the Covid-19 pandemic and a week of bad weather which put oystermen’s nerves under pressure, attendees of the Bluff Oyster & Food Festival were hungry for some southern delicacies and, of course, oysters.

    A long queue stretched around the block before the gates opened on Saturday and by about lunchtime, many stalls were sold out.

    Barnes Wild Bluff Oysters manager Graeme Wright was relieved his oyster harvesters managed to collect more than 2500 oysters to please customers at the event.

    His company and other fisheries were worried with the numbers just days before the festival.

    “In the end, everything worked out, but as I said many, many times, this is the nature of the beast. I’m happy we were able to have enough for everyone.”

    About 4500 people attended the event from throughout New Zealand.

    Rebecca Hansen and her friend Katie Borod arrived on one of the chartered Air New Zealand flights from Auckland.

    She celebrated her 50th birthday on Tuesday and thought it was an excellent opportunity to head down south and taste some good food.

    “I’m having a real Southland feast — raw oysters, cooked oysters and even muttonbird.

    “Some people laughed [at me] when I told them I would come such a long way just for a day, but I thought it was the perfect way to celebrate my birthday —  doing something completely different.”

    Another Auckland resident, Florence Hine hails from a traditional oystering region in France.

    Since moving to New Zealand, she had wanted to be part of the oyster festival as she loved the delicacy and knew it would make her feel closer to home.

    After two pregnancies and a Covid-19 hiatus, Mrs Hine travelled to Southland with her husband and two children to make the most of the week.

    ‘‘I was curious about the event, as I come from an oyster region as well. It is great to be able to experience this with my family.

    ‘‘My 3-year-old daughter tasted her first oyster today and I think she enjoyed it.’’

    But the festival was not just about visitors.

    The Russells from Invercargill said the festival was a family tradition.

    Mother and father Missi and Max and daughters Kiriama and Leah were helping serve raw oysters to the attendees.

    ‘‘I’ve been working and been part of the festival since I’ve been able to hold a knife,’’ Kiriama said.

    One of the most popular attractions at the event, the oyster opening competitions, attracted thousands of people.

    Bluff woman Vic Pearsey scored a remarkable victory, notching up her 10th women’s title in a row.

    She opened 50 oysters in a time of 2 minutes 59.42 seconds and then went into the first clash with the winner of the men’s race, Ricci Grant.

    Mr Grant beat Ms Pearsey by 15 seconds. However, the loss did not dampen her spirits.

    ‘‘A bit gutted that I lost, but that’s OK. It was a lot of fun and, at the end of the day, that is what it is all about.’’

    She also announced her retirement from the competition.

    ‘‘I’ve done my time now. It is time to retire. Let someone else have a go.’’

    – The next Bluff Oyster & Food Festival is scheduled for May 21, 2022.