No bluffing from Nelson seafood sorority on their way to Oyster festival

Reni Gargiulo of Kiwi Kai, left and Donna Wells of Finest Kind are off to the Bluff for the Oyster Festival.
Marion Van Dijk/Fairfax NZ

Reni Gargiulo of Kiwi Kai, left and Donna Wells of Finest Kind are off to the Bluff for the Oyster Festival.

Two of Nelson's seafood queens are hoping to dredge up some attention at this year's Bluff Oyster and Food Festival.

Kiwi Kai's Reni Gargiulo and Donna Wells of FinestKind Limited will fly the flag for Nelson this Saturday, joining 13 other stallholders in feeding thousands of hungry punters keen to sample some of the best underwater produce in the country.

This will be Wells' ninth trip to the iconic Southland seafood event. For Gargiulo, it will be her first opportunity to showcase her Kiwi Kai brand in the Deep South.

"You can put me down as a veteran," Wells said.

"I reckon it really is NZ's most successful seafood festival – they do it really well down there – that's why I keep supporting it."

Meanwhile, Wells has enjoyed a lifelong association with seafood and since 1996 has sourced quota on behalf of independent operators and companies as owner and CEO of Finestkind Limited.

After small beginnings selling her seafood at the Saturday market Gargiulo now retails her seafood beyond Nelson to Rotorua, Whakatane, Auckland, Christchurch and has had interest from as far as Australia.

She hoped to extend her business further around the country within the next six months, which made her Bluff experience all the more important.

Gargiulo said the 13 hour, 1000km road trip to the bottom of the country allowed plenty of time for some "mobile hui".

"It's quite a big trip, but we're loving it - it's probably the only time we get to have a meeting."

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An overnight stay at Moeraki will break the trip up, before driving through to Bluff on Friday.

The decision to attend the Oyster festival was made only recently. 

"Donna and I were chatting a couple of weeks ago and she said she was considering going down and I [said] I'd really like to take Kiwi Kai down to Bluff, because my business is evolving every week," Gargiulo said.

"She nodded her head, and I didn't let her un-nod her head – I took the offer up pretty quickly."

After just a week's planning and preparation, Wells and Gargiulo departed for Bluff on Thursday. 

The pair are taking 1500 serves of Te Tau Ihu (top of the south) kaimoana with them, including scallops, whitebait patties and Gargiulo's signature dish of marinated raw fish with a coconut base.

"We're really lucky to be flying our flag down there – it's fresh and its all Te Tau Ihu."

 As well as southern hospitality and all things oyster, Fiordland venison sliders with pinot plum, crayfish cheese rolls, muttonbird heart stew and escargot in shell are among the delicacies on offer from the other 13 stalls.

Last year more than 5000 people from all over New Zealand descended on the deep south for the festival and ate their way through about 20,000 oysters.

The 2017 event has sold out with no gate sales available on the day, according to the festival website.Tickets for the 2018 festival on May 26 go on sale at 6pm on Saturday.

Graham Wright, general manager of Barnes Wild Bluff Oysters who holds 68 per cent of the Bluff oyster quota, said the company would set aside "about 2500 dozen" to sell at their stall.

"We've never brought any back yet," he said.

As well as providing oyster openers for the public to use on the day, the company used local groups to run their stall as a fundraising opportunity.

"It's all about getting the oysters out there, which is really cool, and then being able to open them themselves -  a lot of people are fascinated by that."

He said the oyster season had started well to meet its target of 10 million oysters. 

"We've had a bit of messy weather but that's the nature of the beast - it's a wild fishery so we do have some ups and downs."

 - Stuff

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