Hidden away on the South Island’s west coast, Hokitika is host to the region’s largest and most famous event. Held every March and attracting around 6,000 adventurous visitors, the Hokitika Wildfoods Festival offers them food from the river, sea, bush and mountain, including some rather revolting stuff that even TV wild man, Bear Grylls, famous for eating just about anything that moves, would frown at.

The district’s iconic whitebait and venison are standard dishes available at this  oddball event. As well as the more conventional lamb tails, there is a wide selection of insects. Earthworms, fish eyes and whisky sausages are also offered to those with strong stomachs. The over 50 stallholders include a cross section of local businesses and even the region’s schools are represented.


The unusual selection of food has proven particularly attractive to young tourists who are game to try anything and to experience as much as they can while in New Zealand – the land of adventure and magic. It is a case of these young people daring each other to try the most revolting stuff on offer. Top of this list has to be live, wriggling huhu grubs. If that isn’t cringe making enough, you can try lamb testicles (known as mountain oysters) and deer and horse semen. Now, I’m sure that has made you wince just reading it!! For the more imaginative offerings, sphagnum moss is sold as candy floss and insect drinks are certain to produce looks of revulsion.

Sheep Testicles (Mountain Oysters)

Insect on Toast and Huhu Grub


I was offered a huhu grub while staying in a whitebaiter’s camp in the region. Fortunately, the fat, yellowish grub wasn’t alive. It had been seared on a hot plate so was sort of fried. I took a bite. It had the taste of an almond but the look of it put me off and one bite was enough. I’m not very adventurous with my food so I can understand why TV reporters don’t fall over themselves to cover this annual event. They know they will have to try the most revolting food on offer as that is what draws the viewers to watch. I was told by one reporter who took a bite on a sheep’s testicle that it had the taste of leather. The thought of what it was caused her to gag and she couldn’t swallow the small amount she managed to force into her mouth.

Apart from the outrageous food, the festival also holds a Feral Fashion competition where people are encouraged to dress up in – well you get the idea!

Other entertainment is supplied by bands with a focus on country music. This year, New Zealand’s reggae band, Salmonella Dub headlined the performances on stage. Other entertainment included cooking demonstrations by local and international chefs. Buskers performed among the stalls to encourage visitors to try the challenging food on offer.


Hokitika’s Wildfoods Festival offers a side of New Zealand that is fast disappearing as the nation’s ethnic mix changes. The festival is a celebration of the traditional Kiwi approach to life that flourished in the middle of the 20th century. For this reason alone, it is worth preserving, not only for Kiwis with a European heritage, but also for those new kiwis from other cultures who have never experienced the traditional kiwi ‘give-it-a-go’ approach to living.

This short video takes you on a wander around the last Wildfoods Festival.


Located 30km south of Invercargill, the port town of Bluff is a similar size to Hokitika and is the most southerly town in New Zealand. It is a popular destination for those wanting to see the signpost indicating the end of State Highway #1 and the end of mainland New Zealand. Its other claim to fame is being home to the oyster fleet that dredge Foveaux Strait for the best oysters available from the waters surrounding New Zealand. Last year, the oyster harvest added $30 million to the Southland economy.

I well remember my day of misery onboard an oyster boat as it corkscrewed on the heaving strait while dredging for oysters. I was so seasick from the boat’s motion that I couldn’t even stand up. I don’t eat seafood and the smell of fish makes me shudder, so it was an experience I never plan to repeat. However, there are those who love seafood and Bluff oysters are considered a delicacy. In fact, the first flight of Bluff oysters to Auckland restaurants is a much publicised event. Patrons wanting to get their taste buds lubricated by the slimy mollusc rush the first restaurant to offer them. I’m told the ones dredged from Foveaux Strait have a distinctive taste, stronger and sweeter than oysters from other areas.


Like Hokitika, the Bluff Oyster and Food Festival is the town’s biggest annual event. This year, an estimated 20,000 oysters were swallowed by the 5,500 visitors to the festival. Every year, those keen to have their Bluff oyster fix  charter a plane to fly the length of New Zealand from Auckland to Invercargill just to sample the new season’s crop. Mental if you ask me!


The main attraction at the festival is the shucking competition. This is the name given to the process of opening the sharp shells and scooping out the slimy oyster. I was amazed at how fast a good shucker is. The knife is razor sharp so focused concentration is needed to avoid serious cuts to wrists and hands.

Shucking Competition

This 50 second video shows how you need to be careful with the knife while shucking.

A champion shucker can open around 25 oysters a minute. I have watched these guys at work and the concentration on their faces has to be seen to be believed but when you consider all the distractions and noise surrounding them, it is no wonder they need to stay focused. One slip of that sharp blade could cause real damage.

From nutritious manuka honey, to kiwifruit, Central Otago cherries and apricots, New Zealand has some of the finest food in the world. I intend to stick to these foods and leave the horse semen, sheep’s testicles and oysters to those with stronger stomachs and more adventurous eating habits.

What are your thoughts? Please let me know in the ‘comments’ section.

Ceidrik Heward

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