The 10 best seafood treats in New Zealand

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With more than 10,000 kilometres of coast and clean waters, New Zealand is a natural source of excellent seafood.

Here are some great ways to sample New Zealand seafood at its best.

10 best seafood treats in New Zealand

Paua

This shellfish is found on rocks and provides a meaty feast as well as leaving a shell that can be polished and kept for its own beauty.

Our preference is to tenderise a freshly-found paua with a mallet, squirt with the juice of a lemon and then onto the barbeque (don’t overcook – it’ll go tough on you). It’s best to enjoy this treat in the northern North Island where paua stocks are more sustainable.

Green-lipped mussel

These are harvested throughout the country but 80% of production is in the Marlborough Sounds, at the northern tip of the South Island.

Enthusiasts for the green-lipped mussel claim all sorts of health benefits from them but their large and juicy flesh makes them a delight either au naturel in salads or battered.

You can buy mussels in pottles at supermarkets and they come in different flavoured marinades (garlic, chilli), but if you get the chance to visit Marlborough, sample them fresh and close to source with a glass of locally-made Sauvignon Blanc.

Cockles

Known in Maori as tuangi, cockles can be dug from beaches (be mindful of local limits on how many you can take).  They are full of vitamins and minerals and when steamed open, they produce a tasty feed.

If you’re in Auckland, head east for Cockle Bay – the clue is in the name!

Crayfish 

Large crayfish can be caught in a number of New Zealand areas – the Bay of Islands, the Coromandel Peninsula and the east coast of the South Island are popular sources. But if one places truly embraces the cray, it’s Kaikoura (between Picton and Christchurch).

The Maori translation of Kaikoura is ‘eating crayfish’ (kai = food/eat, koura = crayfish) and the town is often claimed to have some of the best crayfish in the world. The best place to put this theory to the test is to seek out Nin’s Bin food trailer on State Highway 1, about 20 minutes north of Kaikoura, and sample some freshly-cooked crayfish.

Salmon

More than half the world’s supply of king salmon comes from New Zealand. Head to the South Island to either catch your own salmon or look for a restaurant that’s serving Mt Cook salmon, farmed at Mt Cook Alpine Salmon’s site at Tekapo which is the highest salmon farm in the world at 677 metres above sea level.

You can catch large king salmon in the mountain rivers such as the Ahuriri and Tekapo during the October-April season.

If you like sashimi, look for a Japanese restaurant that serves fresh king salmon. A twist of lemon is all you need to get the most from this treat.

Scallops

These grow mainly around the Coromandel Peninsula in the North Island, and in the Marlborough region of the South Island though the latter area has suffered from dwindling stock, forcing restrictions on their catch.

The best way to enjoy a sweet scallop, fresh from its fan-shaped shell, is at the annual Whitianga Scallop Festival in September. The festival gets through more than 100,000 scallops, cooked in all manner of ways, from the classic scallop and bacon skewer to those cooked in mornay or fried in tempura batter.

Snapper and blue cod

Fancy fish and chips, battered and bought over the counter?

Our guide to the best fish and chips in New Zealand will help you find the country’s award-winning chip shops but watch especially for those who batter freshly caught fish. In the north, you’ll find fryers who offer snapper and in the south, blue cod is a popular choice.

Both are juicy, with white flesh and perfect for being served in batter with a dash of lemon or tartare sauce.

Gamefish

The Bay of Islands is known for its game fishing and in towns like Paihia and Russell, you will get the chance to head out on a charter boat in search of species such as the striped marlin and yellowtail kingfish which are rarely found larger anywhere else in the world.

The big game fishing season runs from December to April and other sought-after species include swordfish, tuna and shark (yes, shark produces a sumptuous white meat often sold as ‘lemon fish’ at fish and chip shops).

If you aren’t keen on chasing the game yourself, there are always the local restaurants to help.

Whitebait

This a tiny fish considered to be a delicacy during its short season (mid-August until late November). It’s caught in huge nets and the most popular ways to savour it is in an omelette or in a fritter.

The largest catches of whitebait are in the rivers of the West Coast of the South Island and there’s no better time or place to enjoy this treat than at the annual West Coast Whitebait Season Festival in September.

Bluff oyster  

The Bluff oysters are widely hailed as being New Zealand’s best oyster (some would say the world’s best oyster!). They grow slowly in the cold southern waters between Bluff and Stewart Island, at the southern tip of New Zealand.

They are harvested and sold during an annual season, from March to August, and aficionados of the Bluff oyster await its arrival around the country with much anticipation. Helicopters have been known to airlift the first-day batches from the Deep South to the restaurants and oyster bars of Auckland.

Try a Bluff oyster and you’ll quickly decide whether you like them. Their taste is quite distinctive, sharper than for those harvested further north, and chances are you’ll love them or hate them after one session. But try them you must …


The best oysters in New Zealand  Ι  Our guide to the best fish and chips in New Zealand