Discover the New Zealand oyster trail

New Zealand is never short on options for an oyster fix, from inner-city bars to seafood festivals and roadside stalls.

New Zealand is never short on options for an oyster fix, from inner-city bars to seafood festivals and roadside stalls.

New Zealand is an oyster lover's dream. As well as being the only place in the world where Bluff oysters grow, the country has unique seafood festivals, and this tasty shellfish is celebrated in stylish oyster bars.

For a unique and delicious taste of New Zealand, travel the oyster trail from Northland to Bluff.

You can sample the country's distinct oyster varieties in a range of venues from city bars to rural road stalls and even on the water.

Touch down in Auckland, before hiring a car or campervan and meandering down the coastline, visiting seafood festivals, oyster farms and seaside dining shacks on the way.

While the Bluff oyster is a seasonal offering - March through August is the ideal time to visit to try this prized oyster grown only on the southern tip of New Zealand - you can enjoy the more common Pacific and rock oysters throughout the year.

Hit the bars

The popularity of oyster bars has seen a number of venues popping up in Auckland, New Zealand's biggest city. The central city is easy to get around, with many eateries within walking distance, and shops and galleries dotted between. The award-winning Depot Oyster Bar and Eatery is one of Auckland's most respected oyster bars, helmed by celebrity chef Al Brown. The 'Kiwi bach' (or beach house) themed venue offers casual high-end cuisine, with oysters-on-ice a specialty.

Rockefeller Champagne and Oyster Bar, and Oyster and Chop, two new restaurants near the city's waterfront, offer stylish shucking experiences. Try a variety of oysters served multiple ways – from traditional Kilpatrick to oyster shots, or bacon and oyster pies. While you're by the wharf, take a 35-minute ferry to Waiheke Island. The island consistently ranks in 'world's best destination' lists, and boasts beautiful beaches and vineyards. Here you will find The Oyster Inn, a stylishly kitsch restaurant and boutique hotel. Gourmands from around the world come to munch on battered oysters, while sitting on its balcony overlooking the bay.

In the South Island, head to Nelson's Urban Oyster Bar & Eatery, or Harlequin Public House in Christchurch, with its late-night oyster and Champagne bar.

Try and buy

Hitting the festival circuit is another great way to experience oyster season. You can wander the stalls and sample fresh oysters from different suppliers. First on any oyster lover's list is the one-day Bluff Oyster and Food Festival, held each year in May. The small fishing town at the far end of the South Island is the country's oyster capital, and tasting Bluff oysters fresh off the boat is a classic New Zealand experience.

Small town festivals provide a unique insight into New Zealand's coastal communities. In March, attend the Ocean & Orchard Wine & Food Festival in tropical Kerikeri for oyster-shucking contests and the Havelock Mussel and Seafood Festival in Marlborough for a celebration of all things shellfish. Every second year, there is also the Port Chalmers Seafood Festival in Otago.

Up north, visit the Auckland Seafood Festival, held on the waterfront each January, and the newly created Waiheke Oyster festival. This event is put on by Te Matuku Oysters, which are farmed on the island – you can visit their factory shop if your visit doesn't coincide with the October festival.

Experience farm fresh

For an authentic culinary adventure, head straight to the source. Many oyster farms have shopfronts where you can purchase pots of plump shellfish to snack on. An hour north of Auckland, in a town known for its artisanal farmer's markets, is Matakana Oysters. Its shop and processing plant The Green Shed sells affordable bags of oysters “for the people”.

Twenty minutes south is Mahurangi Oysters, and the quaint Shuckle Ferry, a boat tour on which you can harvest, shuck and eat your own oysters. South of Auckland, stop at Clevedon Coast Oysters for fresh oyster soup, before travelling further south to the Coromandel Peninsula and the Bay of Plenty, where some of the country's best beaches await. At the Coromandel Oyster Company and Ohope's Ohiwa Oyster Farm, you can tuck into cheap and cheerful meals of battered or smoked oysters while overlooking the ocean.

In Southland, visit the Barnes Wild Bluff Oysters factory shop in Invercargill and the quintessential Bluff takeaway spot Fowler's Oysters, before checking out Stirling Point, the unofficial southern-most point of the country.

Take a long lunch

Many restaurants welcome the Bluff oyster season with a long lunch, or even a month-long celebration, pairing a dozen oysters with New Zealand wine or Champagne for a fair price. Soul Bar, in Auckland's Viaduct Harbour hosts an all-you-can-eat lunch at the beginning of March, while Euro around the corner recently launched a mini oyster festival with adjoining eateries The Culpeper, Fish Restaurant and The Crab Shack.

Bluff's Oyster Cove Café and Bar is one of the best southern spots for a long lunch. Enjoy the views over Stewart Island, and, if you have time, take a flight or ferry to the picturesque remote island, and stop at Church Hill Restaurant & Oyster Bar for one last morsel before you fly home.