New Zealand has one of the world’s longest coastlines and richest marine environments. The waters of the vast surrounding oceans offer some of the best seafood on the international market.
Here are five seafood delicacies that you must sample on a visit to New Zealand – each one from a South Island region so that’s the best place for you to start. Fly into Christchurch then head north to Kaikoura and Marlborough, west to Aoraki Mt Cook and the West Coast, or south to Bluff.
Green-lipped mussels in Marlborough
A New Zealand specialty not to be found anywhere else in the world, this particularly large and flavoursome mussel is simply delicious. It is easily distinguished from other mussels by the dark green shell with a bright green lip that it is named for.
You can get these mussels pretty much anywhere in New Zealand all year around, but it’s best to have them at the source around Marlborough, where 80% of New Zealand's mussel production is based.
Surrounded by the natural beauty of the sheltered Marlborough Sounds, the best way to indulge in this local delicacy is on board the mussel cruise where you can enjoy freshly steamed mussels with a glass of Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc for the ultimate wine and food match.
Marlborough Tour Company’s Seafood Odyssea departs from Picton Harbour every afternoon. You can cruise through the tranquil Marlborough Sounds while enjoying a lunch of freshly steamed mussels and a visit to the mussel farm. Blenheim airport is a 30-minute drive from Picton. Air New Zealand flies daily to Blenheim airport from Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch.
Crayfish in Kaikoura
Kaikoura means ‘eating crayfish’ in Maori (kai = food/eat, koura = crayfish) so it’s not surprising that eating crayfish is a must- do in a town by that name.
New Zealand crayfish is marketed as lobster in some overseas market, but, in reality, these are two different species. While crayfish ressembles lobster, it is much smaller, averaging 5-15cm (2-6 inches) in length. A common way to cook crayfish is to boil whole, split and serve with a seafood dressing.
The South Island coastal highway southeast from Blenheim to Kaikoura has been described as one of the most beautiful ocean roads in the world. The little town of Kaikoura, which sits between ocean and mountains on this highway, is famous for its diverse marine wildlife including whales and seals, and some of the best crayfish in the world.
Seafood BBQ food trailer restaurant on the Kaikoura Peninsula foreshore has long been an iconic stop for international tourists and locals alike. You'll want to try their al fresco crayfish lunch and tick that off your New Zealand bucket list. Another option, if you want a leisurely gourmet crayfish experience, is in the restaurant at 5-star Hapuku Lodge and Treehouses (just north of Kaikoura) where they will serve the finest crayfish you'll find in New Zealand. Kaikoura is 2.5 hours by road north of Christchurch, close to the Waipara wine region and the alpine spa village of Hanmer Springs.
Mt Cook Salmon
New Zealand accounts for over half of the world production of king salmon. Of all salmon species, the king salmon offers the highest natural oil content of Omega-3s which benefit both heart and joint health.
In the Mackenzie Basin of New Zealand’s Southern Alps, Mt Cook Alpine Salmon’s Tekapo site at 677m above sea level is the highest salmon farm in the world. It’s fed year-round by cold, fast flowing water from mountain glaciers and has been recognised as one of the world’s most sustainable salmon farming operations. So, where better to purchase fresh salmon for a picnic on the shores of Lake Pukaki within sight of New Zealand’s highest mountain peak.
It can be even more satisfying to fish your own salmon in rocky mountain rivers such as the Ahuriri and Tekapo – check the net for fishing tours and guides. For a local fine dining experience, you can eat at The Hermitage Hotel’s Panorama Room at Mr Cook Village but you will also see Mt Cook Alpine Salmon served as sashimi, grilled and smoked in many fine dining restaurants around New Zealand.
The New Zealand salmon season runs from early October through to late April.
Mt Cook Alpine Salmon is an easy 3.5 -hour drive from Christchurch, or 2.5 hours from Queenstown. It is located in Mackenzie Country in the South Island. At 3,754m Aoraki Mount Cook is New Zealand's highest mountain. Explore New Zealand’s largest glacier, the Tasman, by boat from October to May and get close enough to touch the icebergs. The skies above Mt Cook and more than 4,300sqkm of New Zealand’s South Island are recognised as an International Dark Sky Reserve - the world’s largest starlight. Take a night-time stargazing tour at Mount John, above Tekapo.
West Coast Whitebait
New Zealand whitebait is a tiny fish – it’s actually the juvenile stage of five native fish species - with a big reputation, one of the most sought after seafood delicacies in the country.
Whitebait is found in many New Zealand rivers but catching them is an art. Fishermen need the appropriate net and loads of patience to score enough of the tiny fish during the short fishing season (mid-August until late November). The largest volume of whitebait is found in the rivers of the South Island’s West Coast so the best option could be to plan your visit to conincide with the West Coast Whitebait Season Festival in September.
If you’re travelling south from the glaciers on SH6, stop off at Curly Tree Whitebait Company just north of Haast to find out much more about whitebait and try some of their wares.
The most popular way of cooking whitebait in New Zealand is the whitebait pattie. When you see whitebait pattie on the menu, don’t hesitate to order it so you can understand what all the fuss is about.
Monteiths Brewery in the West Coast town of Greymouth has a lovely whitebait fritter (or pattie) on their tapas menu. Do the brewery tour and try local beers with your with your pattie. Travel from Christchurch to Greymouth on the TranzAlpine scenic train line, passing through the patchwork Canterbury Plains, across spectacular gorges and river valleys, climbing into the Southern Alps and back down into the West Coast via lush beech forest. New Zealand’s most scenic train ride departs Christchurch daily.
Large, plump and juicy, New Zealand oyster has earned a reputation as one of the finest in the world. Bluff is the home of oyster production in New Zealand and Bluff oyster is a must- try for any tourist. Only a certain number of Bluff oysters are carefully harvested from the cold sea in New Zealand’s ‘deep south’ each season, so the industry can maintain sustainable stock for the future.
The Bluff oyster Festival, held in May, is the tasting event to attend. At this community- run festival, you can enjoy a great range of entertainment and oyster-related fun such as the oyster eating and shucking (removing the shell) competitions.
Fresh, raw and straight from the shell is a perfect ’neat’ way to enjoy the Bluff oyster. You may also spot Bluff oyster shots on some restaurant menus – ’neat’ both in presentation, and in character.
Bluff is a 30-minute drive from Invercargill town centre. Air New Zealand flies to Invercargill from Wellington and Christchurch. In season (March - August) many restaurant menus in Invercargill and the Southland region feature Bluff oysters and other signature dishes. Oyster Cove is one of the best known restaurants in the region. It is located right at the edge of Stirling Point in Bluff and has spectacular 180-degree views of Ruapuki, Dog and Stewart Island:8 Ward Parade, Bluff 9814