Mussels, Oysters and Summer Wine – It’s Festival Time

South Island Festivals

 Top South Island activities one may discover and enjoy are the festivals devoted to food and wine. Throw in a classic art deco weekend, a couple of markets, an A&P show and summer time has arrived to those who delight in these pursuits. New Zealand is blessed with top wines recognised internationally; seafood that causes a stir in the culinary world and events that allow old car enthusiasts to dress up and join like minded folks to bring about a parade to the delight of onlookers.

 A weekend doesn’t pass, in the summer, that somewhere a community isn’t sponsoring some kind of exciting event. When you hit the road in your home on wheels you have the opportunity to enjoy a fun weekend visiting any of a number of places. You can stroll through markets viewing all kinds of wonderful arts and crafts sample local made food and fresh picked produce such as cherries, plums and peaches not to mention all the fresh vegetables available at the many stalls along the road.

Blenheim hosts the number one wine and food event in New Zealand with the Marlborough Wine & Food Festival. Over 200 wines from over 40 wineries are at your beckon call. Local chefs prepare delicacies that make your mouth water. A plate full of scrumptious delicacies before you, a glass of wine in hand you can sit and listen to top quality entertainment throughout the entire day. Be ready to over-indulge and enjoy the best of what is offered.

Festival date: February.

 Just down the road in Havelock there is a very successful new entrant to the Festival world with this being the third year for the Havelock Mussel Festival.  How many ways to cook a mussel? This is a great place to find out from the cooking demonstrations and the many stalls offering a variety of versions. There are many other food choices for those not into the mussel.

A constant day of entertainment on stage plus have you ever seen how fast a professional can pry a mussel out of the shell? One of the big events is the teams of mussel shuckers in full competition. A Guinness world’s record was set last year. There is also a team event with a demanding course that has been laid out. The teams must do several unlikely moves to get to the winning end, ducking for mussels, being pulled in a mussel float, wiggle under a rope net are just a few of the crazy requirements to success. The final event on Sunday is the homemade mussel float race screaming down hill on the road across the bay. Festival date: March 17.

 Further west in Nelson they have the “Hooked on Seafood” Festival. The Nelson area is known for its top culinary chefs and the local seafood not to mention the quality of their superb wines in the region. Nice place to hang out also.

Festival date: late March.

 Lets head south to Ashburton to a lesser known festival but one that should get greater recognition for its quality as time goes on. It goes by the name of the New Zealand Woolymunchers Music, Fine Wine & Lambfest Festival. Here you get the opportunity to stroll through a plethora of food and wine stalls. It was created in 2003 by four local rural women in order to create a showcase for the lamb produced in the region.

 In addition to quality food and wine presented they have top quality New Zealand entertainment and celebrity chefs showcasing their talents. Be sure to place your bets during the Great Sheep Race. This entertaining day out can be booked through Ticket Direct. $20 per person. Festival date: January.

 The Bluff Oyster and Southland Seafood Festival is the next stop on the list. The celebration of the Bluff oyster has become renowned worldwide. At this indoor festival one may indulge in as many oysters as you can handle. The many variants prepared by the local chefs are spectacular. Be there early and witness the piping in of the oyster and the opening ceremony led by Invercargill Mayor Tim Shadbolt. The day is filled with entertainment on several stages along with the oyster opening and eating competitions attended by national celebrities.  The Festival’s Oyster Sack Fashion and Inspirations of the Sea Wearable Competition showcases the Southland creative talents.  This Festival is a must when touring the South Island .

Festival date: April

For the ultimate in crazy food consumption the star of the show has to be the, now famous, Wild Food Festival happening annually in Hokitika. This is a real celebration of different foods prepared in dozens of different styles and concepts. Something for everyone here. It is a great day out plus the evening and night entertainment throughout Hokitika provides a full weekend of fun for everyone.

Festival date: March.

A Festival that celebrates the colourful autumn season could only be held in the beautiful golden setting of the old mining town of Arrowtown . The market provides stalls of fabulous food along with local arts and crafts. Entertainment throughout the week with street entertainers, bands plus the lovely Buckingham Belles. The town swells to thousands especially for the Big Parade (21st) through the centre of town with floats, horses, fancy dress and lots of vintage autos their bonnets polished to a high gloss and the people dressed in the old time theme.

Festival dates: April

For those who love the art deco era a visit to Ranfurly will fill your needs. The town streets are closed for a full-blown party through three days of celebration. What a magnificent place Maniototo is during this time of summer. Music is a highlight with jazz, blues and swing taking priority with lots of period dress and plenty of the vintage cars to admire. From the Thursday night opening cocktails, Friday’s Bizarre Cabaret, the all day street party on Saturday finishing with the Gatsby Picnic on Sunday you will know you have spent a wonderful weekend.

Festival dates:  February.

Spending the summer cruising the South Island the chances for you to find and enjoy a weekend event are excellent. Stop by the Information Centres as you enter a region and grab the local tourist oriented newspapers that usually list the many activities you may find with most of them free. 

Here’s to a fun filled summer enjoying the bounty of New Zealand and meeting those who provide it at the various fairs, market and festivals along the way.

Marlborough Wine & Food Festival

Havelock Mussel Festival

Hooked On Seafood (changed)

Wollymunchers Fine Wine & Lambfest

Bluff Oyster and Food Festival (changed)

  • Foreshore Road - BLUFF
  •  Every May  - see website for date
  • Contact: 03 211 1692 or 0800 224 224
  • Email:
  • Booking:
  • Website:

Hokitika Wild Foods Festival

  • Hokitika, West Coast
  • Every March - see website for date
  • Phone:  03 756 9048
  • Email:
  • Website:

Arrowtown Autumn Festival

  • Every April  - see website for date
  • Contact: Phone +64 3 442 0809
  • E-mail:
  • Website:
  • No cost to attend

Ranfurly Rural Art Deco Festival

Other South Island Festivals

  • Akaroa French Festival -April
  • Christchurch Festivals Summertime Festival -  Dec 1,to Mar 31,
  • World Buskers Festival Christchurch - January
  • Christchurch Garden City Flowers & Romance Festival - February
  • Oamaru - Whitestone Waitaki Food and Wine Festival - February
  • New Zealand Organic Food & Wine Festival - March

Dunedin –