Oyster festival delights capacity crowd

All the way from Christchurch (from left) Craig Walker, Jo and Brendan Prendergast and Julie Walker enjoy some au naturel oysters during the Bluff Oyster & Food Festival on Saturday. Photos: Janette Gellatly

VIC Pearsey claimed her eighth women’s oyster opening title at this year’s Bluff Oyster & Food Festival on Saturday.

But not by much.

Mrs Pearsey shucked 50 oysters in a time of 3 minutes 28 seconds, only 10 seconds ahead of Peggy Bishop. Third was Here Witehira in 5min 2sec. All three were from Barnes Wild Bluff Oysters.

Mrs Pearsey won last year with a time of 2min 43sec, 45sec faster than this year.

She put this year’s time down to the oysters which she said shattered as she shucked them, so had to find another way to open them, rather than the usual technique she was used to.

Despite the condition of the oyster shells, she summed up her enjoyment of competing against her fellow shuckers by saying “I love it”. She praised their efforts, and said “it won’t be long before Peggy beats me”.

As well as oyster opening, about 20,000 of the salt-water bivalve molluscs were also consumed in a variety of ways – au naturel, dressed in batter, Kilpatrick or other ways by the thousands who descended on the festival, Bluff promotions officer Lindsay Beer said.

An estimated 4500 people came from throughout New Zealand and various parts of the world including Hong Kong, Australia, China and the United Kingdom.

“More than 60% of our patrons came from outside Southland,” Mr Beer said.

This included two charter flights from Auckland and Wellington transporting about 300 people, he said.

Not only oysters were in demand at the various festival food stalls; many other delicacies such as muttonbirds, kina, pork belly, paua and mussels delighted festival-goers.

Mr Beer said the crowd had been “wonderful” and everyone had a great time.

He thanked all the volunteers who turned up each year to set up and man the site, in particular the festival’s chairman John Edminstin for his past 11 years of commitment.

In the men’s oyster opening competition, Shane Wixon, of Ngai Tahu Seafoods, won in 3min 2sec, the fifth time he has won this event. Ten seconds behind was Ricci Grant, of Barnes, and third was K Z Matangi, of Barnes, in 3min 45sec.

Mr Wixon also won the blindfold competition for the fifth time.

In other oyster opening competitions, Marvin Ihaia, representing the oyster boat Nga Roimata, beat Junior Taylor, of Golden Quest, by .03sec in the boat challenge. Mr Ihaia set a time of 2min 28.55sec, while Mr Taylor came in at 2min 28.58sec. Fabian Pera, of the Torea, was third in 2min 42.52sec.

A new event for novices saw Xavier Fife, of Direct Fish, shuck 50 oysters in 3min 22sec, beating Curtis Boyce, of Fowler Oysters, at 4min 35sec.

Barnes Wild Bluff Oysters’ team of four once again won the oyster opening relay event, shucking 20 each in a combined time of 5min 12.33sec.

Another of the crowd’s favourites, the oyster eating competition, was won by Daryl “Dagwood” MacDonald, of Blenheim, while the newest audience competition, the wasabi-chilli oyster eating challenge, was won by Dave Vaile, of Oamaru.

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