What a day! The 2019 Bluff Oyster & Food Festival took place in Bluff today and it proved to be another success.
Once again tickets were sold out months ago and queues stretched around the block waiting for the gates to open at 10.30am. After a run of chilly weather for the last few years Festival day dawned calm and mild. Once inside patrons headed for the food stalls, the Bluff Oyster again proving a massive drawcard for the 4,500 capacity crowd from all over the world.
At 11.00am the Bluff Oyster was piped onto the site, Bluff Town Crier Harry Holland recited the Ode To The Oyster and Festival Chairman John Edminstin welcomed all and sundry and declared the Festival open.
Edminstin later thanked the many volunteers and his committee plus sponsors and thanked the crowd for their support. “It is a great day and a great crowd,” he said. Edminstin also emphasised his pride that the Festival site and the adjacent Club Hotel building are now freehold after the site was completely paid off recently. He also thanked Community Trust South for their support during the purchase period.
As the day unfolded the Mapu Kuki Airani Drummers, Bluff Kapa Haka Group, Yurt Party, Sam Cullen, a Polynesian dance off, Band Of Bluffies plus The HYPE featuring Shannon Cooper Garland all featured on the main stage.
The Oyster Competitions provided plenty of excitement. Vic Pearsey of Barnes Oysters won her ninth straight Ladies Open title in a time of 3 minutes 12 seconds and said she would be back to try for number ten next year. The only break in her reign was the year wind forced the Festival to be abandoned and the event was not held. She said she does not suffer from nerves, her primary motivation being to get more girls involved in the competitions. Peg Bishop of Barnes was second with Pearsey’s niece, Alecia Brown who is in her first season of opening, third. Brown also took out the Novice Competition.
In The Men’s Open Ricci Grant of Barnes, who has been runner-up on several occasions, finally broke through for a win. After the heats were completed Grant had a time of 2minutes 50 seconds while defending champion Shane Wixon, gunning for his fifth title, was one second behind on 2-51. However when penalties were added for cut oysters Grant held on to win with a time of 2 minutes 58 seconds while Wixon dropped down the order, leaving Xavier Fife of Calder’s Oysters second and Kaiarangi KZ Matangi (Barnes) third. Grant was elated, echoing Pearsey’s comments that the shells were soft this year. That meant he slowed down a little to avoid penalties, a strategy that carried the day for him.
Other Oyster Opening event winners were Marvan Ihaia in the Boat Challenge, Kaiarangi KZ Matangi in the Blindfold Race and Team Calder’s Oysters in the Team Relay.
The reign of three-time champion Daryl ‘Dagwood’ MacDonald of Blenheim was broken when he went out in the heats of the Oyster Eating Competition. The title went to Melanie Cotter of Brisbane. Cotter won the final where her rivals came from every corner of New Zealand. Cotter is originally from Christchurch, spent seven years in Invercargill and the last fourteen in Brisbane. A cousin from Christchurch came to the event last year and told her she had to come. Cotter loves Bluff oysters and made it quite clear they are superior to those on offer across the Tasman.
Liam Jones of Arrowtown won the Wasabi/Chilli Challenge where competitors were required to eat a plate of Oysters doused in wasabi and chilli oil. Jones too, loves Bluff Oysters “that is why I am here for the fourth time in a row,” he said.
“I was trying to win the Eating Competition” (in which he made the final) and when he dipped out there made a spur of the moment decision to have a go at the Challenge. “If I couldn’t win the fastest I thought I would have a go at the hottest.” Initially on stage he said the chilli was mellow but later admitted it was “as hot as hell“, despite being well used of spicy food having spent several years in Asia
Bluff Publicity/Promotions Officer