Havelock - gateway to the Sounds, and world capital for green shell mussels

Visit the world capital and sample a bowl of steaming green shell mussels....

A coastal and windy drive around the edge of Queen Charlotte Sounds, from Nelson towards Picton, at the top of New Zealand’s South Island, leads to the pretty little town of Havelock. 

This is Havelock in the south, not Havelock North.  It’s the green shell mussel capital of the world, and gateway to the Pelorus and Kenepuru Sounds.  Time for a stop, and a taste of that delicious seafood.

A place of history

There’s a connection from here, Sounds-side at the north of the South, to the centre of London. 

Havelock was named after Sir Henry Havelock, a British general especially associated with India.  And a bronze statue of Havelock stands in Trafalgar Square, one of the four plinths there in London, erected by public subscription back in 1861.

But before European arrival and naming, there was a Māori pā known as Motuweka (now Havelock), at the junction of two Māori trails: one to the Waitohi (Picton), the other to the Wairau. 

And it was the gold rush to the Wakamarina Valley in 1864 that led to a growing township.  Havelock grew from a staging post between Blenheim and Nelson to a town with a main street boasting 23 hotels.  Hard to believe now that there were 23 hotels then!  In the way of gold rushes, the boom did not last, and it is Havelock's role as a port that has meant the town has stayed strong and grown to this day.

Sea and forest

It’s pretty clear now that Havelock is a terrific tourist destination, with boat charters, mussel cruises, fishing trips, walking tracks, hiking and sea kayaking.  It’s also the base of a mail boat, delivering the post to remote Marlborough Sounds communities.  Take some time to explore these gorgeous places.

And try the local delicacy….Havelock is the centre for much of the New Zealand green-lipped mussel industry, and is called the green shell mussel capital of the world.  You’ll see evidence of this, at the welcome sign, more on the main street and tasting spots all around. 

And the mussel cafes

You can’t miss a famous mussel cafe, on the main street, a quirky little place serving up the famous mussels for the last 20 years.  Visit for a tremendous pot of steamed mussels, a perfect taste sensation.  Sit inside or out at the rustic wood tables, among the large green mussels, and enjoy the read about this striking coloured seafood.

After that tasting, wander down to the water and see more evidence of the seafood of this town, head to boats in view of fishing companies - and more mussel tasting.  In fact you’ll see more of the famous green shells, all around.

Our New Zealand powerhouse

Green lipped mussels (known to Māori as kutai) are indigenous to New Zealand, not found anywhere else, and their flesh is quite distinctive from other mussel species.  They’re one of the largest single species of seafood we export, a big proportion by value of our exported seafood.

There are mussel farms throughout the country’s sheltered waters.  But it’s principally here in the Marlborough Sounds that they dominate.  Visit to try them right here.   And, if you get the chance to take some with you, make sure you try one of our favourite super quick green lipped mussel ideas, see more on our website.

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