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 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.
Are you hungry?
Try huhu grubs for starters:
The huhu is a big beetle endemic to New Zealand. The white larvae are about 7cm long and are found in dead wood.
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.
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".
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 champagneperhaps? 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!
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!