Hokitika Wildfoods Festival on the wild West Coast

Hokitika is a small town on the West Coast of New Zealand’s South Island. If you’re lucky enough to be on the rugged West Coast in early autumn, be sure to visit the Hokitika Wildfoods Festival. It’s as much of a culinary experience as it is a visual one. Adventure guaranteed.

Just to give you an idea of the setting, it’s… wild. The West Coast is where glaciers come down to almost sea level, where you get bitten by a gazillion of sandflies while marvelling at Mitre Peak in Milford Sound, and where you cruise State Highway 6 with the Tasman Sea to one side and the lush rainforest to the other, with the Southern Alps in the immediate backdrop. It is home to national parks and World Heritage Sites. And a very unique festival.

How the Hokitika Wildfoods Festival was born

Hokitika Wildfoods Festival sign. Photo by DBarefoot @ Flickr

Hokitika Wildfoods Festival sign. Photo by DBarefoot @ Flickr

Hokitika itself has a population of just over 3,000. It was the gold rush of the 1860 that led to its foundation. Today, Hokitika’s main industries are tourism, agriculture and forestry. It is considered the hub of the West Coast and has its own port and regional airport.

The Hokitika Wildfoods Festival is held annually, on the second Saturday in March. It all began in 1990, when a Hokitika local, Claire Bryant, set up the first Wildfoods Festival to celebrate the tastes of the wild West Coast. Since then, the festival has grown from an event attended by 1,800 locals to a full-blown, internationally renowned festival, attended by 15,000, and winning several tourism awards.

Every year, new wild foods are introduced. From clams to offal, from wasp larvae ice cream to ostrich sandwiches, from whitebait to escargots and shark and scorpions (raw and cooked), there’s nothing too scary or wild to be featured at the festival.

May I offer you a huhu grub?

The huhu is a big beetle endemic to New Zealand. The white larvae are about 7cm long and are found in dead wood.

Huhu at Hokitika Wildfoods Festival. Photo by testpatern @ Flickr

Huhu at Hokitika Wildfoods Festival. Photo by testpatern @ Flickr

Then move on to worm delicacies:
The Startled Worm Cafe enticed festival visitors with its menu of Chocolate Worm Truffles, Worm Sushi and Worm Dukkha.

Worm delicacies at Hokitika Wildfoods Festival. Photo by testpatern @ Flickr

Worm delicacies at Hokitika Wildfoods Festival. Photo by testpatern @ Flickr

And for the sweet tooth, a dairy treat (kind of) for dessert:

Colostrum is a kind of milk that is high in antibodies and protein. It is the milk that is produced by the mammary glands in the late stage of pregnancy, just before the birth. This stand offered several colostrum desserts, for example “Mastitis Mousse”, “Colostro-Yummy Cheesecake”, or “Colostrum Shots”.

Udderly Divine Desserts at Hokitika Wildfoods Festival. Photo by testpatern @ Flickr

Udderly Divine Desserts at Hokitika Wildfoods Festival. Photo by testpatern @ Flickr

Not being hungry isn’t an excuse either for the faint of heart, because there are plenty of snacks on offer as well. You could go for grasshoppers, crickets, beetles, huhu grubs or worms, or perhaps enjoy a drink? If you’re feeling adventurous, there are horse semen shots available, which you wash down with an energy drink; or might you be interested in rhubarb champagne perhaps? Maybe have a glass of Gorse Flower or Broom Flower wine at the end of the day.

A treat for the eyes

The festival is not all about food; there is plenty of entertainment to be enjoyed aside from the obvious culinary adventures. Stage performances by bands, comedy and dance acts, or mime artists, just to mention a few, keep festival goers entertained throughout the day. And of course, let’s not forget all those that attend the festival in costume – there is also a best dressed competition!

Smurfs at Hokitika Wildfoods Festival, South Island

Smurf, anyone? Hokitika Wildfoods Festival, South Island. Photo by Melanie Moran.

Avatars at Hokitika Wildfoods Festival. Photo by Melanie Moran

Avatars at Hokitika Wildfoods Festival. Photo by Melanie Moran

Further, the annual festival is also an important fundraising event for local communities on the West Coast. Local stallholders raise quite a few thousand kiwi dollars for their community halls or donate the money raised to causes such as the West Coast Cancer Society.

You thought you were being brave thinking of trying the chocolate-dipped chillies, weren’t you? But fear not, there are plenty of traditional palate pleasers available, too. The 2011 festival also included a German sausage stand, for example, selling pork and fennel sausages, which won the grand award at the Great New Zealand Sausage Competition. So, even the conventional food is outstanding! So, what’s it gonna be for you at this foodie bonanza?

The next Wildfoods Festival will take place on 10th of March 2012. Tickets go on sale in October 2011 and are limited to 15,000. Grab yours here: Hokitika Wild Foods Festival. And don’t forget to bring your costume!

Christina Hegele

About the author: Christina Hegele runs Sandal Road, a blog on her favourite destinations. It just so happened that 95% turned out to be about New Zealand. Follow Christina and her blog on Twitter, like her blog on Facebook, and subscribe to her Youtube channel. Alternatively, subscribe to her email newsletter at the top right of this blog.

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  25 comments for “Hokitika Wildfoods Festival on the wild West Coast

  1. 1 August, 2011 at 11:18

    Eew! And I was just about to go to lunch…
    Did you try any of it?

    • Christina
      4 August, 2011 at 12:26

      I’m sorry I spoilt your lunch, Sophie!

  2. 1 August, 2011 at 11:53

    As much as I love food, I’m quite squeamish. I think I’d give the icky foods and miss and go hang with the blue boys. They’re kinda cute!

    • Christina
      4 August, 2011 at 12:28

      Ah, not even a huhu grub? Go on…

  3. 1 August, 2011 at 19:00

    I am definitely interested in visiting the West Coast but some of those foods will have to remain there! I would like the rhubarb champagne and the sausage though 🙂

    • Christina
      4 August, 2011 at 12:29

      Hehe, you’d love the West Coast, it’s wild in terms of landscapes, too. Now you made me hungry.

  4. 1 August, 2011 at 21:03

    The names are priceless, but the food….yikes!! I have to say that I do enjoy coming across events like this….if nothing else, I love to witness people downing such incredible edibles. lol

    • Christina
      4 August, 2011 at 12:32

      It’s a very entertaining event for sure. Seeing smurfs eat huhu grubs, listening to the music, lots of other visitors… great day out.

  5. 1 August, 2011 at 23:59

    Wow…..some of those “food” items seem a bit out there! There’s no way I’d try most of these. Did you? 🙂

    • Christina
      4 August, 2011 at 12:33

      I don’t think I’d go for the horse semen shots but huhu grubs I’d love to try as well as the worm delicacies.

  6. 2 August, 2011 at 00:13

    From your pictures, it seems like everyone is having fun and very many verities of food. Nice to find out the origin of the festival too.

    • Christina
      4 August, 2011 at 12:34

      Thanks! Glad you enjoyed reading the post. It’s a great event, so much to see and do!

  7. 2 August, 2011 at 04:30

    I have been here! I was in NZ and went out of my way to attend of my own and it was a blast! I had crickets, grasshoppers, horse, cow udders, and a bunch of other things.

    Amazing festival.`

    • Christina
      4 August, 2011 at 12:36

      Aweseome! And congrats on being brave and trying so many different wildfoods! Of the things you mention, I think the cow udders would be the most cringe-worthy for me.

  8. 2 August, 2011 at 15:00

    This sounds like such a fun festival. I don’t know that I would try too many crazy foods, but I would definitely enjoy taking photos of them.

    • Christina
      4 August, 2011 at 12:36

      Absolutely, as I say, it’s as much a treat for the eye as it is for the taste buds!

  9. 2 August, 2011 at 18:26

    I didn’t think it was possible for me to read a food story and not get hungry bit congratulations! You’ve done it.Sounds fascinating, but not delicious 🙂

    • Christina
      4 August, 2011 at 12:38

      Haha!! You make me laugh. Well thank you, I’m glad I ticked that off my checklist of things to achieve 😀

  10. 3 August, 2011 at 20:28

    I’d have to pass on the HuHu but would love the sweets! Yummy! Definitely some interesting food choices!

    • Christina
      4 August, 2011 at 12:41

      Really? I bet the huhu would be great. Not so sure about the colostrum desserts, but the worm stuff looks delicious.

  11. 4 August, 2011 at 13:38

    What a cool festival! I love to learn about new foods

  12. 5 August, 2011 at 21:17

    Mmm, those avatar boys are sex-ay! And creepy… really, really creepy.

    I have a weakness for festivals (which Kali teases me endlessly for), so this sounds like my cup of tea. 🙂

  13. 13 September, 2011 at 01:40

    Hmm… I’m not sure I’ll be first in line at those stalls! Maybe Jeremy will be and then I’ll be the photographer of the day taking pictures of his expression trying those food!

    • Christina
      13 September, 2011 at 13:19

      Either way, you’ll have a great time! And let me see those photos of you “enjoying” your food, please!

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