Friday, 30 May 2014

Bluff Blows Us Away

The Bluff Oyster Festival started off well and good; blue sky & sunshine with just a chilly breeze to remind us that this was Bluff after all, Bluff at the bottom of the South Island, Bluff in the middle of May with winter fast approaching, Bluff on the edge of the Antarctic & don’t you forget it! But that was fine we went prepared, rugged up with jackets, hats, boots & scarves, & we went early. The occupants of this van had high hopes too.

Dozens of motorhomes, buses & caravans had overnighted along the harbour edge near the venue, the local camp ground was overflowing with RVs too. We stayed on in Invercargill, initially we were going to catch the festival bus to Bluff but instead we took the rental car my two girlfriends had arrived in. They had flown down from Tauranga to see me & to attend the Oyster Festival. We met many people in motorhomes at our camp site and also people sitting with us in the marquee who had made a special trip to the festival, most of them from the North Island. And most spending a tidy sum on flights, accommodation & rentals.

Puffer jackets and boots reigned supreme inside the festival. I’m sure the size of the crowd appeared double what it was, it was wall-to-wall puffer jackets; dozens of people looking like Michelin men, bouncing off each other in their “fat suits” as they squeezed through the crowds and past the queues for food.

We started early. This was fortunate as it turned out. And, well, there was nothing else to do but sample the wares so we did. We’d also heard they had run out of some items in previous years. First up of course were Bluff Oysters, arguably the best darn oysters in the world, tasting like they had just been hauled out of the ferocious Foveaux Strait that very morning. We had them in the shell & then battered, I only wished I’d brought along a small bottle of balsamic vinegar to slurp them down with. Oysters were followed by scallops, then prawns and then a wee break to refill our wine glasses and contemplate what would be next on the menu.

Whitebait fritters were up next and with a queue a mile long I had plenty of time to watch the fast approaching band of dark foreboding cloud in the distance. The wind was picking up and there was the odd spot of rain. The wind was also playing havoc with the gas BBQs the fritters were being cooked on. I shifted queues in time to get four well cooked fritters full of tasty whitebait, people behind me weren’t so lucky. One of the BBQs died & the queue size doubled.

The girl behind the counter told me the crew had driven over from the West Coast the day before, it had been an epic 17 hour journey. They’d got half way over Arthur’s Pass when they were stopped by a massive slip that had come down, they had to retrace their steps and cross over via Lewis Pass and then drive all the way down to Bluff. Now it looked like they were going to be caught out again by the weather.

I did learn one thing about whitebait fritters while I waited, they go well with mint sauce! I kid you not. Mint sauce! The stall had a bottle of mint sauce with the lemons & salt etc and suggested just a dribble around the edges of the fritter, not too much just a hint to compliment the whitebait. And it tasted great. I must remember that next time I have whitebait.

After the fritters and before the rain became torrential I braved the outside one more time to get some smoked eel & blue cod from another tent on the other side of the venue. I also bought a couple of pottles of Bluff Oysters to take home. And it was just as well I did because that was the last of the food to be had. As I was making a dash across the tarseal to our tent the full force of the storm hit. The whitebait tent was blown to smithereens, metal tables & plastic chairs hurtled past me, the band gear on the stage tumbled over the edge or was blown into the back of the canvas. People were being knocked over, others were clutching children or food & other gear off their stands. The port-a-loos that weren’t tied to the fence danced off down the tarseal. Chaos reigned.

I managed to fight my way through the now solid body of people sheltering from the weather in our marquee & back to our table where I found the others looking very worried & concerned. The huge marquee was straining under the force of the wind, the metal support frame lifting, then banging & crashing down, the noise was deafening as the canvas strained against the gale force wind. After about 20 minutes and just as splits started opening up on the roof and walls of the marquee the call went out to evacuate via the far end of the tent. A wave of people started moving in an orderly fashion towards the opening at the end and into the full force of a ferocious storm.

Organisers & volunteers  were desperately trying to hold down other tents and gear, the fence had been opened up so we could get back to the carpark but it was a tough battle walking against the horizontal head wind. Many people were having to take shelter behind buildings & vehicles as they just couldn’t walk against the wind & stinging rain. David had to hold tight to one of my girlfriends (she is tiny) for fear she would be blown away. The sea spray was being whipped up across Bluff harbour with the fishing fleet jumping & bucking against their ropes. Thank God we had the car otherwise we’d have had to wait for the buses to arrive from town and there would have been a huge queue & no shelter.

And then to cap off the dramatic end to the Bluff Oyster Festival, we were stuck in our car for nearly two hours in a traffic jam on the one and only road out of Bluff. The storm had blown power lines onto a passing vehicle and stopped traffic dead in its tracks in both directions.

Finally we arrived home safe & sound & with a lull in the storm. Then at around 9pm with thunder & lightning crashing & flashing directly above us the heavens opened up & dumped more hail than I’ve seen in my lifetime on top of us. It was amazing, it just kept coming, thick & fast covering everything in sight. I want to say it was snow but it was definitely hail, the solid little balls of ice finding their way down my neck and coating my head while I was out taking photos. In my slippers. You’ve got to seize the opportunity you know, the hail might have stopped while I was looking for my gumboots.

Some of these photos were taken with a longer exposure hence the brightness, I should have got my tripod out and steadied the camera more but I was in a hurry. Mind you it was very eerie outside after the hail stopped, the white was reflected back into the sky and it was very bright outside, like dull daylight instead of the black night it had been earlier.

This one has a low point of view; I'm sheltering under the nose of the van! :)

This post shows you what we woke up to this morning, ice, slush & now mud everywhere. Poor Doug (our camp ground host); his busiest weekend of the year obliterated by the worst weekend of weather he has ever experienced. And still the storm rages outside 24hrs on, we have had horrendous winds, rain & hail on and off all day with snow predicted this evening. Our diesel heaters are working over time & we’re toasty warm tucked up inside our cosy home on wheels. And at least we have power and no need to move for a week or more. Life on the road is certainly bringing with it a wide range of experiences.


  1. Definitely in there and out in the Raw...fab as usual!

    1. Thanks once again Jimu, thankfully the sun has made a reappearance & the wind has gone, it's still chilly outside but we are very cosy with our diesel heater ticking over.

  2. You won't forget that in a hurry, for all the wrong reasons :(
    I had assumed it was just about oysters. Do you pay an entry fee or pay for each food you sample?
    I always love your bogs and I love this one, so descriptive :)

    1. It was actually quite exciting and luckily we'd had our fair share of oysters before we had to leave. Yes, it's all about oysters along with alot of other seafood too and yes, you pay an entry fee AND for all the food samples (and wine). It's quite an expensive exercise.


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