Every Seafood Dish You Should Eat When Travelling NZ's South Island
From highway-side cray to jetty-edge fresh fish.
September 12, 2018
Seafood is a true treasure of Aotearoa — and there may be no better place to sample some of the freshest than in the South Island. The South doesn't tend to do fine dining, preferring informal eating spots that emphasise ingredients, comfort and making you feel well and truly looked after. The wines are some of the best in the country, and the views? Incredible.
Here's your guide to finding the truly unmissable seafood experiences of Te Waipounamu (the South Island). Whether you're eating with a knife and fork or deep-diving to the bottom of a newspaper parcel sitting on a beach, it's all ka pai (great).
SHARE A POT OF GREEN-LIPPED MUSSELS AT THE MUSSEL POT
Havelock is a little blip on the road between Picton and Nelson in the northeastern Marlborough region — blink, and you'll nearly miss it. But clamber out of the car, stretch your legs and go for a walk around the sleepy little marina where you'll find The Mussel Pot on the main road. Marlborough produces 80 percent of New Zealand's mussel exports. You will not find fresher. The Mussel Pot's menu dedicates the majority of its repertoire to these little green-lipped marvels. Order a kilogram of fresh mussels in cream, white wine, garlic and herbs ($20.50), or coriander, ginger, chilli and coconut cream ($20.50). It also serves battered mussels ($21.50) or grilled on the half shell ($21.50) and whip up a mussel platter ($47.60) if you can't decide which way you like them.
73 Main Road, Havelock, Marlborough.
EAT OYSTERS PERCHED OVER THE SEA AT THE BOAT SHED CAFE IN NELSON
The Boat Shed Cafe is a genuinely lovely eating spot in a beautiful old boat shed on the waterfront in Nelson, in the north of the South Island. It will win you over with plates of fresh food, many of which star locally caught seafood — think beautiful Bluff oysters served naturally with just a squeeze of lemon ($5.50 each) and roasted whole sand flounder with paprika and lime ($27). You can also choose the Trust the Chef banquet ($70 per person). This is food to share with people you love, watching the sun set over the sea with a cold glass of chardonnay (Neudorf is the local choice). New Zealand eating doesn't get much better than this.
350 Wakefield Quay, Nelson.
SHARE A CRAY BESIDE THE OCEAN (OR HAVE ONE TO YOURSELF) AT NIN'S BIN
This third-generation roadside eatery has served fresh seafood from its blue and white cray caravan since 1977 and has become an icon on the drive down the east coast. Shuttered for a long time after the Kaikoura earthquake, Nin's is now back up and running. Fishing quotas mean that Nin's opening hours vary, so check its Facebook page for updates, or give 'em a call before you head in for the hot crayfish, mussels and chips in newspaper. On the days you catch it open, your heart will sing as you drive around the corner and see the steam rising from the caravan hatch and the happy patrons tucking into their feast beside the sea.
State Highway 1, Half Moon Bay.
EAT FISH AND CHIPS ON THE BEACH IN AKAROA
A lovely day trip, Akaroa is a sleepy little French colonial town beside the sea, over the hills from Christchurch. Head out in the morning from Christchurch and wander around town, go for a swim, have a long lunch at Rona's and finish the evening eating fish and chips on the beach or on the hill overlooking the harbour. The food is simple. The experience is a classic. There's not much more to say. Every South Islander knows it, and you should partake, too. Just don't forget the rip n dip.
59 Beach Road, Akaroa.
SIT DOWN AT FLEUR'S PLACE IN MOERAKI
Fleur's Place feels like it has sat at the edge of the jetty in Moeraki, near Dunedin since forever. The elements of the day's menu are literally purchased off the back of the fishing boats and carried a few metres to the kitchen. At the heart of the operation is Fleur Sullivan, a chef who has a firm place in Aotearoa's food heritage. She centres the menu around local, organic produce and seafood like blue cod, John Dory, moki, bluenose, gurnard, sole, flounder, groper and crayfish. Fleur's is also one of the best spots to try local titi, or muttonbird. The wines largely come from central Otago, which is world-renowned for its pinot varieties and fruity white varietals. Take a seat and watch the seals on the foreshore, the fishing boats pottering in and out and parcels of fresh fish being brought into the restaurant or smokehouse.
169 Haven Street, on the jetty at Moeraki.
Start planning your trip to New Zealand's south with our guide to the South Island journeys to take here.