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Seafood lovers travel to Bluff in their thousands

26 May / Stuff

A sold out festival put together in just over eight weeks has returned to Southland.

The Bluff Oyster & Food Festival, a destination for seafood lovers, was held on Saturday after a three-year hiatus.

Festival committee member Kylie Fowler said they only got the green light in mid March from Invercargill City Council and had to rush to demolish a dangerous building that caused the cancellation of the festival last year.

She said around 200 volunteers and dozens of workers at the 16 stalls that provided coffee and food made the festival “f***ing awesome” this year.

The gates opened at 10.30am when a kapa haka and a pipe band welcomed around 4000 people and 20,000 oysters to the Southland food event of the year.

Fowler said the tickets for the festival sold out two weeks ago and it was great seeing the festival bringing an economic boost to the region once again, with visitors travelling as far as China to enjoy the local oysters.

“That’s new money into our economy ... if we can take money out of Aucklanders’ pockets, we’ll do it,” she said with a laugh.

Fowler said she was so busy she did not even get a chance to sample the food and eat an oyster.

The event was cancelled in 2021 due to the Covid pandemic and then last year it was canned due to the Club Hotel, a building on the site of the festival, being deemed dangerous.

The Bluff Oyster and Food Festival Charitable Trust owned the former hotel, which was demolished this year.

And the committee worked hard to deliver a cool winter event that people love, Fowler said.

Committee chairman John Edminstin said the stalls at the festival this year sold salmon, oysters, prawns, mussels, fish and meat too to visitors.

“The weather was bloody terrible but people came rugged up so it was good,” he said.

He said it was great the festival was up and going again after a few years.

The demolition of the former hotel was finished just in time for the festival to happen, he said, and the region risked missing out for a third year in a row, but then volunteers pushed it through and made it possible.

Edminstin said on Saturday the inside area was heaving with people and the two marquees outside where the bar was were also quite crammed – and that showed despite the cold and rainy weather, the turnout was amazing.

A series of competitions involving eating and opening oysters were also held during the 7-hour festival.

Calders Oysters shucker Xavier Fife managed to open 50 oysters in three minutes and nine seconds, winning the Men’s Open.

While Barnes Oysters shucker Peg Bishop got through 50 oysters in three minutes and 35 seconds coming first in the women’s category.

The 68-year-old woman began opening oysters at Talleys in Motueka more than 50 years ago and has never stopped since.

Fowler said she was taking a day to rest on Sunday, but then on Monday they would go back and start landscaping and clearing the site to make next year’s event even better.

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